Our pastor recently preached a Sunday morning sermon on marriage and the family. He prayed for “our marriages and families” at the end and then added the line, “and we also pray for those who are single.” I peeped around the room and thought that he might just as well have said, “and Gary too” since I was the only single person there!
Back in July 2015, I was still profoundly blessed by living with (and caring for) both parents, owning a cat Tilly who thought I was her Daddy (!) and by having the closest best friend I had ever had in my life. Pete and I were both songwriters and saw each other often – I must have cooked him 100 meals over the past 8 years. He was a friend like no other friend I’d ever had. He felt like my kid brother and I remember thinking, “When I lose Mum and Dad, I’ll still have Tilly and Pete.” But God had other plans and things didn’t work out in the way I hoped. Tilly was unexpectedly run over on the last Wednesday of July 2015. Mum then had a stroke on October 3rd of that year and I nursed and loved her intensively until I unexpectedly lost her on Tuesday 18th April 2017. It was such a privilege, honour and deep blessing and God taught me so much. The same month I lost her, Dad broke his hip. When he came out of hospital I again nursed him intensively. He rapidly became confined to a wheelchair and his dementia nose-dived.
Being an only child, and also same-sex attracted, I had always dreaded getting to a point in my life where I was bereaved of all close family, not as young as I used to be and where most of my close friends had married and moved away. That point in my life arrived, somewhat more rapidly than I expected, in 2018.
So, in the summer of that year, I had two unexpected losses. Dad died on the evening of August 3rd. I hadn’t seen it coming, although it seems the visiting nurse had. One month prior to this, on July 2nd, totally surprisingly to me, my best friend Pete sent me a four-line email ending our close eight-year friendship. A line in it read, “I just can’t handle the intensity of this friendship anymore.” I saw it as my fault. Dad’s health had just begun to seriously decline and I was under a huge amount of stress. I realised that I was still so flawed and so far away from who Jesus sought to make me.
What I have learned
So, getting back to that fear of being left alone, has my life fallen apart? True, there has been (and sometimes is) deep grief; but no, I have found that God is faithful and opens up life in new ways. He uses the griefs and tragedies of our lives to work deeper beauties in us which we cannot see (Romans 8:28). His intention is to produce the image of His Son in us. In sensing His presence and support day by day, and having the assurance that my parents are safe in His care, I have learned the following:
Singleness has given me back freedom and time to do the creative things I was beginning to do years before. I have time for hybridising tall bearded irises (crossing different varieties to produce new stronger varieties in more varied colours). I have time to arrange, record, mix and master the songs I write. I have time to make changes in the garden and go for long walks in the countryside. I can be more involved in our church community and visit others who are unwell or alone, such as my 93-year-old neighbour. I can travel more easily.
More importantly, I am freer to pray and come more undistracted into the Lord’s presence, though I have not taken up this opportunity as fully I should. The long walks in the countryside are often times where I pour out my heart to the Lord and pray for the remaining loved ones in my life. Praying for others is so important. Even without regular contact with the people I love, I’ve learned that I can still take seriously the needs in their lives and persistently pray for them. For those who are His, I can pray for them to know Him better. And for those who don’t, or may have backslidden, I can pray that the Lord may work in them day after day until they are drawn into full surrender.
Trusting God with my celibacy
Celibacy does, of course, bring challenges. There can be times of profound loneliness. Although it is much better when I am busy and in daily contact with others. Whether at work, church or other aspects of life, there are inevitably times when I feel the lack of a partner to share life with. I tend to feel this more between October and February. God does keep on sustaining me if I trust Him. But I have a choice to make when this world tries to seduce me with its message of, “Come on - these days it’s fine to have a life-long same-sex partner or even spouse.” Will I do things by my own understanding? Will I try to sort out the answer to my unmet needs by my own logic, reasoning and actions? Or will I choose to put everything into His hands, in total surrender, not knowing how or when or even if (in this life) He will sort it all out? I know that through trusting in God, even during dark or difficult periods, there will be release, power and blessing in my life. We have to remember that spiritual warfare is real (Ephesians 6:10 -18) and that none of us is immune from it. We are totally vulnerable apart from Jesus. However, our utter dependence on God is the very key to our hope and to our safety and strength. Paul has clearly received the Lord’s strength and security when he writes, “…my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). We are more in danger when we think we are strong. But when we know our vulnerability and spiritual poverty (Matt 5:3) and our need for total dependence on God, we can begin to discover His immense power, love and ability.
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2019 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend.