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What It Means to Be a Man
God's Design for Us in a World Full of Extremes
By RHETT SMITH, Steve Lyon
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2013 Rhett Smith
All rights reserved.
The Making of Men
And out of darkness came the hands that reach thro' nature, moulding men. Alfred Lord Tennyson
I have always been intrigued by the Bible's account of David's encounter with Goliath. What little boy isn't immediately captured by the story of another little boy going to battle against a giant and slaying him with only a smooth rock and a slingshot? It's larger than life, one many of us identify with as we grew up. Every boy throws rocks and most dream about it, wondering, "Do I have what it takes to slay the giant?"
That's a question we still ask. Our giants may not come in the form of other men, but there are plenty of others we battle on a daily basis. That makes David's story an archetype we frame our lives around. After all, he was a man after God's own heart (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22).
The word archetype is taken from the combination of two Greek words: arch (meaning first), and type (meaning a model or mold).
"An archetype is a universally understood symbol, term, or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated." In essence, archetypes are models we want to emulate. Whether we realize it or not, most of us constantly scan the horizon looking for one. If it resonates, it becomes the reference point for our masculinity. Though discovering the role of male archetypes in our life can be an insightful experience, we also want to avoid modeling our lives solely around them. There is potential danger that any model, even a biblical one, is prone to weakness and sin. David embodies several male archetypes (warrior, lover, king, and sage), and his sin with Bathsheba is a prime example of their unhealthy forms (2 Sam. 11–12).
The text starts with a telling statement: "In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king's men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem" (11:1).
David is the king of Israel. God anointed him to bring peace and prosperity to the land. We get a glimpse of that in 2 Samuel 5:9–10: "David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the supporting terraces inward. And he became more and more powerful, because the LORD God Almighty was with him." But at this critical moment he chose to stay home when "kings go off to war," giving us a glimpse of his controlling and manipulative warrior side. A righteous warrior would have led his men into battle, putting his safety at risk for their good. By staying home, David chose self interest over that of the kingdom and those who live in it.
As the text proceeds, we get a glimpse of his shadowy lover side. He lets passion turn to lust and commits adultery with Bathsheba. Then he shows us his shadowy king side by using his power to arrange Uriah's death, involving his commander Joab (unknowingly) in the plot. Finally, in an ironic twist, his shadowy sage (or prophet) side is exposed as Nathan reveals his sin, exposing the once eloquent author of God's Word with judgment from God's Word (2 Sam. 12:7).
Recognition of male archetypes isn't limited to the Bible. There are a surprising number of Christian, secular, liberal, and conservative writers who discuss it—and they use many of the same terms. Some of the more common are warrior, king, sage (sometimes described as "magician"), and lover. That's further proof they're images that have informed and shaped our perceptions of manhood.
The Big Four
As seen in David's life, archetypes have an unhealthy side. When a man accesses his immature or "shadowy" side, he is a boy, not a man. We'll touch briefly on those below—but also look at the positive side.
The King Archetype
As mature kings, we're secure. We're the source of order, and our actions sacrificially bring life to those around us. We encourage others to use their God-given talents and enable them to try things with a sense of confidence. When we're kings from an immature or shallow place, we can be tyrants, controlling those around us, always thinking about ways to exercise power over them.
The Warrior Archetype
As warriors, we live by a code. We act quickly with purpose and intention and sacrifice for our beliefs and those around us. It's the archetype we see most frequently in our culture, especially in our literature and movies, and it's the one most of us try to emulate. However, many are stuck on its shadowy side, which means being emotionally detached and quick to be aggressive and violent.
The Sage Archetype
When we're doing well as a sage, people come to us for advice and discernment. We speak truth to all who are willing to listen and, like Old Testament prophets, even those who aren't! We lovingly guide others and encourage them to be more Christlike. When we're behaving immaturely in this area, we can't be fully trusted because we manipulate others for our benefit.
The Lover Archetype
As mature lovers, we're full of life and passion. We're creative, think outside the box, and find solutions to problems in unique ways. We talk openly about our feelings. We bring life to others and emotionally connect with them. When we reflect this archetype from an immature or shadowy place, we pursue things that make us feel good about ourselves, often at others' expense. We seek our own gratification because it brings the instant pleasure and affirmation we long for. We're also prone to addictions to escape life and find relief from our pain.
