To borrow from Lauren Winner’s Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity (who is building upon Wendell Berry), “Sex is communal rather than private, personal rather than public.”
It’s time for another shout out to my community, both among those who meet together with me in the same building on Sundays, and those in the Body spread out near and far. Being 27 and single — and chaste — is not easy. I certainly couldn’t do it alone, so fortunately, I don’t have to. I’m surrounded by married and unmarried, young and old, very young and not old, but not… well, you get the idea. And these people invite me into their lives (and I invite them into mine). And so, I have community; community with other single believers who take the exhortation to live lives worthy of Christ’s sacrifice and calling seriously, which includes, for various reasons, chastity; community with married Christians who live with a likewise intentional desire to align themselves wholly to Christ, which also includes chastity — instead of abstaining from premarital sex and all that includes, abstaining from extramarital sex and all that includes. Even being in community with my 1st graders impacts my calling for this time of celibacy: conversations like, “How do you liiveee!?“, but also simply serving, so I’m not constantly thinking on myself. Furthermore, living at home, with Mom and Dad, is helpful — not living alone, and not simply sharing space (house), but sharing life (home); the same was true of L’Abri.
So, it’s easier.
My church doesn’t do everything perfectly. The sermon illustrations are still about marriage and family most of the time, which despite my belief in the skills of transference, can still be largely alienating. People — married people — still ask me things like, “Well, do you want to get married?” and are baffled when my answer is “yes and no” and not one or the other: like, “Come on, Renea, it’s simple, either you’re called to be single or you’re called to be married; either you want to marry and will make choices accordingly, or you don’t, and won’t.” I want to be like, “Really? How long have you been ‘called’ to retire, rather than ‘called’ to work?” But I can’t help but smile to myself about how funny and fatalistic we get about romance; we forget our vow to one another in marriage is “until death do us part,” not “happily ever after;” that even marriage is seasonal, just like the rest of life, “not because of divorce, but because of death” (139), and ultimately, because of our New Life upon Christ’s return.
But they do a lot of things well. They don’t ask me upon first seeing me, “Are you seeing anyone?” They ask after weeks, months even, usually as the conversation lends itself, rather than out of the blue. I appreciate that. I appreciate it on two levels: one, it’s a tiresome question when it’s always the first one you hear, no matter how much I try to tell myself, ‘They just think you’re cute and likable, and want to know, naturally, who you’re dating.’ 🙂 and two, I like being asked about my life, even the really personal stuff, by people who’ve earned the right to do so. I mean, OK, when it comes to confessing, I don’t like it, but who doesn’t thrive on feeling the vested interest of others who love them? (By the way, this derives in part, no doubt, from a sermon exhorting non-single folk to think of other questions to ask. Bravo, Pastor.)
They do ask me about the hard stuff: What am I watching? How have I been imaginatively virtuous today? How vicious? How do I treat the men with whom I interact while dancing, or at the library, or at Starbucks? This could probably be done more, but we’re slowly overcoming the trappings of our over-individualized, over-privatized society. If I were seeing someone, I am confident they’d ask about what we do behind closed doors. To borrow again from Winner, when I was baptized into the Body, what I do with my body becomes your business to a degree, not in explicit detail, but insofar as we all have been unified with Christ’s bodily burial and resurrection. Since, “what we do with our bodies, what we do sexually, shapes our persons” (50), sexuality is a communal affair; it matters; and we have, not only the right, but the obligation to ask each other what we did last night, not in a policing way, but as an extension of Grace.
They invite me to dinner, but more than that, they invite me to life: dinner with the kids going crazy and/or the house a mess, dinner and games and talking, dinner and working together — preparing for and cleaning after. This kind of doing life together keeps us from being boxed into separate packages of block cheese over there and Kraft Singles over here. Which brings me to a similar point, the life connection classes at church, or whatever they’re called these days, aren’t split up demographically either. We gain perspective from each other. I have insights that my family-focused friends need but can’t get without help of an “other,” and I too gain glimpses of Truth from their married lives which can be gained no where else!
So I just wanted to say thanks, because there aren’t many un-married Christians over the age of 23 (in the South) who feel content, or as valuable members of the Family. It’s a two-way street. I make myself available; I involve myself in the women’s biblestudy at church, even though there’s no one else there my age. I try to be vulnerable and open and “authentic,” instead of complaining that no one is being “real.” I ask if we can get together, which often leads to doing life together, rather than sitting at home, growing bitter about never being asked. And I admit, these things may be easier for my personality, but there’s responsibility on the part of single Christians and non-single Christians alike to foster holistic community, so let’s keep on working on it together.