When I was growing up, one of the first images of men I had was through westerns: TV shows like Gunsmoke and books by Louis L’Amour gave me the idea that men were physically strong, unafraid, and comparatively quiet. They worked hard and provided for their families. My father, who was a pastor, also embodied most of these characteristics–although he never owned a gun!
When I was a teen, I added some concepts to my idea of manhood. For example, men were supposed to be sensitive and not afraid to express their feelings. However, these concepts seemed to contradict my earlier images of manhood, and they somehow didn’t feel natural. When I was 20, I became a Christian, and as I grew in my faith, I realized that I needed and wanted to have purpose in my life. I discovered it in Corinthians 10:31, which says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (This applies to all people, not just men!) Once I figured out what I wanted to do for my career–teach English to adults whose first language was not English–I understood my purpose more specifically. At that time, I met the lovely Christian woman who was to become my wife.
My wife and I had known each other as friends before anything romantic developed, so when we got married, we knew each other pretty well. However, I discovered anew that my wife and I were different! For example, when we had conflict, she tended to “pursue” me, whereas I tended to back off. I found myself thinking back to those concepts of manhood I mentioned earlier. Which ones seemed to be in line with Scripture? Not being afraid? Yes. Being physically strong? Neutral. Working hard and providing for my family? Yes, although not to the exclusion of my wife working; we managed to stagger our teaching schedules so that one of us could always be home with the kids. Being comparatively quiet? Not so much. Being sensitive and expressing my feelings? To some degree, yes, because it tended to make my wife feel closer to me. However, there was still something missing.
When I was 40, I joined a men’s group at my church; we studied a Men’s Fraternity manhood curriculum by Robert Lewis together. A year or two later, I was in a class at church with men who all had at least one son; we studied a book called Raising a Modern-Day Knight, also by Robert Lewis. Through the materials I studied and the close fellowship I enjoyed with other Christian men, I gained a much better understanding of Christian manhood, starting with myself and then transferring to how I wanted to raise my son.
Lewis laid out four principles of manhood for us. The first two are more or less two sides of the same coin: a real Christian man rejects passivity, and he accepts responsibility. Lewis talks and writes about two kinds of passivity: social and spiritual. He writes, “For some reason, men of every age become passive when it comes to initiating this action [social and spiritual] in their homes, with their families, and in their communities.” I’m sorry to say that this rang true for all of us men to some degree. Lewis says it’s because of what happened in Genesis 3, when Eve and Adam fell into sin. The second sentence of verse 6 says, “She also gave some [fruit] to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Notice the phrase “who was with her.” Lewis interprets this as meaning that while Eve was talking with the serpent, Adam was there with her, being passive. Now, I don’t know if this was actually the case or if Adam was with Eve after the conversation, but it is interesting to contemplate. Regardless of the reason, we men agreed that we tend to be passive and, more importantly, that this is wrong because the Bible calls us to be leaders.
In addition to rejecting passivity, then, real Christian men accept responsibility, both socially and spiritually, so that we can be the leaders God has called us to be. What does that look like? In regard to conflict resolution, which I mentioned earlier, I needed to become more proactive; in other words, if something my wife said or did bothered me, I had to talk to her about it. And if the Holy Spirit brought conviction to me about something I had said to her, I needed to apologize and not wait for her to come to me. In regard to raising our kids: basic Christian disciplines like having some kind of devotional time together and taking our families to church are important. However, if we men are not careful, we can start relying on pastors and other spiritual leaders to do our work for us. We need to do what Deuteronomy 6:7 says: “Impress them [these commandments] on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 11:19 is a carbon copy of this verse.) In other words, we take advantage of opportunities to impress Christian principles on our kids. For example, when we observe certain behaviors of other people, sometimes good, sometimes bad, we talk to our kids later about them. One caveat: we don’t want to be overly critical of other people, as my kids reminded me more than once! At the same time, we certainly want to teach our kids what’s right and wrong.
In our family, when one of us read something that really struck us in some way, or when we watched a particularly thought-provoking show or movie, we talked about it. Some of this talking was just fun and observational, but it came from a Biblical perspective. My kids are adults now, but when they were teens growing up in our home, I would read a few pages from a Christian book while they were eating dessert. (I ate mine a few minutes later!) This also gave us a good chance to discuss things from God’s perspective.
My wife used to give me an annual “day off” in which she would take the kids somewhere (often her parents’ place) overnight. This allowed me, as we joked, to accept passivity and reject responsibility! The other 364 days of the year, I strived to reject the former and accept the latter. In my next post, I will focus on Lewis’s two other principles of Christian manhood.