What does it mean to be a man? And how does one become a man? These questions are being asked in a thousand different ways in our turbulent culture. The loss of centering for masculinity is at epic proportions. You can see it in the tragedies on the news, in the endless public discussions, but I see it in the angst and confusion in my conversations with men. They are often stuck in one way or another in an emotional boyhood and do not know how to move into manhood.
So here are 10 signs that show this movement is happening. They are presented in no particular order. Neither is this list exhaustive, but hopefully suggestive of the motions needed to enter manhood.
- Accepting responsibility: Boys shift blame, shun responsibility, and come up with excuses. But a man owns his mistakes and his sins. When confronted by those who love him, he accepts how others are experiencing him and learns from it.
- Taking on what is hard: Boys look for the easy way out in situations. But a man quits trying to find the short cut or the smooth path without resistance. He accepts that life is hard and that tackling it will require sacrifice and endurance. He will even learn to relish the challenge.
- Relinquishing demands: A boy is always demanding that someone else make his life work. It could be a wife, a parent, or even a mentor. When that demand is unanswered or disappointed, he responds with anger or despair. But a man quits demanding that from others because he has found his center elsewhere. He is learning to lean on God, the only One who can make his life work.
- Detaching from idols: Boys are inordinately attached to things that bring them a momentary comfort or a passing thrill. These are his addictions, his idols before which he grovels. But a man is walking through the purifying fire of letting them go. He is learning to stand without these props before the relentless love of God. He is learning to attach his soul to Him.
- Experiencing identity: A boy is unsure about who he is and forever trying to be like someone else. He is constantly looking to success or performance to define him. But a man is finding his identity in the way God feels about him. He is learning to see himself in the unique way God sees him and rests in that.
- Discovering the quest: A boy will structure his life around what is expected of him by his family, his acquaintances, or his culture. But a man lives from an interior fire that burns to accomplish the quest God has given him. He is on the move, with a sharp sense of purpose.
- Walking with brothers: A boy keeps hiding his interior life from others. He is bound by shame, terrified of exposing his fears and flaws. But a man is living in the open space of being in the company of brothers who know his story, his heart, and his worst sins.
- Finding a guide: Boys try to do life alone. They think they can make themselves into men. But a man knows he needs mentors and seeks them out. More importantly, he is learning to let God be his guide, soaking in His presence, grabbing onto His wisdom, listening for His voice.
- Submitting to the larger narrative: Boys construct a narrative for their lives they hope will guarantee success, fame, power, or wealth. But a man has let go of that frantic self-constructing. He is submitting to a higher story, a larger narrative — the story that God is telling, the redemption of the world, the in-breaking of God’s kingdom.
- Submitting to death: Boys are forever avoiding and resisting death, the death of their best-laid plans, the death of their narcissistic selves, the death of their physical bodies. But a man is willing to enter death again and again because he knows that there he will only find more life. He is following in the steps of the Great Man, the pioneer of a new manhood, who walked straight into the jaws of death without sword or shield, slew the dragon, and rose again on the third day, more alive than ever. A man follows that Great Man, Jesus, into death and finds he too is more alive than ever, not only here but also in the life that is coming.
So where are you? Where do you need to move into manhood? It’s OK to admit you are still a boy in some ways. It’s not only OK. It’s a necessary part of the journey. So how do you move forward?
- Take your fears, your doubts, your insecurities to God. Be honest with where you are.
- Ask Him to take you into manhood. Be bold in your request and keep asking. Trust me, He will answer.
- Find another man with whom to share your journey into manhood. He will appreciate the company, for he is on the journey too.
- Find good books to challenge you and orient you as a man. My latest book Heroic is one of many out there. Go here to read about it and order a copy.
Wherever you are, take a step forward. God will meet you there in surprising ways.