Now that you have had a glimpse of the four archetypes, sit down with a trusted friend, explain the positive and negative sides of each, and ask him which archetypes sound the most like you. Give him permission to let you know when you are accessing its positive and negative sides.
A Tale of Two Men
Combine the extremes, and you will have the true center. Karl Wilhelm Friedrich yon Schlegel
There is a powerful scene in the 1999 movie Fight Club in which the passive, nameless narrator (played by Edward Norton) realizes he and Tyler Durden, a tough, aggressive character (played by Brad Pitt), are the same people. It's a stunning moment of realization and one of the reasons so many men in our culture resonated with the film. I was twenty-four at the time and remember all of my male friends talking about it—and one had only to watch the news to see stories about "fight clubs" breaking out across the country.
The effect of the film still lingers. Three years ago there were several news stories about high school "fight nights" taking place in my hometown of Frisco, Texas. Believe it or not, they were often held in private homes while parents watched and encouraged their sons and friends to duke it out. It's a sad reminder men are struggling to find their bearing between being too passive and too aggressive.
The Passive Man
John was a successful businessman with a wife and three kids and volunteered as a lay leader at his church. He came across as confident and in control. But after meeting him, he reminded me of a lot of men I work with—well-liked by others but almost impossible to get to know.
Underneath the "together" exterior, he was reeling because his life and relationships were coming apart at the seams. He and his wife had drifted apart, and she was increasingly impatient with his inability to connect emotionally with the family. When I explored that with him, he sat across from me, listless, almost in a daze. He couldn't describe what he was feeling except to say he was frustrated and didn't know what to do. "If she would just give me a list of what she wants, then I could do it. I could fix this."
I was amazed at how someone so outwardly successful was unable to be a life-giver to his family—that is, be their biggest cheerleader, bring out their natural strengths, allow them to be who God created them to be, and help them overcome obstacles. When a family enjoys a life-giving husband and father, they're at their best.
I probed more. "John, imagine it's a month from now. Changes have happened in your life and relationships ... changes that signal you're headed in the right direction.... What would those look like?"
He looked at me for a little while and said, "I don't know."
No matter how many questions I asked, how many ways I tried to engage him, or how many times I encouraged him to experiment with changes, he seemed stuck and directionless.
John was a passive man.
If we're like him we're unable to create change and offer life-giving relationships to those around us. Our ability to see that is often obscured by statements like, "I work hard, I make a good living ... I'm a good Christian guy, I go to church ... my wife and kids have all they need and want ... I don't beat them and I don't cheat on my wife ... what else do they want!?" In other words, we believe what we're doing is all that's necessary and if we realize change is needed we don't know how to bring it about.
The Aggressive Man
Chris owned and operated a successful advertising firm, was married with two kids, and volunteered much of his time in the men's ministry at church. His "go get 'em" attitude made it seem everything was going his way—which made a lot of men want to spend time with him.
Yet rage lurked just under his confident exterior. For Chris, manhood meant being tough and intimidating, and it made some people uneasy ... especially his family. Ironically, an argument with his wife led him to start counseling with me. That said, he wasn't happy to be in my office and did everything he could to make me feel small (a common tactic). Aggression was the only emotion he knew how to express.
The Two Extremes
While there is a lot of room to live between the two extremes, many of us choose to live at one end or the other. In fact, if you listen closely to our wives, children, and friends, we're often described like this:
"He just sits there and says nothing when I talk to him or ask him a question."
"My dad comes home from work, eats dinner, and just re treats to the TV for the rest of the night. He doesn't engage us at all."
"He has no patience for our kids. As soon as he walks in the door he is angry if they aren't on their best behavior."
"We never do anything. We don't go out. We don't have many friends. I don't even know what he is excited about other than watching football all day."
"I want to connect with him on a deep level, but he doesn't seem capable of doing that. It's like he's lost somewhere inside his head. And when I do press him for conversation, he erupts as if what I'm asking is a huge inconvenience."
"Sometimes when I'm around my dad I don't feel very safe. I don't think he's going to hit me, but it seems as if he's always about to lose it ... like he has no patience for my presence."
"We are all always walking on eggshells around him. It's so uncomfortable when he's around. We can't wait till he goes away on a business trip. When he's gone, then the house is calm and peaceful."
