Boys to Men Day 1: The Challenge of Expectations
“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (1 Peter 3:8, ESV)
I distinctly remember standing by a fire pit watching a young man desperately attempt to appear “manly.” He wafted the aroma of black coffee into his face from his cup and dogmatically declared, “This is how real men drink coffee.” Outwardly, I think I just stared, dumbfounded, but inwardly my eyes were rolling back into my skull. You know the stereotypes of so-called manliness. You must be obsessed with black coffee, beard oil, hunting, trucks, flannel, guns, and so on. But the most important part is that you have to be gruff, unyielding, unsympathetic, arrogant, and have a total lack of emotions. Fail in even one of these items, and you must turn in your man card. What a load of garbage! I know several guys that check off all these boxes, and they are the furthest thing from being a real man (as God intends) that you could possibly think of!
Unfortunately, these stereotypes exist for a reason. They are the expectations of manhood many of us were taught (verbally or by example). The most ridiculous part of it, sadly, is the emotional side of things. You have to be “tough,” which means showing “tough love.” So we’ll criticize you if you fail; if we don’t criticize you, then it means you’re doing okay. We won’t compliment you, encourage you, cry with you, or tell you that we love you. We don’t talk about our feelings, and we don’t want to hear about yours. Where did these ideas come from? Certainly not from the Bible! But this is the mentality that many of us felt as younger boys growing up. You were expected to put on a strong front even if you didn’t feel like it. Anything that deviated from it could lead to your being called names, bullied, or worse. I can’t say times have changed all that much for boys growing up today. The same expectations live on, and boys still put on that same façade of bravado. I wonder if society will ever finally say, “Enough is enough.”
Think of the words noted above that Peter wrote. These are words written to all believers. Therefore, a man should be characterized by “sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” My taste in coffee only defines my taste buds. Imagine arriving in Heaven expecting to hear, You drank your coffee black—you were truly a man of God! But I can envision standing before God, hearing Him say something like, You could have had a more tender heart, my child. There is certainly a place for some of the stereotypical associations. It’s not a bad thing to know about cars, or to be handy around the house. It’s not the worst thing in the world to know how to play a sport, hunt, or fish—activities you may be able to enjoy later in life with your children. But it’s important to understand that this is not the real measure of a man.
If you are a young man and you have a heart for others, don’t let anybody sway you from that. Do you have sympathy when a person is struggling? Good. Do you speak kind, encouraging, and uplifting words to your friends, family, and even strangers? Good. Do you think of others before you think of yourself? Good. I could go on, but you probably get the point. Think of the ideal man—not the stereotypical man—the ideal man in your mind. Does he cut you down and belittle you? Does he think he’s better than you? Is he cold and callous? I sincerely doubt it. If he is, then maybe you need to recalibrate your expectation of what a man should be. Think about the example of Christ. Isaiah said of Him, “A bruised reed He will not break” (42:3). He described Him as a “tender plant” (53:2). Think of His interactions with the woman taken in adultery and with the woman at the well. He was “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). In our world, our churches, and our homes, we need more men defined by the characteristics of 1 Peter 3. Pour your heart into being that man. Be the kind of man that will listen, help, love, and care about others. Those are the men we want our daughters to marry, our children to look up to, and our sons to become. And it isn’t out of our reach, gents; we can be that man. Instead of trying so hard to be the man, maybe I should focus more on being that man.