The Blog has Moved!

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Hello Everyone, sorry about the late notice, but I did want to let you know that I have moved by blog to http://www.enochhaven.com. Hope you will follow me there! -Enoch

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For Those Who Are Uncoupled

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(This post is a slightly longer version of the blog I wrote for my church)

A Powerful Picture

If the past is any indicator, this weekend I will see a reoccurring genre of images on my social media feeds. And no, I am not talking about the pictures of flowers, chocolate, and smiling couples at nice restaurants. The exact details differ, but often these pictures depict a wine bottle accompanied by a solitary glass. Some also feature a catchy hash tag like #ValentinesDayDinner . The funny thing is, I don’t always see food in these pictures. An image really can speak volumes.

This day, though joyful for some, is a painful reminder of aloneness for many others. Singles Awareness Day provides a fitting acronym for many who long to spend the evening with someone special, but can’t.

What good can a blog post about singleness do on Valentine’s Day?

When I was asked to write about this for my church’s blog I resisted for two reasons. First, I fear that anything written about singleness to be published at this time has the distinct possibility of doing more harm than good. This can be an emotionally volatile time, and even well intentioned words can cause real pain when read at the wrong time. I also understand that simply being single does not make me an expert on the subject. While many singles have similar stories, it is impossible to describe the “single experience” with uniformity. Men and women experience singleness differently.  Being single at twenty one is far different from being single at sixty. Some people choose to be single and others are single against their wishes. All of our divergent experiences of singleness have their own particular challenges, and the last thing any single adult wants to hear is another person claiming to know exactly how they feel.

That said, I have decided to venture into this minefield with the belief that some good can come from an honest discussion about what it means to be single today. I am certainly not a sage with great wisdom to share, but I am a fellow traveler who cares about other people also experiencing singleness. My goal here is to tell you a little bit about my own experience and share a few truths that have encouraged me in this journey.

Where I Stand

I have written on singleness before in a general sense, and I plan to write about it again, but perhaps this situation calls for a more personal reflection. This is the post I almost didn’t write because there is always a danger with this type of vulnerability. You don’t want to be misinterpreted, and you certainly don’t want to come across as desperate. But I share in the hope that something I write will resonate with those who read.

I never expected to be single at twenty eight. While singleness at this age is pretty typical in urban areas, I come from a place, Northern Michigan, where marriage in the early twenties is normal – and I expected to be married for years by this point. Most of my friends back home are married, and three of my younger siblings are also married. My birth family is very important to me, and I care about families a lot. I have long desired to be a husband and father.

Romantic relationships are all around me. Within the past two months there have been nine different engagements among my friends, (including two different girls I once went on dates with) and I am excited for all these couples. I can think of five girls I once pursued romantically who are now engaged or married to someone else.

I often vacillate between really enjoying my life and really wanting to be in a relationship, but the desire for marriage is almost always there for me. It isn’t typically haunting or overwhelming, but it is usually present. And if I wasn’t already thinking about it, there are plenty of reminders.

It’s Not Always Easy

It seems like everyone has something to say about singleness, and many of them seek to remedy the “problem”.  Friends offer us well meaning encouragements to “put yourself out there”, even though many of us do all the time.  We are even told to not “be so picky” – as if desiring mutual attraction, appropriate social function, and spiritual stability is really asking too much. During the holidays we have to endure interrogation by relatives who are concerned about our relationship status. After all, they all got married before twenty five, so we must be doing something wrong. On top of all that, at this time of year in particular we are bombarded by advertisers seeking to leverage emotional connections to sell their products. (Just a side note with this one: if you honestly think the jewelry store cares about you or the health of your relationship, think again. They will sell jewelry to a man buying for his mistress, and they are just as enthusiastic about your second engagement as they are your first – at least if you buy the ring from them)

Being single can be hard, and sometimes it is even harder in the church. Single adults are accustomed to hearing spiritual, but often trite, exhortations about how God has a plan. We are regularly fed sermons and illustrations that focus on marriage and family life. Those of us who are seeking a spouse often find dating within the church to be confusing. Making the transition from sister or brother in Christ to girlfriend or boyfriend (and sometimes back again) can be difficult.

In addition to these general church/singleness concerns, I deal with other specific challenges related to my vocation. Practically, being single while serving in the ministry limits your employment opportunities. Some churches and ministries are hesitant to hire older, single men. Worries about relating to the married population and suspicions about sexual orientation seem to be the most common concerns. While I tend to think any standard that would bar Jesus and the Apostle Paul from church leadership is wrong, the reality is that a lot of churches just don’t want an unmarried pastor.

And if you think dating within the church is awkward, try being on staff and dating girls at your church.  Balancing spiritual care for all and personal affection for one is not the easiest thing to do, and you never want to be guilty of making any woman feel uncomfortable worshiping in your community because you express romantic interest in her.