It doesn't help that movies and TV draw attention to both extremes, from the passive sitcom dad who is little more than the family joke, to the aggressive, big screen tough guy who destroys everyone in his path.
I've seen both played out more than I'd like to admit. Unfortunately, the church hasn't always been a place to see a balance between the two. The passive Christian guy doesn't seem to feel anything and can't affect change in his own life, let alone the lives of others. The aggressive Christian guy is tough and uses power and strength to broker relationships.
Though at opposite extremes, these men have a lot more in common than we think. They are stuck in one ideal of what it means to be a man and fail to give life to themselves and others.
If we're passive, we withdraw and tail to encourage those we love in their pursuits. We don't model the confidence they need to feel secure. If we're aggressive, our anger sucks the life out the people around us, often causing them to walk on eggshells or withdraw completely.
The good news is we don't have to live at either extreme. God calls us to live our faith between these two unhealthy places. We don't have to terrorize or withdraw. We can learn to be life-givers, encouraging those around us, confident in our approach to life, and supportive of those we care about. When life frustrates us, we can handle things skillfully, knowing we've developed healthy ways to cope.
I encourage you to honestly ask if you're too passive or aggressive. If not, great! If you are, what issues are you struggling with and how can you become more balanced?
Breathing Life into the Son
No good work is done anywhere without aid from the Father of Lights. C. S. Lewis
Derek Redmond couldn't believe it. Ninety seconds before his 400-meter qualifying heat in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, he was forced to withdraw with an injury to his Achilles tendon. Years of work, pain, and sacrifice instantly went up in smoke. He was devastated.
He endured eight operations in the years following and set his sights on the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. By the time they started, he was one of the fastest 400-meter runners in the world. He recorded the quickest qualifying time of the first round and cruised to an easy win in the quarter final.
I was seventeen that summer, heading into my senior year of high school. I loved track and field—I ran the 300-meter hurdles and was part of the 4x400 team—so I couldn't wait to hunker down on the couch one August afternoon for a long day of watching the Olympics. It was pre-DVR days, so to avoid missing anything important I watched every track race. I was particularly excited about my favorite, the 400 meter because it's a combination of speed, power, and stamina. Like millions of fans, I wasn't prepared for what was about to unfold in the semifinals.
Redmond lined up in the starting blocks knowing he was favored to medal. When the starter's gun fired, he was up and running quickly, gaining momentum and looking fast over the first 100 meters. But at 150 meters his hamstring snapped like a worn rubber band and he quickly pulled up, clutching the back of his leg. He fell to the ground and put his hand over his face in agony—not just from the physical pain but the crushing realization his Olympic medal was gone.
As he lay on the track, everyone thought he was waiting for race officials to help him off. Yet in a courageous act of determination and perseverance, he stood up and began hobbling down the backstretch. As track officials came to his aid he brushed them aside, determined to finish the race. It was hard—and beautiful—to watch.
Suddenly Derek's father, Jim, burst onto the track, pushing past everyone who tried to stop him. He ran to his son, leaned against him and ... one painful step at a time ... finished the race with him. The stadium flooded with a powerful sense of energy that compelled everyone to leap to their feet for a standing ovation.
In his book The Wild Man's Journey, Richard Rohr talks about the life-giving energy fathers give children (and what happens when they don't). He writes:
When a father tells a child that he can do something, he can do it. I don't know why that is, except to say that there is some mysterious energy that passes from the male to his children. It is some sort of creative energy that can make things be when they are not, and without which things cannot come to be. When male energy is absent, creation does not happen, either in the human soul or in the world. Nurturance happens, support and love perhaps, but not that new "creation out of nothing" that is the unique prerogative associated with the masculine side of God ... Without the father's energy, there is a void, an emptiness in the soul which nothing but that kind of energy can fill. I have seen it in too many people, men especially. It is a hollow yearning that feeds on praise incessantly and is never satisfied. It is a black hole that sucks in reward after reward and is never brightened by it. It becomes a nesting place of demons—of self-doubt, fear, mistrust, cynicism, and rage. And it becomes the place from which those demons fly out to devour others.
Excerpted from What It Means to Be a Man by RHETT SMITH. Copyright © 2013 by Rhett Smith. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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