Single Heartedness

[An intro note from Pastor Terry: Hi, I am on vacation this week so our friend and helper, Deb Bostwick has, once again, agreed to sit in as “guest blogger.”  In this week’s edition, she’ll be closing out this round of thoughts on the season of singleness.  Next week, we’ll begin taking a look at dating…”God’s way!”  If you’ve missed previous posts or would like to reference them again, you may do so through this link.] 

When I was single and wanting to be in a relationship, if someone had said, “oh, it’s good to be single”, I would have rolled my eyes and walked away.  At certain times, it may have even brought a tear or two when I was particularly lonely.  Singleness was hard. In many ways our society pushes relationships/marriage/the need to be attached.

A good friend of mine is 37 years old. She has never been married. It is a struggle as she VERY MUCH wants to be married.  Not too long ago, her boss attempted to set her up with a gentleman 20+ years her senior. When she turned down the date, she was told her standards were too high and she better hurry up as she was “running out of time.”  Running out of time? Wow!

In his first letter to new believers in the ancient city of Corinth, Greece, the apostle Paul encourages the unmarried in the following verses:

32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.  (1 Corinthians 7: 32-35, NIV)

I recently heard an interview with Sister Helen Prejean. She is the author of 3 books including, Dead Man Walking, about her experiences on death row. Sister Helen described her horror at the barbaric crimes, but also the equally barbaric consequences; her stumbles with the victims’ families, her education into the injustices of the death penalty and death penalty convictions. Her conversion to activism would, in time, make her one of the country’s best-known death penalty abolitionists, and maybe its most famous nun since Sally Field.

In the interview and in her latest book, River of Fire, she talked about meeting a young priest she calls William and they fell in love. Nuns and priests were experimenting with a relationship model called “the third way,” which was sort of like dating except the couples stayed celibate and true to their vows of chastity. Then came an awakening, as she examined the meaning of celibacy beyond biology.

Attending to William’s emotional needs, she writes, had consumed more and more of her time and focus, competing with “the single-heartedness” that is the essence of her vocation.

She talked about the fact that when you give yourself to another, in emotions, vows or body, that person now becomes a priority in life.  Even though you may consciously try to put God first, your time, energy and emotion are now split. You no longer can have a single-hearted focus on God.  This is so, so true.

“Virginity is completely identified with sex,” she said, “what a person has not experienced. It’s that closed-off, puritanical kind of thing.” But Sister Helen’s practice of celibacy taught her that the Virgin archetype was something more radical. “It is the single-heartedness that is the integrity in one’s being,” she said, and then quoted Jean Shinoda Bolen, the Jungian author: “She does what she does because what she does is true.”

I love her take on singleness.  That being single allowed her the opportunity, and the privilege, of a singlehearted focus on God.

She was asked why she didn’t leave her vocation and marry William. She said that it would have interfered with her calling from God.

Sister Helen’s awareness of social justice came when she attended a talk by an activist nun who noted that Jesus’ message about the poor is that they be poor no longer. (Luke 6:20-21; Matthew 5:3) …that their fate was not God’s will, and that just praying for people was not enough. (Deuteronomy 15:7-8; 1 John 3:17;  Proverbs 31:8-9; Luke 14:12-14)

Social justice, the nun said, meant being involved in political processes, because doing nothing was tacit support for the status quo.

What stung the most, Sister Helen said, “was the realization of how passive I had been.” A year later, she moved into Hope House, a Catholic service ministry in a New Orleans housing project. She was 42 years old. And a year after that, she would begin writing to a death row inmate, which lead to her first book, Dead Man Walking. (It later also became a blockbuster movie, starring Sean Penn as a death-row inmate and Susan Sarandon playing the role of Sister Helen.)

Describing the experience, “I had to break out of two cocoons,” she said. “One was the spiritual one that by praying you helped the world be a better place. And the other was white privilege because I was taken care of in every way. Nuns were held in great regard. We could ride the buses free. If we went to a restaurant, someone would pay the bill. I didn’t know any poor people. I didn’t know that right down the street from the convent where I was living, in the New Orleans suburbs by the lake, were 10 major housing projects. We grow up in these envelopes.”

Sister Helen now runs her own non-profit in New York called, Ministry Against the Death Penalty. It is her personal fight to educate the country on truths about the death penalty. Her latest book, “River of Fire” is autobiographical and took 7 years to write.  

(By the way, Sister Helen is now 82. She travels three-quarters of the year, and has spoken in all 50 states. She has been awarded 65 or so (no one is quite sure) honorary degrees, the most recent being a doctorate in divinity from Yale. Her colleague, Sister Margaret, described her as a hurricane.”)

Your season of singleness isn’t likely to lead you to the convent or a monastery.  But, by opening your heart and mind to a single-hearted devotion to God while it lasts can open up tremendous doors to all that God has in store for you.  However long the season may last, commit today to doing what you do to know God more deeply and, in doing so, to serve Him and bring Glory to His name.  

Sometimes that moment, that one moment that changes your life is meeting a spouse. But sometimes, that moment, that one moment that changes your life is following God’s calling, catching a wave and maybe changing the world.

Some Questions to ponder this week:

1. How could you better use your season of singleness to God’s Glory?  
2. In our culture, “politics” has become a “dirty” word and we know that God calls us to something higher. How might the scriptures in this week’s blog inspire you to become active in causes for social justice without becoming political?
3. Who are some of the “poor in spirit” that God has placed in your path and what are some specific things you can do in addition to prayer that might help them to be poor no longer?  

“References:  River of Fire,  Helen Prejean and Dead Man Walking, Helen Prejean