Just to be clear, “she” is my lovely wife, Sarah. This blog is not an attempt to earn brownie points. I titled it that for two reasons. First, she told me to. I’m serious about that. After telling her what I had been feeling and thinking, then telling her I was going to blog it, she said, “You should title it, ‘She’s Always Right.’” I changed it a little, but it still has the same effect. Second, it’s true. Not that I’m not ever right, but sometimes there are issues that I am so close to or so passionate about, I can’t see past them. In those times she’s able to see things I don’t. I don’t always accept them right away, but eventually I do. Being that I’m a fairly “passionate” guy about a lot of things, this situation is not unusual. This blog is about one of those issues. Without further ado, enjoy her rightness…
I grew up in church. We were mostly Sunday and pretty often Wednesday Christians, which loosely translated means we were pretty good Christians. I mean, we were in church twice a week and usually tithed something, so we were legit. During most of my time in church, and even until I was 30, I didn’t hear a lot about discipleship. I heard the word disciple, but it was used to describe the 12 that followed Jesus and not much else. For sure it wasn’t attached to the idea of an interpersonal relationship between a mature and new believer in which the mature believer helped to usher in the fruit of the spirit in the new believer within an environment of fellowship, communion, and accountability and grace filled love. Or at least I never heard that. Maybe I missed that Sunday. Instead, much of being a Christian revolved around a list of rules I should follow and a set of behaviors and actions I ought to refrain from. At its most basic it was behavior modification.
Because of that, for most of my young Christian life I struggled and fought to keep a set of rules, that honestly, I was horrible at keeping. I started to, and eventually did, become deeply cynical. I loathed those rules. They made me feel inadequate, very much a failure and often times guilty. But, I liked the idea of being a Christian, it was the American way after all, so eventually I just held onto the title and abandoned the rules. Then just after turning 30, I fell into an abyss of life crumbling change, in the form of a chaotic divorce. But, it was through that that God started revealing the truth about being a Christian and what it really meant to follow Jesus. He placed amazing and godly men and women in my life. Through those relationships I was gifted the opportunity to experience real discipleship and real relationships for the first time in my life. It changed me profoundly.
During that time, and right up until recently, one of the most important things God started revealing to me was what it meant to live as and be a man of God; I think the most popular term is currently “authentic manhood”. I began hearing sermon after sermon and sat through multiple studies, authored by some notable pastors, which addressed what it meant to be a real man of God. It was immediately clear that for most of my life I had fallen drastically short of that standard. As a newly divorced, single dad, God used those sermons and studies and people close to me to grab a hold of my heart and move me toward being that man. My two young sons deserved that from me and no doubt my future wife did as well. So I dived headlong into figuring out authentic manhood.
During that time I studied the bible, sought counsel, journaled and listened to every message I could get a hold of in order to gain a whole picture of an authentic Jesus following man. It wasn’t long before I was confident what that man looked like. I quickly started seeing those qualities emerging in me, as did others. Through that, I developed a heart to disciple other men. I also began teaching those qualities and even individually counseling other guys on them. God was absolutely faithful in drawing close to me as I sought to draw close to Him. For the sake of blog length and time I’m not going to go into the actual traits. You can Google “authentic manhood” and hid plenty on the topic. I’ll also provide a list of blogs I’ve written on it, at the end of this post.
Everything I just wrote was to punctuate the fact that I was whole heartedly dedicated to seeing guys become MEN of God. It was all biblical and it was all good and beneficial stuff. I grew a lot over those couple years. By the end it seemed almost effortless. By the time I met the woman that would become my wife, Sarah, I felt absolutely prepared to be the husband she needed me to be. Except for one thing I didn’t account for. Trying to live out authentic biblical manhood within a marriage actually involved another person. Knowing the principals that make up manhood before God are fairly easy to discern if you’re in your bible and learning from godly men. Because of that I would play out scenarios in my head, ones that I had experienced in the past as a husband. Then I would look at where I failed, apply the appropriate godly principle and the result was magic. It literally worked out every time. That was before marriage and before I actually had to consider another person’s personality, needs, hang-ups and flaws. (Ftr, I’m not saying my wife has flaws. What I am saying is that I’m probably going to go buy her some jewelry.) Sometimes I joke about this by saying; marriage would be easy if it didn’t require two people. But truth be told, it wouldn’t be much fun and I wouldn’t have an amazing collection of women’s shoes in my closet. So, to be clear, knowing those principles was easy (and half the battle), application would prove to be more difficult.
Almost immediately after we married, living all of these principles of authentic manhood consecutively and consistently became difficult. And with every passing day, it became increasingly more difficult. I didn’t understand what was happening. I had it down before marriage. I had journals full of what it took. I had taught a dozen times on it; counselled a dozen guys, but it seemed as if I would fail in at least one of these principles every other day. Sarah would often tell me to stop trying so hard. She would say that I didn’t need to live up to this impression of manhood that I thought was necessary. I know she appreciated my desire and the effort I put in to be a godly husband, but she told me a number of times that I placed so much emphasis on it and pressure on myself to not fail at it, that it was quickly becoming counter-productive and robbing us of the ability to just enjoy each other.
My only thought was that she HAD to be wrong. What I knew about biblical manhood was right! It was good! It was biblical, for the love of Jesus! But, she was right. She usually is. I had taken the very principles that God intended to use to produce fruit in me and that were meant to be a blessing to my wife, children and others, into a list of rules. All of the sudden I was 15 years old and trying to fight the feelings of inadequacy and guilt for failing to live up to the standard set against me. Except this time it wasn’t the church. This time it was me. I took good and beneficial teaching and turned it into something unattainable and it was hurting my wife, my kids and me. The saddest part is that she told me it was hurting us, but I was so stuck on the fact that the teaching was right, not even that I was right, but that the principles were, that I out-rightly rejected the possibility that she was speaking the truth.
I don’t want to make it seem as if I’m downing “authentic” manhood. I’m not. I believe and know there is a standard by which God desires us, as men of God, to live. What I am saying is that if you’re not careful, it can create more burden than problems it solves. Authentic/godly/biblical manhood isn’t about behavior modification. It’s about character change and real character change only happens through Jesus. You want to be a godly man? Then know that you become godly by seeking and being with God. It starts with being obedient to the two commands He set before us; love God and love others. Those “others” begin with your wife and kids (if you’re single, it begins with those people that God has placed in your immediate circle). There’s no magic formula, no set of rules; there’s only Jesus and His grace and mercy. As you seek manhood, these principles ought to be the fruit of your pursuit of God. Fruit doesn’t come easy or without work, but it does come.
Here are some of my previous blogs that talk on those principles:
The 40 Year-Old…Failure to Launch…The Notebook! (Four Part Series)