As a speaker, it makes my life a lot more complicated when the conference organizers title my talk. Notice I didn’t say it’s a bad thing, just that it makes my life more complicated. Because then, instead of just talking about what I want to talk about, my talk has to at least somehow remotely resemble the talk that the audience is expecting. I usually spend my preparation time trying to find a “hook” – some kind of transition that will take me from the topic I’m supposed to talk about to the one I want to talk about.
But last weekend I did things a little differently.
I spoke at a conference where my talk was titled “The Holy Spirit and the Single Woman.” Somehow giving short shrift to the Holy Spirit while pursuing my own agenda just didn’t seem right. So instead I decided to do some real reading, thinking and praying about the relationship between the Holy Spirit and singleness.
Honestly, I had never given the subject a whole lot of thought before. I’ve always had a special devotion to the Holy Spirit. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been saying a prayer of consecration to Him daily.(Although I didn’t actually realize it was a prayer of consecration until I was in my 20’s. I just always liked it.) And I’ve always known that, in my ministry work, I rely completely on the power and inspiration of the Spirit. But I’d never connected Spirit and singleness. I’d thought a lot about Christ and the single person, and found great consolation in asking Him to step into that “partner” place in my life. But the Holy Spirit just never played any distinctive role in my single life.
And so, in my meditating on the subject, the first thing that came to me was that Mary was “overshadowed” by the Holy Spirit in the conception of her Son. That’s the first time the Holy Spirit is mentioned in Scripture – when the Virgin cooperated with Him to bring the Redeemer into the world.
Up until then, there was no Holy Spirit. There were also no single persons to speak of. Virginity, the unmarried state–it was essentially unheard-of in the Old Testament. Everybody got married. It was social custom. It was expected. Every woman needed a husband. And her father saw to it that she got one. If she was particularly unattractive, he’d throw some money or a couple of goats in with the bargain. The widow was the most pitied person imaginable. Barrenness was a curse. Unmarried life made no sense.
This was also the time when, thanks to Adam and Eve, everybody had a particularly difficult time rising above their sinful nature. God had gifted men and women with unique strengths. And He had warned them at the time of the Fall that, because of sin, those gifts would be distorted. “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he will lord it over you.” Man’s natural strength, given to enable him to protect, would tend to degenerate into domination. Woman’s intuitive relational skills, given to enable her to nurture, would likewise degenerate into manipulation. As John Paul II described it, the heart became a “battlefield between love and lust,” between the will to look out for what was best for each other, and the will to use each other for our own personal gain.
But then, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ entered the world. And what did Christ do? He brought the Holy Spirit. Through Him and the power of His Spirit working in our lives, we became “new creations.” We’re no longer stuck in sin.
Part of that “new creation” means the renewal of our masculine and feminine gifts. When the Holy Spirit dwells within us, we are transformed – restored to the authentic masculinity and femininity that was intended for us.
Christ was single. He didn’t marry. I suppose the reasons are obvious. He couldn’t very well start a family and a line of descendants. (“Yeah, I’m one half German, one fourth Cherokee Indian and one eighth Divine.”) But after Him began the tradition of virginity for the sake of the kingdom. People deliberately renounced marriage for God.
What do those “virgins for the sake of the kingdom” do? They consecrate themselves to God. And then they live His love in the world. They do that as men and as women. But instead of putting those gifts at the service of a family, they put them at the service of the community and of the world.
They practice spiritual fatherhood and spiritual motherhood.
Now, most of us are not “consecrated” singles. We haven’t permanently renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom. But the lessons apply to us as well. We’re called to live His love in the here and now. We’re created in such a way that we only find real fulfillment when we’re putting the gifts He gave us at the service of others.
We live spiritual fatherhood and motherhood when we extend our love to the children around us – nieces, nephews, godchildren, etc. We live it when we bring our gifts of love, strength and nurturing to the workplace. We live it when we reach out to a friend in need.
It’s “unnatural” in a sense to live as single persons. It was virtually impossible before the redemption. God created us for self-donating love, and the family is the “prototype” of the communion of persons where that love unfolds. Living singular love for God points to the next life, where we will neither give nor be given in marriage. It’s eschatological, to use the theological term.
But we haven’t reached the next life. We’re still in this one. And to live lives that point to the next, we need a lot of help. That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in, transforming our masculine and feminine natures, giving us the strength and grace and power that we need to live His otherworldly love in this world.
Whether we’re single permanently or only temporarily, whether we’re consecrated or just hanging out until the right person comes along, we’re all living lives that point to the next. And that isn’t easy.
Turn to the Holy Spirit. Pray to Him. Remain open to his promptings. Let Him guide your life. If you want to say the prayer I’ve been saying all my life, just Google “Consecration to the Holy Spirit.” It should be the first one that shows up. It starts with “On my knees, before the great multitude of Heavenly witnesses . . .”
The Holy Spirit has taken pretty good care of me. I’m sure He’ll do the same for you.