It was fairly obvious to me, from the minute I first met Jesus, that Christianity meant signing up to be countercultural. When I told my friends that I believed in Jesus, some of them no longer wanted to be around me. When I shared with my family that I believed God’s design for sexual fulfillment finds its home in marriage, they had a borderline intervention, desperate to convince me that I would never find a healthy relationship if I took sex off the table.
Then I found a new culture that prized purity and made my new worldview feel so “normal” that I couldn’t imagine it any other way. And I almost lived happily ever after.
Except that, it turns out believing that sexual fulfillment is designed for marriage doesn’t make you any less of a sexual being. Understanding and even loving God’s view of sex doesn’t make you want it less. Singleness presents a series of hardships, but for me learning to live without physical intimacy has provided the biggest challenge and deepest suffering of this season.
I have spent so much time trying to remove the struggle; thinking that the day this didn’t hurt would be the day I most honored God, that removing the temptation would be the sign of God’s blessing. But our God seems to be in the business of blessing us, not in spite of suffering, but through suffering. I believe that one day, I will look at my life and say with confidence that one of the greatest blessings I have experienced and gifts that I have given to others has been the pain of learning to live without physical intimacy.
Gift of Missing Out
There is pain in watching my friends be fed one after another with the thing I hunger for the most. There is pain in facing each morning with the knowledge that today there will be no daily bread for this hunger. There is pain as I sit, feeling as though I am starving to death, and listen to my married friends try to explain that such eating is overrated.
But that pain has taught me how to hold my infertile friend and cry with her when Mother’s Day rolls around again. That pain has given weight to my words when I explain to a mom with three kids that Friday nights alone on your couch really aren’t as amazing as they sound.
The pain of missing out on physical pleasure in this life holds out to us the gift of longing for the next life. Foregoing the earthly shadow by faith because we believe so much in the heavenly reality.
It might be that the pain of a life without physical intimacy was part of what equipped Paul to proclaim through the Spirit that to die is gain. To die is to gain a glorified body that feels and experiences the truth that all our needs are met in Jesus. To die is to gain the heavenly reality that earthly intimacy can only reflect in shadows. To die is to gain full oneness with God, fullness of joy, and pleasures forevermore.
Gift of Denied Design
There is almost nothing as strange and painful as the act of choosing to trust God over the very fiber of your design. It’s a pretty hard sell to get your body on board with the idea that you’re not missing out on what you were created to enjoy. It’s challenging to not feel entitled to sex. In fact, it’s one of the things that has made it the hardest to trust my sweet and faithful God. And in some ways—in dark and frightened places—I feel forgotten and betrayed and confused because I know he knows me. I know he knows my body and my heart, and I know he designed and wired this desire inside of me in the same way he wired my belly to grumble every morning around 11:02 a.m. My hunger is designed to prompt me to eat. So I do. Yet my Father has told me that when I am hungry in this sense I must trust him and not find food for myself. And he has seen fit not to give me any guarantee that this hunger will ever be satisfied in this life.
Yet this struggle has taught me to value hunger; to embrace it as a means of getting God, rather than thinking of this hunger as an enemy. It’s like fasting. God commands us to fast, but not so that he can prove he is as good as a cheeseburger by making our hunger go away. The goal of fasting is not for God to remove our hunger, but for us to learn that in the midst of hunger he is trustworthy. The feeling of hunger is the point of the fast. It teaches us to hunger for something better.
Today, my body wants something tangible and physical that it was designed to have. And today, I don’t get to have that thing. Of course my body grumbles, and as it does, I get to testify that in the midst of my hunger, God is trustworthy. I’m learning to hunger for something better.
It doesn’t feel good, but it is a gift that I can share with others. Sitting across from a wife as she explains why it’s time to leave her husband because he is not meeting her emotional needs—needs that are real and valid and designed to be met—I have experienced that gift. I have been able to look her in the eyes and say that it is normal and natural and good to be hungry for the things she needs. I get to minister to her by looking her in the eyes and sharing how that hunger can be a gift; how suffering the loss of valid dreams is an opportunity to gain Christ.
This pain has blessed me by forcing me to be all in with God: banking on him for my joy. Our God is a God of pleasure. He is not calling us to hunger because he wants us to be miserable. He is calling us to hunger because he wants us to experience the greatest pleasure available to man: himself.
Nothing sounds as foolish to the world as a person who would pursue purity, not out of some sense of religious obligation, but out of a faith that there is a greater pleasure in store for those who would trust in the Creator. Nothing makes God look as beautiful as when we, who have tasted his goodness, would use our lives to testify that we will forego any momentary joy in order to taste more of him.
Pain of Failure
In my worst moments, I feel set up to fail. I have told friends through tears that I do not know how I am going to persevere in light of my hunger and in light of my Father’s gracious call to purity. I have lifted up my fists to heaven and confessed: I do not feel like I have everything I need for life and godliness. I have laid on the floor in the dark and wondered: Is this struggle the one that is going to cause me to leave the God I love?
Yet, each day, as the sun goes down and I’m still securely held in the arms of the Father, my faith is built. He doesn’t promise to give me everything I need to never ever falter. He promises to give me everything I need to finish this race. And today I love him; he has proved himself faithful. He will finish the good work he began in me.
I have failed. I’m ashamed to say that more days of this life than not I have behaved as an orphan. Though adopted and promised provision, I have refused to trust. Instead I have taken for myself what has not been given. But he has never forsaken me. I have traded him for the fleeting pleasures of this world too many times to count, but he has never traded me. And he will never trade me. He has met me in the pig pen and led me home. Even through my failure, I have been given the gift of trusting him more today than I did yesterday.
Blessed in Suffering
There are pieces of my testimony that I hate; that I might wish to rewrite. But even in my failure, God has written my life with his divine grace. Perhaps this struggle more than any other has made me more like Christ by forcing me to bank on his resume instead of my own.
Today, in order to worship God, my body needs to be hungry. Today, he is giving me the blessed pain of hunger, because it’s the only way I’m going to make it home. He has promised to do whatever it takes to get me home to him.
If you are ashamed, if you have failed, rest your heart in the fact that the gospel was made for just such a time. We don’t have a great high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. Praise God that we have Jesus, who has walked in singleness; he was tempted in every way, yet he never succumbed. So draw near to him in repentance and faith, and receive mercy and find grace to help in your time of trouble.