Masculinity is Bestowed
Until a few years ago, Masculine Initiation was not a category that I had spent much time thinking about. I used to see things in terms of transactions. I have skills and abilities. I can see that some men are skilled and comfortable in parts of life that I am not. I am compensated for my productivity and output, and I compensate others to do things for me that I am not comfortable or capable of doing.
I did not think much about my masculinity or how I was showing up as a man. I knew the areas in my life where I was strong and focused on those. The other areas I either ignored or dismissed as a waste of time, hiding from my shortcomings.
This all changed in 2018 when I attended a men’s retreat and encountered a different way of looking at the world. Many of the men I met embodied masculinity in a way that was inspiring. It was real, unapologetic, and true. One thing that struck me about these men and many others that I have met since, is their willingness to submit themselves to greater authority. They were willing to acknowledge the areas in which they were unfinished or in need of fathering.
Since that weekend, I have been constantly exploring the areas in my own life where I need further initiation. The truth is that the process is never finished, but there are certainly places that need more attention than others. Where I once thought that I had missed opportunities to be initiated into something, I have realized that the only thing limiting my initiation is my unwillingness to go there.
This is an important realization. It opens things up. It means we do not have to settle for where we are. Our initiation is never complete. To think otherwise is a trap. An unfinished man is a dangerous man, and not in a good way.
I recently saw a clip online of a world leader bragging to someone about a joke he had made about another world leader. This troubled me for a couple of reasons. First, the joke wasn’t even funny. He had called the other guy something you might expect to hear from an 8-year-old. Secondly, this man is a leader of a country, responsible for making decisions that could impact millions of people. And he is bragging to someone (presumably somebody that works for him) about how funny his jokes are.
Going back to 8-year-olds, I might expect my son to do something like this, but then we would probably have a conversation about not needing to tell people when you are funny. It is not something I would expect from a fully grown, mature adult man.
This example is benign, but it speaks to the insecurities that we all have. In those places we feel vulnerable or weak, we have a choice. We can acknowledge it and be honest about where we are and our need to grow and be shown the way, or we can pose and pretend. We can seek the validation of others – ‘I’m funny, right?’ – to cover up our insecurities. This latter approach hinders the process of our initiation.
It might be easy to do, but if I spend time looking for the poser in other men and point it out, it is probably because I am posing myself. By shaming others, I cover up the shame within me.
This has shown up in different ways in me over the years. I’ve been overly hard on others at work to ensure my shortcomings are not noticed. I’ve become entrenched in an argument with my wife to avoid having to admit I am wrong. I’ve pretended I know more about a topic than I do around my friends so I don’t look stupid. These are all ways that I can cover up or pose rather than admit that I am still in need of growing.
Taken to an extreme, modern history shows how men who cannot lead through influence and integrity grab power and rule through fear. They become self-serving instead of selfless and take from others rather than acting out of self-gift. To cover up their vulnerabilities, they hide their weaknesses and become hardened.
The truth is that that all men are in some stage of initiation, regardless of whether we admit it or not. No matter if we are right at the start, acknowledging our need for initiation, or have been walking the path for many years, all of us need continued fathering.
Wherever we find ourselves in the journey, the first step towards more authentic masculinity is consent to the process and submitting ourselves to one who is greater. We must allow ourselves to be made into something greater than we are capable of alone.
Fathered by God
One of my takeaways from the men’s retreat in 2018 was a book by John Eldredge, Fathered by God. I mention Eldredge frequently in my posts, mainly because of the influence his work has had on me and others that I learn from.
The book outlines the stages of the masculine journey from boyhood to the final stage, Sage. The book is reassuring and freeing in the sense that while the stages in the book are presented in a linear manner, the process of initiation is not necessarily linear.
I shared a post last year, Digging for Worms, in which I described praying through a challenge for me – picking up live worms out of the dirt. It would have been easy for me to dismiss this discomfort and not go through that process with my son. Because of my understanding of what it means to be fathered, I was able to enter in, remembering what it was like to be a child and not wanting to touch worms. I let God lead me, 37 at the time, through something I missed as a young boy.
God can father us through anything. Sometimes it might be directly, by equipping us with courage and grace in a difficult moment. Other times He will bring other men into our lives to help along the masculine journey. By consenting to this process – consenting to sonship – we stop becoming self-reliant and learn to depend on God. Self-reliance will ultimately fail. Dependence on God will not. If we trust in Him, He will shape us and transform our lives.
Doorways to the Father
Realizing that we do not need to hide the areas in our lives in which we are still works-in-progress can be a relief. Particularly as fathers and husbands. With my family, I want to get it right for my wife and kids every time and it is very frustrating when much of the time, I do not.
But the aim is not perfection, it’s progress.
Instead of trying to be God to my family, I just need to live my life in a way that points to Him. To be the doorway, not the destination. This means acknowledging my shortcomings and consenting to continuous initiation. To allow myself to be made into something more than I am and in doing so, becoming the man that God intended me to be.
This perspective takes the pressure off. We do not need to ‘arrive’ as a finished product or pretend that we are. Growing in masculine maturity takes time, experience, and guidance. Over time, with intention and consent, men are made.
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