Hear that again, loud and clear. Men matter. In our homes, in our jobs, in our churches, in our communities; men totally matter. And while society may tell us men are optional; in the Orthodox Church, we know this is not true. Men are designed by God Himself to play a pivotal role of leadership in the world He so perfectly created.
How we arrived at the place where we can’t really talk about male leadership is debatable. When it became so uncomfortable for men to sit with a bunch of guys, and the priest, and talk about what it means to “be a man” is unknown. But the fact is, as men, we don’t much like that kind of talk and we typically avoid it at all costs.
However as men, it is critical to our families, our churches, our communities and society at large that we show up and engage in this conversation anyway. Why?
Because men matter! We really matter. And to strive towards God’s design intentionally, we’re going to have to explore what He actually designed us to be. And how He wanted us to behave. Because He was pretty clear on it. And it looks nothing like what the society we live in tells us it should look like.
The Ways of the World
If we were to explore the messages our world gives us about how to be a “real man”, there are multiple options, right?
On the one hand, there’s the strong, independent man, like a John Wayne, or even a Will Smith, who takes care of everyone around him and needs very little taking care of himself.
He’s powerful, he leads, he has practically no fear and he always knows what to do. Oh yeah, and no weakness. No vulnerability. This guy is a tank. Like Bruce Willis running on glass, tearing up his feet in Die Hard without flinching. Or Mel Gibson, rallying the troops in Braveheart. These are ‘guys’ guys. And super cool.
On the other hand, the world acknowledges and celebrates the other end of the spectrum. You know, the kind, goofy guy. Fun. Funny. Gentle, loving, and of course, sensitive. Like, Billy Crystal in City Slickers or one of the guys on Friends.
So now we have extreme ends of the gamut that the world tells us are the “ideal man”. But the problem is, none of them are real. And none of them are you! So the world paints a picture that no man can, or even wants to live up to.
So now what?
The Path of God
As Christian men, we must take a hard look at God’s design. What is a man, as far as He’s concerned? As Orthodox, we understand that a man is a boy…but one who is growing up. It’s that simple. A man is not an end destination. But rather a process of becoming.
What does it look like?
We see this all over scripture and often in the lives of the Saints. Becoming godly men means putting our boyish ways behind.
You’ve heard it from 1 Corinthians, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)
If we are to become the men God intended us to be, we have to put away childish things. True men have all the same qualities of the boy, but with one vitally important difference. We shift our focus.
The difference is not that we eliminate impulsivity, or passion, or emotions; or that we stop liking to push boundaries once we become men.
The difference is, we now take the self-centered direction of our boyhood and turn it around and make the others in our life number one. We shift our focus. This means humility and self-sacrifice, even when it’s not at all what we are inclined towards.
Just Follow the Leader
This turning towards others is a simple idea…but it is certainly not easy. Sometimes the boy inside still wants to do what the boy wants to do. But this is the shifting of focus God calls us to. We turn away from ourselves, and towards those God put in our care. It might seem dumb, because it’s so hard to do. But it literally is the greatest thing a man can do…putting others first.
And wasn’t Christ the perfect example of this kind of self-sacrifice? The true man in Him didn’t want to die on a cross. We are shown this as He asks His Father, “if there is any way for this cup to pass from me…”. But out of love, He did it anyway.
We are called to do the same.
Here’s the secret sauce. The key to living as a real man? Love in obedience. It’s recognizing that manhood is NOT a matter of the will. You can’t just pull yourself up by the bootstraps, work harder and then you nail it. Rather, it looks more like this:
Put others first by doing those things required of you like Christ did all the way to His death. Sacrificing your wants and needs to meet the needs of those in your care is doing manhood Christ’s way.
It might not feel very manly if we’re giving of ourselves to others and following Christ, but when we live our lives in obedience to the same Heavenly Father that Jesus did, and when we offer our time, our energy, our focus, and even turn our desires toward the wants and needs of the people around us—first of all our families—we discover real courage, strength, and manliness. We evolve from being boys, into becoming true men. And true men matter.