In Defense of Wasting Your Life

Speaking of contradictory truths… I often tell this story when I talk:

A couple of years ago I received a poignant email from a man who said, among other things, that he did accept the Church’s teaching and was trying to live up to it. But he still wondered: What happens if I change my mind? What happens if, years from now, I look back on my celibate life—will I regret it? Will it seem like an enormous waste?

I think it depends. If one’s celibacy is purely rule-following, then yeah, once you no longer believe the rules I think probably you’ll regret the sacrifices you made to follow them.

But if you pour out your love for others in friendship and service, if you offer your struggles and your need for surrender as a sacrifice to Christ, if you love God and those around you as deeply as you can in the best way you understand right now—I think even if you change your mind later, that won’t be something to regret. One of the biggest truths about love is that it’s never a waste of time.

And I think it’s a really important thing to say. When we are terrified that our lives will just be pointless and fruitless if we accept Catholic teaching, we need to know that there are ways to be fruitful within celibate chastity. There’s an imaginable future, not a blank desert.

But of course, sometimes the desert is precisely where God calls us to go. There’s an author–I think not actually Chesterton but someone classier–who wrote something like, “I hope to live in a way which would be unintelligible if Jesus is not Lord.” (Man, I mangled that. If you know what I’m talking about here, please email me!)* Wesley Hill responds to me with a similar point specifically about gay Christian life here. Other people may look at the lives of St Therese, or Jesus himself, and see a waste–because they are not Christians, and a Christian life will have certain elements, maybe huge swathes, which are unfathomable outside the faith.

*update: Pretty sure it was a hilarious misremembering of the MacIntyre thing here.

Kathy Shaidle has this beautiful line about “those God-tossed well-coins/you call saints.” God is extravagant with us, scattering us, maybe spending us (we think) a bit too freely. I don’t know if I’ll be able to muster the gallows humor, if a cold season comes when my life does seem largely wasted in suffering, to remark that God is spending me extravagantly.

But I hope, too, that I won’t be tempted to justify my faith by pointing to my accomplishments–to things which can be defended in pristinely secular terms. I’ll quote the same guy Wesley cites: “And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. …If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.”

#yolo (until the general resurrection I mean)

About Eve Tushnet

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