Theology of the {unmarried} body

If you’ve been around Catholic circles in the last 20 years, you might have heard some serious fangirling over St. John Paul II. He was allegedly the “coolest saint ever“. He even fished, wore hipster glasses at some point, acted, and oh, gave us Theology of the Body.

Theology of the Unmarried Body - Not Alone Series

If you haven’t heard of it before, “Theology of the Body” (TOB) started as a series of talks that was later compiled into a book . . . which has now been explained so normal people can understand it (even Cosmopolitan). JPII used these talks to reflect on and teach us the purpose of our lives. No big deal, right? You know, it’s just our place in the cosmos and the answer to the question we all ask: “Why do I exist?”

Intrigued? Good. Me too. So I read this introduction and my mind was blown. The main point?

God created us in his image so we can reflect his love in our lives and ultimately be united to him in heaven.

His love is free, total, faithful, and fruitful. (I mean, obviously the Trinity isn’t going to be breaking up anytime soon.)

He created us to learn to love like he does.

He created us male and female to show us that we can reflect the love of the Trinity, a communion of loving persons, as evidenced by the way our bodies were designed. He created us to give of ourselves unconditionally and accept others unconditionally, just like he does, doing our best to see the dignity of each other made in the image of God.

This communion of loving persons many people are called to is the family. But some people misunderstand TOB and think it only applies to marriage. This is false, because TOB teaches us about everyone’s call to love. Some people are called to love through marriage and family life. Others through a religious community or consecrated single life. This post isn’t about marriage and relationships. It’s about how we live out this call to holiness, to give of ourselves unconditionally, as people who are unmarried.

Essentially, TOB teaches us to love others by giving instead of grasping, by seeking to see people more like God does: with the unique dignity of being made in his image as a gift to the world. That’s possible, and dare I say, demanded of us as Christians at all stages in life.

JPII teaches us that “man . . . cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself”. This central message is insanely simple, but radical at the same time: Give. It’s implications are countless.

For people who aren’t bound by marriage or religious vows to continually give of themselves to the same person/group of people, we have the unique privilege of giving ourselves more fully to the people we encounter everyday.

“The married person puts their spouse first,” said Janet Smith. “The celibate puts God first. When you’re single, the next person who crosses your path is the person you put first. That’s who Christ is asking you to give yourself to. That’s how you love him.”

What might this look like in our lives?

1. Give the gift of your time to a cause you believe in.

  • Cultivate a spirit of selfless giving by volunteering to build homes, go on mission trips, serve at a soup kitchen, cuddle babies at your local NICU, babysit for tired parents . . . figure out where your passions and schedule meet with other people’s needs.

2. Give the gift of your skills and talents to people who can use them.

  • Good at math? Tutor. Love to paint? Host a painting & wine night for friends who need a little community. Master chef? Make meals for people recovering from a big life event. Our abilities are meant to be shared freely and generously.

3. Give the gift of your prayers. Always.

  • Sometimes the most we can do is pray. What I do for this is post on social media every Sunday asking people to comment/message/like the status and I’ll remember their intentions throughout the week. I write these intentions down in a journal (when I’m on top of it) and refer to it throughout the week in prayer. When I’m on top of my game enough to offer things up for people, that happens too. My goal is to visit those intentions each night. This has been a huge way to not only connect with people, but offer more of my time and effort for them.

4. Die to yourself (aka. don’t always treat yo’self).

  • For example, we could bring the brownies to share at work instead of finishing them on the couch while binge-watching Netflix. Fasting every once in a while might be your jam, or offering other things for people. It sure doesn’t fit with pop culture, but it teaches us to be more selfless which is what TOB is all about.

5. Push yourself to see the dignity in everyone.

  • That coworker who gets on your nerves? She’s made in God’s image. Crazy driver who flips you off? God’s image. It’s easier sometimes to see the dignity in the homeless and poor than the people we live with or are closest to. So before you entertain nasty thoughts about people or snap back to a rude comment, STOP and challenge yourself to see their dignity as a child of God. They are a unique and unrepeatable gift to the world, even when they aren’t acting like it.

