Sunday, November 4, 2007

I live in a strange dynamic. Let me try to explain it to you. We have 29 people on staff here. 22 of them are females, leaving 7 males. Yes, that is a ratio of over three females to one male. Yes, that is an insane number.

Moreover, four of the men are married, and their wives are on staff here as well. In addition, several females are married. Of the single men, I’m the only one under the age of thirty. Of the ladies, in a span of six years younger to six years older than me, there are 12 single females.

Yes, that is a ratio of 12:1.

SIDEBAR

I know what some of you are thinking…wow! Go Zanger!

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Not exactly. I’ve mentioned a few times that I’ve had a problem since I’ve been here, and it’s simply this…I don’t have an unmarried guy to hang out with. Granted, a lot of that is my fault, simply because I have not put myself into situations where I would meet guys to hang out with.

Therefore, I’m left in a difficult situation. I spoke with some people before I left Chicago about not dating during my first year in Korea, for many reasons that I will not divulge here.

However, I face a challenge because principle often rubs up against reality, and that is where I’m stuck. I’m stuck in a war in my mind. And, much to my chagrin sometimes, principle wins out…usually against the swirling tide of expectations and my sin.

I’m not much of a poet, but poetry is one of the best ways for me to say what I need to say without sounding terribly cheesy. I sat down last year around Thanksgiving time to write a poem so I would have something to read at the Coffee House, a fundraiser for the Zambia Project at Wheaton Academy.

At the time, I was listening to Caedmon’s Call’s song, “I Can’t Lose You.” Derek Webb wrote the song, and one lyric really stood out: “And maybe I have the gift that everyone speaks so high of. Funny how nobody wants it.” That lyric is based on 1 Corinthians 7:7 and Paul’s discussion of the “gift” of singleness and the “gift” of marriage. Derek Webb was single at the time he wrote the verse.

I sat last year and pondered my singleness, just as I am now (and was last Sunday). I wrote the following poem on November 30, 2006, and I include it below. I wrote it because I was tired of trying to base my identity on whom I was with instead of whose I was, and so, it was more of a prayer poem, where I gave God my singleness, since He could do a better job with it than I could. So, to all my single brothers out there, enjoy…and know that I’m in the battle with you.

The Gift
11.30.2006
Eric J. Zanger


What if I have the gift
That everyone tries to hide or lift
Above all else that we can be?
And it would be just fine for me
To be alone all of my life
And walk this world without a wife
If that would be your will.
But there are days, like a pill
I swallow this thing against my will.

“Not mine, but yours,” did my Lord say
And drops of blood he sweat that day.
And alone as alone could be,
He went and died, so I’d be free
Of all the things that people say,
And all the games that people play,
And all the looks of “what’s wrong with you?”
And after that, all they do
Is to ponder who’d be good for me.
What about Christy or Jess as Mrs. Z?

So the gift is mine, and mine to love
Because it’s a gift from God above.
Though if I get called into marriage,
It is a gift I won’t disparage.
That if being a husband is for me,
I will not escape the certainty
That God is still my greatest pleasure,
And of all I have, He’s my greatest treasure.

If being a good husband is my goal,
I better love Christ with all my soul.
For the gift I’ll have is not a wife,
But the gift I have is a new life.


I ask those of you out there who are my prayer warriors to pray that I would have wisdom on the dating front, and to ask me about it when I come home in December. I have a discipleship group where I get to meet with four guys and build them up in the faith, and we were talking about integrity and the damage men can do to society. I leave you with this, because this is why I need your prayers. I looked them in the eye, and said, “Men, I want you to know that I could ruin this school. I don’t say that with pride, but I say that with humility and dependence on God. Twelve single females are within my age range on staff, and if I really wanted to press it, I could create divisions in this school, create bitterness in this school, and destroy the lives of the female teachers in this school…and my life as well.”

I live in the tension of being friendly and not being too friendly. I live in the tension of not being a hermit and not spending too much time with one individual. I live in the tension of knowing that a stupid decision I make (and praise God I haven’t made one yet) could ruin the ministries of two people (or more).

Please don’t read into this that I’m miserable; if you do, please read the next two posts. In fact, I love the fact that God called me into this position, put such a call of responsibility into my life, and now, works it out in me.

Pray for me, but worry not, and fear not, and cry not, for the Great Refiner is, with fire, getting rid of the muck and the mire so that the gold that He’s forming in me can be seen for what it truly is—the wonderful grace of God.

3 comments:

Benjamin said...

This is encouraging. It's so easy to start thinking wrongly about this issue--like you said, it is a war with the mind. I love how you go about this. Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

Eric,

I don't know how to break this to you, so I'll just say it:

THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS THE "GIFT" OF SINGLENESS!!!!

There's been a whole booming discussion in the blogosphere that's heated up over the past year and a half ON THIS VERY TOPIC!!! (Google the term "gift of singleness" to see for yourself) And it's a conversation that's been long overdue. In the past few decades, there have been some truly BAD teachings in the church that have lead many singles to doubt whether or not God wants them to marry. Unfortunately, whenever anyone questioned them, they'd get thumped on the head with admonishments to be "content" and "wait on the Lord", as if expressing the desire for marriage somehow meant that you were an inferior Christian!

