At our church end of year celebration some people made vows of celibacy. (Celibacy is a gift and lifestyle that we honour as a church. See http://www.jesus.org.uk/vault/library_hottopics09.shtml). This year, when the celibates were making their vows, two sisters behind me got into a good-natured but spirited debate about whether celibacy was easier for men or women. One was convinced it was easier for women (‘after all, men have stronger sex drives’). The other was sure it was easier for men (‘they don’t feel the sacrifice of not having children so keenly as women’). After a while of listening to their discussion, I leaned back and said: ‘Surely the whole point is that celibacy is easier for both. If you want a real challenge - get married!’
They laughed and, of course, I meant it humorously – but there’s a serious point there, isn’t there? Paul advocates the single life to spare hassle and ‘secure undivided devotion’. Jesus’ ‘eunuchs’ are able to serve in the kingdom more freely.
That’s not to minimise the real and very wonderful sacrifice that celibates make to serve Jesus. Some of my very best friends are celibate – sometimes through trials and tears – and, truly, I’m in awe of their devotion. It’s just that, to serve the king and live for His kingdom in an all-out way (such as that we try to embrace in a lifestyle of intentional Christian community) as a married person, especially with children presents real challenges which the celibate avoids (and rightly so, since this is the key New Testament raison d’etre of celibacy).
How do you balance the demands of the church and community, and individuals within it, against the need to invest rightly in one’s children and relationship with spouse? How do you ‘live as though you were not’ married (Paul’s tantalising phrase in 1 Corinthians 7) at the same time as ‘loving your wife’ (to quote Paul once more, this time from Ephesians 5)?
It can be done, certainly, but it takes wisdom, grace, forgiveness of and from each other and those around you, willingness to look stupid and have your weaknesses on show a lot (children are experts at displaying their parents’ faults!)
But it’s worth the struggle. A committed, happy marriage breeds security in others. Hurt people find refuge among families with an openness which means they can ‘join in’. Children humanise community with their disarming sincerity (when a small child spontaneously hugs you, it’s because they love you, not because they’re after something – that only comes with teenage guile!) And even the many, many imperfections that families all display – outbursts of irritation, squabbles, taking one another for granted and so on and on – are a sign of hope. God loves and redeems us precisely in all our imperfections: we’re in His family.
So putting your marriage and family at the service of the kingdom is tough, exhausting at times, demanding constantly – but always rewarding. And always worth it.