Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Dear LadyLike: What about remaining single?

Dear LadyLike,

What do you say to a young woman who doesn't want to get married? Is this biblical? Or is it sinful? Related to this: Is there room for single adult women in the life and work of the (LCMS) church? I would really appreciate any thoughts and counsel you have on this topic. 

Dear Lady,

"I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I." 1 Cor. 7:8

1 Corinthians 7 is the go-to passage about the reasons for getting married or not getting married. The bottom line is that most people find that it is not good for them to be alone and make their way through life better if they are married. But some people do not have an inclination to marry built into them. There's nothing wrong with that.

"There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband." (vs. 34)

Remaining celibate is placing one's care in the things of the Lord rather than the things of the world. That is a noble and blessed way of life. It is an act of trust and an investment in one's own spiritual well-being, and a testimony to the intrinsic value of each individual life. A secondary benefit of this is that a person who does not need to be available to an immediate family can be more available to the church.

The form that a single person's service to the church takes is wide open. Other Christian traditions have a system for celibate people to formally devote their entire lives to the church. Lutherans pretty much don't have a thing for that. Loehe's deaconesses were virgins or widows (and left deaconess work if they married), but that is no longer the case.

If this is a deficiency in Lutheranism (and I think it is in some ways, as the lack of formal recognition or position may imply that single people lack a place in the life of the church), it is made up in the Lutheran theology of vocation. A single woman doesn't have to be a nun to serve the church, or even a deaconess, teacher, or managing editor of The Lutheran Witness. She could be a butcher, baker, or candlestick maker. A Christian geologist has at least as much to offer the church as a Minister of Religion-Commissioned. A person who works in a non-church-work field has a non-church-work income from which to tithe, a much better situation for engaging non-Christians than people who work in a church building all day, and evenings and weekends on which to come to church and volunteer. And if a single lady is better at cleaning gutters than she is at teaching Sunday School, that aptitude is no less valuable or welcome. Churches have gutters too.

You just plain don't have to get married if you don't want to. There are a number of costs and disciplines built into that decision. The long term benefit is having forgone the icon and its built-in distractions for the sake of preparing for the real thing: eternal union with the true Bridegroom.

Gertrud von le Fort's book The Eternal Woman includes a profound treatment of the station of virginity. I recommend it for anyone interested in the topic. I also recommend the thoughtful posts of Heather Judd at Sister, Daughter, Mother, Wife.

Thanks very much for this question. LadyLike

UPDATE: After posting, I received this valuable correspondence from a reader who gave me permission to reprint it.

Single Christians serve the Church and their neighbors--and I would emphasize, they don't live for themselves.  In our secular culture, you stay single (or get divorced) in order to live for yourself.  (Or if you do get married, you avoid having children, or too many children, in order to keep more of the pie for yourself.)  Both single and married people should understand this, that in whatever state one is called, one is to serve, and we are not to judge one another in this matter.  It is not right for a person to avoid marriage simply so one can have the whole pie.  St. Paul makes it clear that the single person should care for the things of the Lord, in contradistinction to the things of the world--even if one is cleaning gutters, or making tents, for a living.  But we Lutherans should do more to honor and value the vocation of celibacy, as well as make it clear what this calling is for.  Hopefully the tide is beginning to turn in that direction.