What I Have Found Helpful:

At this point you know a little bit more about me. Perhaps some of you can also relate to these experiences. Now I would like to offer three principals I have learned to apply in the midst of my single experience.

1.      Surround Yourself With Community

We often connect God’s words in Genesis 2:18 “It is not good that the man should be alone” (ESV) with romance. After all, soon after God said this He created Eve. But we must remember that God wasn’t just satisfying Adam’s romantic longings, He was also providing him someone to share life with. Adam’s need for human friendship was even greater than his need for sexual fulfillment. In our western context we tend to see romantic relationships as the primary avenue for deep personal connection, but this modern attitude is far from Christian. The marriage relationship is not the only relationship in which one can experience God’s design for community. God never designed us to live in isolation, and we must be careful to cultivate godly community in whatever stage of life we are in.

I am particularly blessed to be part of a church with a large group of unmarried adults. Many of these people I consider to be good friends, and we do a ton of stuff together. I also have a great Christian roommate, and we regularly have inspiring conversations about God and life. These relationships are some of my greatest blessings, and I don’t take them for granted.

Pursuing this type of community requires intentionality. We may be required to shift our priorities and make sacrifices to develop these relationships. Practically it often starts with small decisions like planning events with your friends – not because you are looking for romance, but because you need other people in your life. It may also mean choosing those you live with carefully, and having a roommate even if you would rather live alone. Living with an older couple or a family could also help build this type of community into your life.

2.      Listen To The Right Voices

As we already discussed, there are no shortage of perspectives and opinions on singleness and relationships today. Many of them, dare I say most, are not worth listening to. We must take control over what messages about relationships we absorb. This will likely mean (politely) tuning out the over-curious relatives and learning to ignore the sappy television ads. We may need to stop reading the romance novels and constantly listening to mournful love tunes. We may even need to set aside the Christian dating and marriage books for a while.

So what voices should we listen to then? We can start by listening to those who are doing life right regardless of their relationship status.  And we should develop friendships with those who care more about the person we are now than about the person we might someday date. If your friends make you feel like a lesser person for being single you may need to find new friends.

We can also read the words of those who have navigated the waters of singleness commendably. Many church fathers and monastics wrote extensively about their single experience, and their words are a vital part of our Christian heritage. There are also current authors who write powerfully about what it looks like to live a Godly and fulfilling single life. In particular I have found the writers at Spiritual Friendship to be profoundly encouraging in their attitudes about relationships. Though these authors often write from the perspective of those who experience same sex attraction their words about singleness are full of wisdom and encouragement even for those of us who do not share their specific situation.

3.      Remember God’s Truth

I grew up in a church full of children, and every night at my home we listened to the Focus on the Family radio broadcast. It may not have been intentional, but the unavoidable impression was given was that good Christians all got married and had kids, preferably at a young age. The idea that living as a single person could be pleasing to God may have been given lip service but this wasn’t encouraged or recommended. In fact single adults were often looked at with sympathy and suspicion.

God, however has a lot to say about singleness and some of it may surprise you if grew up in a church like mine. Jesus and Paul affirm the single life by their words (Matthew 19:12, 1 Corinthians 7) and examples. Scripture also clearly teaches that human marriage is only for this earth. (Mark 12:25) For the Christian, the single state is the eternal state. Even the best, most beautiful, most God honoring marriage will not last into eternity.

It is also worth noting that Christianity stands out among other belief systems in the way it affirms the single life. This is specifically true when you compare Christianity to Judaism, Islam and Mormonism. As Barry Danylak says in his book Redeeming Singleness:

“While Christianity is similar to its Judeo-Christian siblings in its sexual ethics and value for family, it is notably different from its siblings in its affirmation of singleness as a gift and valued lifestyle within the life of the believing community.”p.17

Unfortunately, as we have already discussed, single adults may not feel affirmed in many churches today. Christians are not always good at living out our theology, and this is one of the areas where we have failed. But it is comforting to know that there will always be an important seat for singles at God’s table. Remembering the acceptance Christ showed to single adults should give us patience with those who don’t understand, and stoke in us a passion for making our church a welcoming place for those who are uncoupled.

If you are single, I hope something here has been encouraging to you, and I pray that this weekend will be different (and better) for you than it could have been otherwise. I plan to spend this weekend with friends and also attend a Valentine’s Day party. But I will certainly be glad when it’s over – at least for one reason. On Monday the candy goes on sale.

Sardines and Unexpected Mentors

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The scent spread rapidly as he peeled back the lid from another can of sardines. I tried hard to avoid showing my disgust as the smell of oily fish quickly saturated the air surrounding our table. Sitting across from me was a man I had only just met. For weeks I had heard rumors of a Bible study group at my college, but I was hardly prepared for my encounter with the leader of this band of believers. Josiah was a cheerful man with a powerful smile – and many eccentricities. A nursing student, he had recently started college in his mid-twenties.

