Boys and Men
(This is something that has very much been on my mind, so I wrote this letter to my boys to talk about it. I thought I'd share it here as well.)
While it will be a few years before I give you this letter, thanks to some issues very much on my mind, I wanted to write you today and talk a bit about what it means to be a man.
Many people confuse being a man with simply being male. They assume that, because you have certain chromosomes or hormones or bits on your body, that is enough. That being a man is just a product of birth, and that the fundamental divide in the world is between such males and the females they encounter.
This is not true. Maleness is just an accident of biology. Gorillas can be males. Lions can be males. Rats can be males. Being male doesn't make you a man.
Likewise, others confuse being a man with a certain idea of “masculinity.” They think it describes your interests or your capacities, again in a way contrasted with “femininity.” They see masculinity as about having power or getting what you want. It is about loving sports or guns or working with your hands. Certainly, you might share some of these interests. You do have access, because of your maleness, to certain kinds of power.
But being masculine is also not the same as being a man. There are men – great men – who don't share these interests. Manly painters and poets and philosophers. More than that, there are those with power and success who are not men – those things can just as easily make you a monster instead.
Scripture calls us to be men. What is striking in the Bible, though, is that this is neither a call to maleness nor masculinity. Maleness is something we already have, not something we are called to. In the Bible, “man” is never contrasted with “woman” as its opposite. Rather, when the Bible calls us to be men, that is a contrast with being a boy. We are called to mature manhood as opposed to childishness.
Being a boy is not about age. There are males in their 70s who are still boys. There are boys who drip with masculinity. There are males with enormous influence and fame who are still boys. There are magazines and web sites dedicated to masculinity and male appetites, but they are not magazines for men. They are trifles meant to reassure boys in their immaturity.
Boys and men can both have power. Boys use that power to get what they want. To feed their appetites. To bully or coerce.
Men use their power to work and to serve. To pursue things greater than themselves. To stand courageously in defense of those who are powerless.
Boys and men can both have influence. Boys use that influence to call attention to themselves. They use it as a mask to hide their failures.
Men use their influence to serve others. They use it to make the world a better place.
Boys and men can both desire women. Boys desire them as objects to be used. They desire them as marks of conquest. They desire them to sate their animal appetites or lust to feel power.
Men desire women because women are dignified and brave and strong. They seek to love them in a way that makes them more than they are, never less. Inasmuch as they live in a world full of boys, men seek to stand up for women against anything that would demean or belittle them. And inasmuch as they live in a world where there are monsters, men have the guts to stand on the side of women against the beasts that would hurt them and hold them down.
Boys and men can both have children. Boys view them as proof of their maleness, as if there is something impressive in our ability simply to reproduce. Boys treat them as extensions of their egos, using them to fill up what is lacking in themselves and tearing them down if they ever threaten that pride.
Men are fathers. They understand that their children are their greatest works, the most important things they will ever do for the world. They love them unconditionally and take responsibility for them and change their diapers and raise them to be men and women, not just boys and girls.
Boys and men can both have sex. Boys do it in a way that takes something, men in a way that gives something away.
Boys hurt others. Men hurt themselves while serving them. Boys are fearful and cling to power. Men are confident and seek peace. Boys hide their sins and failures. Men confess them, take responsibility, and seek to grow.
The ultimate example of a boy is Adam, our first father. He was put in the world with a woman to love and a job to do and a God to serve. Instead, he destroyed it all in order to fill his belly and feed his pride. The ultimate example of a man is Jesus Christ, who did not consider equality with God something to hold on to, but who humbled Himself and died as a servant to all.
My sons, you are male. You are in many ways masculine. Yet you are right now boys. My prayer for you is that you see, imperfectly in me and perfectly in Jesus, the call to grow up from these childish ways into true manhood.
As you do, know this. Boys may leave their marks on the world, but they are in truth only scars. Boys may gain success, but it is the success of playground bullies. Boys may seem to have it all, money and sex and fame, but they are still in reality just petty, shameful fools.
Before a man, though, the foundations of the earth tremble. Creation trembles, not in fear, but in anticipation of what he will build upon it. Men have true strength, not the strength that builds little empires and personal fiefdoms, but the strength to bring life to the dead things of this world. To build up women and grow up families and hack back the thorns of the curse and bring beauty and joy and peace. When Jesus returns, the so-called accomplishments of boys will be burned away, but the true work of true men will endure.
I love you, and I pray every day that you would be such men.
Your Earthly Father