Anyways, last year a book came out that questioned a lot of those teachings called "Getting Serious about Getting Married: Rethinking the Gift of Singleness", by Debbie Maken. And this is what started for me and a few others, an exploration of how some of those bad "gift of singleness" (GoS) teachings got started. And here's what we came up with:

First of all, you can look through the entire Bible from cover to cover, and you CANNOT find any of the terms CALLED TO SINGLENESS, or GIFT OF SINGLENESS (nor can you find "called to marriage" or "gift of marriage". The only instance where God tells someone to remain single is Jeremiah, and even that was limited to a specific place and time. Hosea was ordered to marry Gomer, and there's a proverb about a prudent wife being from the Lord, but keep in mind those are an Old Testament examples. Nowhere in the New Testament do any of the writers talk about God telling someone to marry or stay single. Marriage and singleness are spoken of entirely with the language of human volition, singleness only receiving mention in 1 Corinthians 7 and Matthew 19.

A lot of the confusion around the idea that "God gives some the 'gift of singleness' and some the 'gift of marriage" happened because the Living Bible (and later, The Message) worded 1 Cor 7:7 that way. BUT THAT'S A TOTALLY INCORRECT TRANSLATION!!!!

The original Greek text of 1 Cor 7:7 actually reads: “I would have it that all men be as I am, however, each has their own particular gift of God, some of one kind, some of another”. It’s a not a declaration of God “calling” those who get to marry and those who get singleness, but rather a preambulary disclaimer to the next two verses (8 & 9) which contain the meat of Paul’s message (which is clearly about giving wisdom to the individual in letting him/her make their own decision about whether or not to get married): “therefore to the unmarried I say it is good to remain as you are, but if they cannot contain, let them marry for it is better to marry than to burn”. So if you do not discern that you have any gifts that would enable you to remain single for the sake of the kingdom, like Paul (ie. passion for a mission that exceeds the desire to marry; protracted sexual self-control), it’s wise to choose marriage, especially so that you aren't tempted to fall into sin.

As far as the word “calling” is concerned, the Bible almost always uses it in reference to ministry, rather than profession (and never in terms of marriage or singleness, at least not in the NT). Verse 17 in 1 Cor 7 was a specific instruction for people to remain where they were when they were called, most likely because of the “present distress” mentioned in verse 26. I don’t think it simply means “where you are is where God wants to you to be” as a message for all time (a common platitude you see on wall hangings in “spiritual” bookstores and the like).

Some point to Matthew 19:11-12 as an example of being "called to singleness, but Jesus makes it clear at the beginning (not all can "choreo" meaning receive or "make space" for this teaching), middle (some MAKE THEMSELVES eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom) and end (those who can receive for this teaching, let them receive it) of the passage that this DECISION for permament singleness for the sake of the kingdom is made not under divine compulsion but voluntarily by the individual. As for the other two kinds of "eunuchs" (those born that way or made that way by men), note that the passage is not saying that it's God's doing that they are eunuchs, so I don't think we have to assume that just because we are single, then "I guess that was what God wanted for me".

Even if marriage and singleness happen within God’s providence, the scriptures pretty much address it as a matter of personal choice and volition: “to do what he/she will”, (1 cor 7:36/39), “he who finds a wife” (Proverbs 18:22). Which makes perfect sense…more so that the waiting-for-God-to-send-a-wife mentality that has led to such as spirit of passivity and futility among so many modern church singles.

Fortunately, there are leaders in singles ministry, such as the writers at Boundless.com who are addressing this problem, by encouraging a more proactive (but prayerful) outlook on marriage.

Watters, as well as Maken, both make it absolutely clear that it's perfectly natural to want to get married, even if you are a young adult. That indeed, the Bible speaks of marriage in terms of "the wife of your youth". And that we've got to stop giving Christian singles the message that they are "making an idol out of marriage", as if the desire to please God and the desire for marriage are mutually incompatible! Those who pit those desires against each other may mean well, but are doing a terrible disservice to our young people.

So Eric, if you are truly content to serve God in your singleness now, that's great. Especially if there's been some serious behavioral problems that make sense to swear off dating for a year. HOWEVER, there should be no reason to believe that you would somehow be committing some kind of sin by courting any of these young women, if your desire is to explore marriage as a possibility. As it says specifically in 1 Cor 7:28, "but shouldest thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned".

Avoiding such ample possibilities (12 single women to one single guy!) to not hurt the ones you don't choose is the worst possible reason to stay single. Man shortages are epidemic throughout the world's churches, resulting in scores of women being left without husbands. Being overly cautious or considerate does not help this problem.

Pray for guidance, draw upon biblical wisdom in all your dealings, and know that God has designed you to desire good things.

All the best to you,

Jennifer

Eric said...

Jennifer,

Thanks for your input. I voluntarily chose to not date for the first year that I am on the missions field because of a) the adjustments to many different things; b) the teaching load that I am carrying; c) the preaching load that I am allowing myself to carry; and d) the fact that I know the limitations of my flesh and this is a year set apart for the Lord for Him to do in me and through me as He chooses. I believe that having a girlfriend during this year would serve as a hinderance to God doing what was seemingly unfathomable to me when I landed in Korea. To that end, I am very encouraged.

So, the issue for me isn't whether I am hurting the other ladies by choosing one, the issue for me is standing on the commitment I made two months before I landed in Korea.

Come next year, when I have adapted to the culture, adapted to the school, found my groove in lesson planning and instruction, and most importantly, have upheld my commitment to Christ, then, if the Lord awakes in me the desire to be married, then perhaps, you will read of a godly courtship and marriage.

Only God knows. Stay tuned.