A week ago today, as a twenty six-and-a-half year-old man, I got my first car, a 2002 Toyota Camry.
Yesterday, I got into my first accident. A minor fender-bender. No real mechanical damage to my car, just some cosmetic ugliness. And, to God be the glory, no injuries.
No physical injuries, that is, because my pride was absolutely destroyed. As I tried to process what had just happened, several thoughts raced through my mind. Mainly, these thoughts revolved around my safety as a driver (which, I guess, is a reasonable response) and my diminished sense of manhood.
Yup, that’s right, I saw dents and scratches and jumped to, “I’m not a real man.” Real men know how to drive and not get into accidents. Real men don’t have their front bumpers held on with guerrilla tape. Real men can get through a week of driving without incident.
Two days ago, I taught our youth Bible Study, just like any other Tuesday. I had a topic prepared to discuss, but the conversation went a totally different direction because I wanted to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and responsive to what was on the minds of my students. As part of our conversation, I showed the video below and then asked the students to analyze it from a biblical perspective.
We ended up talking a lot about manhood. I spent most of the time trying to show one of the students – a younger male – that what God expects from as as Christian men and Christians in general is different from what the world has labeled as “real manhood.”
Little did I know that God would allow me to be tested in this very area less than twenty-four hours later.
You have to understand, I’ve never viewed myself as a very “manly” person. I’m short, scrawny, and physically weak. I was never very good at any sports. I went through high school, college, and early adulthood single, car-less, and broke. I was never aggressive, assertive, or strong-willed. In fact, others are more likely to describe me as sensitive, meek, or nerdy.
Add on top of all of this missing “common” experiences like elementary school (I was home-schooled through sixth grade), celebrating Valentines Day or Halloween, driving as a teenager, and even little things like cable television, and you can see how I could easily start to feel like I’m standing on the outside of life looking in on others. It also doesn’t help to have a brother eight years younger than me who’s towered over my for several years now.
So, when I got out of my car and saw the damage that had been done, I freaked out. All of the fears that I keep bottled up inside of me about somehow being a counterfeit man hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt as if the whole world was pointing and laughing at me, as if I had been exposed to the universe as a fraud. I felt like I didn’t deserve to own a car, to have a job, to be a man.
Once I finally calmed down hours later, I realized that this weight of hyper masculinity that most men in our society carry is not just a heavy burden, it’s a time bomb we walk around with, strapped to our puffed-out chests. At any moment, it can explode, destroying us and those closest to us.
I also realized that how I view my self as a man bears no similarity to how God views me. The language and logical construct I use to describe my manhood doesn’t appear in scripture. I, like many men around me, have bought into a concept of manhood that comes from some unreliable source – maybe from our own fallen human minds, maybe from Satan, but certainly not from our Heavenly Father.
So, what does it mean to be a real man? Does it even make sense to use the phrase “real man”? Can you be a fake man? Should Christian men try to be macho? Is it a sin for a man to be feminine? And what does all this mean for Christian men and women? These are questions I hope to address (but probably not fully answer) in a series of articles over the coming weeks.
I know I’m taking a risk by addressing these questions because I am neither seminarian nor an expert on gender issues. However, I do have my own lived experience, and, prayerfully, a whole lot of life left to live. If I’m going to live those years well, I’m going to have to wrestle with these issues. I’m going to have to deal with how knowing Jesus impacts how I view myself. Hopefully, one day I will have a family of my own and children to which I must give wise, Godly instruction, and when I do, I hope to never teach my sons, “be a man.”
I invite you to comment on the above, as well as on what you would like to see me address in this series. So far, I plan on talking about my experience growing up, manhood in the Church, the media, and men in the Bible. Post your comments directly, or shoot me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.