The real surprise that comes with living a celibate life is experiencing that little taste of heaven we’re all looking for.
The word celibacy sounds like a negative thing to a lot of people, and it usually conjures up imagery of chastity belts and other old-fashioned practices to protect purity at all costs. But in reality, chastity is a gift to everyone. It helps us master ourselves, maintain our dignity, and draw us closer to God.
Suffering the loss of physical intimacy is one of the greatest struggles for anyone who’s been divorced. It’s a real and valid source of pain. This struggle is compounded by the uncertainty of how long they will have to endure the loss of physical intimacy. It’s one thing to abstain from something for a finite period, but to abstain indefinitely can be a very difficult, seemingly impossible, burden to bear.
If you’ve been previously married, you understand better than someone who has not been married just how powerful the emotions of love and intimacy are. This is why dating and becoming sexually intimate with someone else sounds like it would be just what the doctor ordered for your lonely heart and you’ve more than likely already been told by friends or family that you should just get back out there and find someone new to make you happy. No one’s talking about waiting.
But if you look at celibacy from the other side of the spectrum, you might feel differently. Living a celibate lifestyle has some surprising benefits that not only help you along the path to healing, they actually transform your relationships. Here are four benefits of being celibate:
1. You Experience Real Freedom
Celibacy is not about viewing sex as bad or trying to suppress your sexual urges, it is about embracing the gift of sexuality and integrating it according to your state in life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes chastity this way:
Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy. “Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end” (CCC 2339).
2. You Have Better Relationships
If you have a decree of nullity and have discussed your desire to remain celibate with your date, there is no ulterior motive for being together. That right there takes a lot of pressure off you both, and allows you to really get to know each other, have fun, and focus on discerning whether or not you would make a good couple in the long term. It brings honor to your relationship.
Honor is a virtue that is not practiced as widely as it used to be, but it plays a key role in helping you know how to show genuine affection, or non-sexual affection. Romans 12:10 speaks of the delight two people will receive in honoring each other: “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.”
If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard people say they probably would not have married their spouse if they had paid attention to the warning signs, but they were too emotionally wrapped up because they were sleeping together, I’d be rich. The emotions that come with being sexually intimate are powerful (they’re meant to be) and can easily cloud your vision to the point you don’t recognize any warning signs that might be present. Celibacy is like a windshield wiper that clears away the debris so you have clear vision going forward. If any problems do exist, it’s much easier to recognize them and prevent yourself from making a serious mistake.
4. You Are A Happy Person
In Christopher West’s book, Theology of the Body for Beginners, he describes how when sex is separated from God’s plan for it, sex actually becomes the god. And that society’s obsession with sex is actually the human desire for Heaven gone amuck. The bottom line is that we are all searching for God. We all desire the abundant peace and joy associated with heaven. The more we pursue sexual relationships outside of marriage, the more elusive the peace and joy we are seeking in those relationship becomes.
But, living a celibate life offers you two distinct opportunities; first, the chance to really seek and find God in ways that will strengthen your relationship with him, and second, using your divorce as an opportunity to let your life speak — to be a witness to others — that in spite of the pain and brokenness of divorce, your life has profound meaning and purpose.
Celibacy has always stood in paradox to the world. Society screams that personal pursuit of happiness is the pathway to peace and joy, while Jesus taught that a life surrendered to him is the pathway.
Living a celibate life will no doubt, draw you closer to Christ, and as this happens, you will experience a depth of peace and joy that words alone cannot describe. You will experience that taste of heaven that you are looking for.