Tuesday, July 12, 2005

When can I call myself a man?

Brian Colmery has quickly become one of my favorite posters. He's honest and humble, the kind of refreshing personality in seminary you hope joins your church leadership real soon.

He has written an interesting blog entry that, for lack of a better explanation, asks the question when he can call himself a man.

I think Brian, at 24.5, has made the same mistake I made at his age. I guess I still make this mistake. Maybe all of you followed this path. I kept waiting for that moment when I felt grown-up. I'm 36 and married now and I'm still waiting for the day when I think new music is too loud and video games are for people half my age.

This would be more disconcerting if I was irresponsible. To the contrary, I've had to be Mr. Responsibility out of necessity the last two years. This is in great contrast to the previous 34 years of my life in which I totally failed to acknowledge responsibility. I would suggest if you're placing value on the right things, eventually God challenges you to live out your values and you make sacrificial decisions that lead some people to think of you as ultra-responsible (and others to think of you as crazy). I look back and still can't see how, if I cared for my wife and our minimal quality of life, I could have made any other decisions. For the moment, I'm calling it God's magnificent work in me. If you had believed my father when I was 17, you would not believe I was capable of such things.

Still, I don't look in the mirror and think of myself as a man, at least not like I think of my father or thought of my grandfather. I don't see myself as that authoritative, masculine figure younger men should look up to. When I get around a group of 20-somethings, I find myself fitting in rather than feeling out of place. Sure, there are moments (such as this one) where I resort to the "when I was your age" reference, but I still don't feel displaced.

I lack manly skills. My father could eyeball his way through a blueprint to construct a housing structure that would outlive him. He could fix the plumbing, change the oil in the car, and kill the spider in the bathtub for my mother all in a Saturday afternoon. My grandfather was a machinist, mechanic, and master fisherman. I have none of those skills. I grew up in a different era. I grew up in front of computer screen. How I was taught to define a man and the man I've become are two very different things.

To be fair to Brian's specific question, he's not comparing himself to mere men, which is a great credit to him. He's got that angst going about whether or not he's progressed as the person God wants him to be. My experience, though somewhat limited, is that's a very good place to be. Quite often it's God nudging us into the next level of growth, which is endless (until God ceases to breathe life into me). This understanding is why I don't spend a lot of time worrying about whether I've reached manhood, because in God's eyes, I will always be His child in the maturation process.

God's process of maturing me has gone something like this since I got out of high school:

- Deeper revelation -- about my own sin and God's perfect nature
- Transformation with an awesome outpouring of God's grace
- Contentment for a time
- Angst/dissatisfaction/questions about my maturity
- Repeat steps 1 through 4, as God sees fit

If it sounds like a wash-and-rinse cycle, that's not a bad analogy. There have been smaller periods of change, but I'm thinking about the big ones where I can recall marking distinct milestones in behavior and an increase in faith. I've gone through this at least four times since I became a legal adult. I don't know if this is God's way for everyone. I just know I've reached 36 in a much better spiritual state than I was at 26 and I'm light years ahead of where I was at 16. Death becomes less threatening by the day, although I am learning to embrace every opportunity to exalt God since I'm still breathing and (by the grace of God) serving some purpose for His kingdom on this planet. Even in the most difficult moments, God has given me contentment that I am exactly where I should be at that given moment.

It may not be manhood as the secular world sees it, but I think that might be the price of putting greater value on spiritual maturity over all other things. I may never know how to fix my own broken-down car, but I have faith God can repair my soul, and have hope He will continue to do so all the days of my life. When the day of judgment comes, I'm counting on this understanding to bear God's favor.

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