6. Be grateful.

  • You know what’s hard? Being grateful. There’s so much we have to have and do. Mmkay. You seriously don’t need to have the newest iPhone. Relax and count your blessings. After reading this book, I started writing down things I was grateful for each day. It’s made such a difference. It teaches me to see the gifts in the little things. Seriously, try it out. Notice the little things. Unless you’re a naked starving hobo living in a cardboard box, you’ve got at least a few things to thank God for.

7. Go the extra mile.

  • As unmarried people, we can give more of our time than pretty much anybody else. Yes, there are jobs and commitments. Life is busy. But life is always busy. And we have time for things when we make time for them. So make time for loving people! Go out of your way to have coffee with a friend, start a book club, or organize a local event. Remember that even when people don’t seem like they deserve it, do something nice for them anyway. It will change your life (and theirs!).

That’s it. TOB is about finding our purpose in life through selflessly loving. It’s harder than it sounds. But I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t all keep fangirling over this if it wasn’t worth it. It’s really hard to describe, but it’s in those moments when you think of other people, do thoughtful things, and respect the dignity of people unconditionally that we are most fulfilled. Not to mention that’s when we’re best living our mission to love.

In These Beautiful Bones, Emily Stimpson says:

“We’re all made to be a gift. And we become that gift by using our bodies to serve, teach, comfort, correct, feed, clothe, shelter, heal, encourage, lead, suffer, sacrifice, and pray for others, helping them through it all to become more the men and women God calls them to be.”

And my main man Fulton Sheen (as always) has a few words on the topic of when we meet Jesus face to face:

“He will look at our hands to see if they have been scarred from giving, our feet to see the calluses from travel to preach His Gospel, and our side to see if we have loved to a point of sacrifice. Woe to us who come down from Calvary with hands unscarred and white.”

Ever thought of TOB like this? How can you apply it to you life? Tell me what you think by commenting below or linking up with the Not Alone Series here!

To hands scarred from giving,

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10 thoughts on “Theology of the {unmarried} body”

  1. So well put! I learned/taught ToB when I was single and marriage was nowhere on the horizon, and I am so grateful to have developed a strong understanding of it for my self, and then afterwards in the context of a couple.

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  2. I’m not sure I agree that the article you posted about “misunderstanding TOB” was the author actually misunderstanding TOB. I think she was saying that some speakers have reduced TOB talks to focus on sex and marriage, maybe because, it’s sexy. I think she was saying she was frustrated with that aspect, and was seeking the richness of TOB that she knows is there, and that she is discovering more and more in Stimpson’s book. Other than that, great post.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Ana! I’m not here to argue about what other writers meant in their pieces, because we can’t know what their thoughts actually were. What I do know is that some people misunderstand TOB in that way, which was my point in linking to that article. My hope is that speakers, writers, and those who listen and read about TOB will discover and share that it applies to so much more than sex and marriage. I wouldn’t take much time to understand it at this point in my life if that’s all I was told about it. Agreed!

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  3. This is beautiful! You have a fantastic grasp of how to apply TOB to things that are not just married sex and vows of celibacy. I’d like to think that St. JPII hoped we would all reach that leve of understanding someday.

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    1. Thank you, Lindsay! The more I learn about this, the more thankful I am for JPII. It’s just mind-blowing and life changing. And YES. It’s so good to see more and more people understanding this. I hope it continues to reach more people!

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  4. Beautiful post, Laura! I like what you said about giving the gift of time and talent, and seeing the dignity of God in everyone. Thanks for writing this! It’s always good to be challenged in how we share God’s joy and love with others, even when it’s hard (like seeing God’s image in the person who is getting on your nerves.) Keep spreading the joy!

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