I recently received an email from a local pastor asking if I would consider participating in a panel interview during a church service concerning manhood. I was looking forward to discussing the measures of being a man: How much money you make, how much weight you can lift, how many beers you can chug, how many pieces of meat you can cram down your esophagus, how many women you can sleep with, etc. Oh wait…it wasn’t GQ asking for the interview. Considering the inquiring party, I could pretty much go out on a limb and presume these were not the things we would be talking about.
In order to prepare, I honed in on the church’s current message series which focused around key attributes that separate men from boys, including:
Men work towards a vision for their life. Boys live one day at a time.
Men take a minority position. Boys need to be in the majority.
Men are protectors. Boys are predators.
As I processed through each characteristic, I started to brainstorm what I would say. I didn’t have a clue where to start in light of the confidence killer that immobilization from paralysis can be. It was eye-opening to realize that I needed to reevaluate where my confidence as a man was coming from.
The biggest area that I have found myself consistently wrestling with over the past few years in terms of my masculinity has been my inability to physically protect anyone, let alone defend myself. How am I possibly able to do this with legs that cannot run, jump, or kick? How can I legitimately protect anyone with arms that cannot hold, push, or punch? What am I supposed to do in public in the case of an imminent threat to my girlfriend or sister? I had to swallow the reality that the only one that would be doing any protecting was the person I was with. “I am 25-year-old male, and my little sister is my bodyguard.” That sure sounds manly.
For the longest time I bought into the illusion that I was unable to be a protector because of my physical limitations. However, as I was questioning my qualifications, the obvious reality set in that while I can’t physically protect women around me, a situation has never actually come up in which I have had to. The more I thought about it, that situation never arose before I got hurt either. In terms of the protection of women, I’m realizing a musclebound physique is not a prerequisite for manhood.
Instead, I can look to the example of Jesus, the ultimate God-Man. He wasn’t a sissy who pet sheep in the field all day, he was a man who stood up for the truth that he came to tell even if when it meant he would get murdered for it. This manliness also extended into being a protector, and yet he never had to resort to physical action to protect women. He wasn’t beating up guys in alleys and he still managed to perfect the protection of women. His good friends like Mary and Martha, along with the prostitutes he befriended, could count on him to talk to them and listen to them and they trusted that he didn’t have an agenda that included using them for his physical desires.
Reflecting on this and seeing Jesus’s example is an encouraging reminder and confidence booster that my manhood is not defined by whether or not I can be an imposing physical presence ready to fight at a moment’s notice. I can’t hold the door open, but I can be intentional about encouraging someone. I can’t bench press 300 pounds anymore (I guess I could never do that), but I can be a listening ear. I can’t plant my fist in a predator’s jugular, but I can be a safe place for someone to talk, feel cared for, and feel protected in a way that a physical presence never could.
This by no means should imply that I’ve mastered it. I am a broken human being and I will inevitably fall short in each of these areas at some point. I may have a moment of passivity. I may cower and want to side with the majority. I may lose sight of the vision I am working towards and experience moments of shortsightedness. I may be a man, but I’m not the perfect man. There is only one who is, “the God-Man, 100% masculinity” as the song below puts it. Looking to His example, I can grow in each area that is deficient and become the man God has created me to be.
Men, let’s get it together. There are generations ahead of us that are counting on us.
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