Josiah listened as I shared my story, his large beard parting frequently to let his lunch swim through. During that first meeting we talked about our current classes, our families, and a lot about Jesus. While our interests and upbringings were quite different, there was something fascinating about this man. After all, not many of my classmates wore combat boots to school. I didn’t know it at the time, but this man would soon become a meaningful mentor to me.

In the nine years since that meeting Josiah and I have shared a lot of experiences. Together we baked pies, collected honey from his bees, and even built a bear cage. But more than just doing things together, Josiah invited me into his life. I have watched him deal with romantic rejection, process career moves, and navigate difficult family situations. In each of these scenarios I saw him put Christ at the center of his decision making process.

The Bear Cage

The Bear Cage

He also helped me process things going on in my life. When my attempts at romance didn’t turn out like I hoped he listened. When I returned from my trip to the Philippines he was eager to hear what God had taught me there. His encouragement was so helpful when I was struggling while studying for the ministry in Chicago.

We certainly talked about Jesus, but often we just talked about life in general. Josiah has some of the best stories of anyone I know. He talks about swimming across the lake and butchering animals in the barn. He also spent several months doing hurricane relief work in Louisiana.  I will always remember the time when he shared with me how to go about buying candles with a girl – such good advice.

Josiah and I now live more than two hours apart, so I don’t get to see him as often as I would like. But a couple times a year I still make the drive to spend the weekend with Josiah, his wife Jenny, and their three kids. Both of our lives have changed a lot since we first met, but I am still watching his life and learning what it means to be a man of God. While I have yet to develop a love for sardines, I have gained more from our friendship than I ever could have ever imagined.

My hope  is that you would be open to forming friendships with godly men and women around you, even if they don’t look like the kind of mentor you want. You may be surprised how God shapes your life through unexpected people.

JosiahEnochBeach

July 4, 2013

Our Halfhearted Desire for Mentorship

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Over the past several years there seems to have been a new wave of interest in Christian mentorship. This generation of young adults, many of whom grew up with few positive role models, are said to be longing for a greater connection with previous generations. Some suggest that while Generation X wanted to chart its own path, Millennials are longing for more significant input from those who have gone before.

For me this hunger for mentorship is not just an abstract cultural phenomenon. At my church I spend a lot of time meeting with young adults, and many of them express a desire to be mentored by someone older and more spiritually mature. This is also my desire. I would love to see the church become a place where these multi-generational mentorship relationships are prioritized and pursued by people of all ages.

But I am starting to question the depth of this desire in my own generation. We talk about it a lot, but do we really want it? Are we willing to make the sacrifices required to pursue these relationships? Perhaps we do really want it, but only on our own terms, when it is convenient for us. Is it possible that we have romanticized the concept of mentorship? Maybe we envision sitting down for coffee while having a free flowing conversation with someone who speaks wisdom in every word. Is it possible that mentorship is messier and more time consuming than we would like to admit? Perhaps the reason we don’t have mentorship relationships is because we actually don’t care enough. I believe my generation is in need of mentorship gut check.

– Do we want mentorship enough to really commit to and serve in a local church alongside more mature believers?

– Do we really want to listen to and learn from someone whose perspectives on life might seem antiquated or more conservative than ours?

– Do we really want to spend time learning from parents who have screaming babies and misbehaving children? Are we willing to help babysit those kids in order to grow through interaction with these families?

– Do we care enough about mentorship that we would choose to be in a multigenerational small group instead of a group where everyone is just like us?

– Do we really want to be mentored by someone if we would be required to get up earlier or adjust our schedule significantly to pursue the relationship?

– Do we want to be mentored badly enough that we would give up a Friday night hanging out with friends in order to meet an older couple at a boring restaurant?

– Do we want mentorship and multigenerational interaction enough to commit to a church that doesn’t play our style of music?

We are a nation of instant consumers, and no matter how much we wish it would, mentorship will never have the convenience of a drive through. It takes more than three minutes, and godly character is not found on the dollar menu. Mentorship will always cost us something, and far too many of us are simply unwilling to pay that cost.

Maybe my generation does have a greater longing for mentorship than the previous generation, but I care less about what we say we want than I do about what we need. While we don’t find a succinct prescription for mentorship in the Bible, this type of generational investment does seem to be the assumed norm. Wisdom is often possessed by those who are older (Job 12:12). The Apostle Paul set us an example by providing guidance to younger men (Timothy, Titus, John Mark). Older women are even specifically encouraged to help train younger women (Titus 2:3-5). Yes we need each other, and we have always needed each other – that will never change. We should pursue relationships with believers in different life stages, not because it feels good, but because God has designed us to need each other.

This idea goes against the grain in a culture that consistently segregates generations. Older voices are commonly viewed with suspicion instead of respect. Many cultural forces serve to drive us apart, making it hard for us to benefit from each other. God honoring mentorship may be uncomfortable for us, but regardless of comfort or cost it is worth the investment. How is God calling you to make this investment today?