Last week I watched a nauseating, repulsive, and daft TV show. No, it wasn’t The Big Bang Theory or The Playboy Channel. (Or Barney.) I watched a reality TV show on house hunting.
The plot was simple. A couple was looking for a house, a real-estate agent showed them several options, and the couple chose one. Shakespeare it was not.
This particular episode featured a middle-aged man and his younger wife. (The details are fuzzy; I think I’ve suppressed them.) They were looking for a condo in the Caribbean, a place with a little excitement, some comfort, and a bit of luxury.
Each condo came pre-furnished, and each resort offered differing amenities. The man in question (and I do question the “man”) grew increasingly excited with each unveiled nicety. He was thrilled about a zip-line at the first condo, ecstatic about granite counters in the second, and rapturous at the sight of a Jacuzzi at the third.
When he saw lace doilies in the last condo, I swear I thought he would wet himself.
I wanted to scream at this doily man so ecstatic about granite counters. “Can your life grow any shallower? Will the measure of your fifty years be gauged by the depth of your Jacuzzi?”
But I guess everyone is entitled to their fifteen minutes of shame. I mean fame.
Boys playing men
The first talk on manhood I ever heard was in the mid-seventies in a little farmhouse outside Ann Arbor, MI. It was the best talk I ever heard on manliness, though I admit, those details are a little fuzzy too. (As boys become men, we age.)
It may have been the best talk because the idea was so novel. Back then, no one ever talked about manhood. People only talked about being a solid citizen, a team player, or tithing. But what does a real man look like? (Certainly not like the buffoon on the zip-line.)
And of course, all of us young men got it completely wrong. We immediately began swaggering, spitting, and smoking cigars. We were boys playing men. Manliness is not machismo. The depth of a man cannot be measured by the breadth of his biceps.
But the talk awakened a desire for real manhood.
The real purpose of adventures
“The glory of young men is their strength, but the glory of old men is their gray hair” (Pr. 20:29).
Each new day of a young man (or a young woman) brings a risky adventure. We learn to walk, run, ride a bike, ask a girl on a date, act in a play, and choose a career. We scrape our knees, blow our lines in front of the audience, and screw-up our first business presentation.
But we also run marathons, make first chair in band, and receive our first promotion. Such adventures increase confidence, a strength that is the glory of the young.
Little risks increase risk-ability. They teach us how to deal with danger and how to face failure.
But some of us took too few risks as kids, so we need to grow in our risk-competence. That’s okay. Go ahead and try to waterski, act in a local play, or learn to play guitar. To grow in risk-tolerance, it’s okay to rent a condo with a zip-line. Just don’t buy it!
It’s not your home. It’s a training ground—Bootcamp if you will—where boys learn to play men.
The whole purpose of little adventures is to grow us into men and women who finally face adult adventures, adventures where our glory is reflected by our gray hair, not in our biceps.
Gray-haired glory changes the world. It may vacation at the pool, but it lives in the deep.
Adult risk begins when we start a family. It’s a wonder that God entrusts this task to mere boys and girls. We lack a single gray hair. We know nothing about pouring out our lives, making unpopular decisions, or seeing our daughter on her first date (which we finally allow when she turns 37).
Children turn our brown hairs gray.
As we grow in risk taking—making hard decisions that often result in rejection, and working out decisions with spouses who have different ideas—it’s time to take risks with friends.
Not just whitewater rafting with friends; it’s time to take risks inside friendships. It means telling your friend that “thing” you know they need to hear but you’re afraid to say. It means learning to speak directly and graciously; it means finally learning to be real. It’s scary.
And we will blow it. It’s scraped knees and screwed-up business presentations all over again. But we are beginning to change the world one friend at a time.
Besides, we temper these direct (but gracious) conversations with the risk of sharing our deepest fears, shames, and temptations with the same friends. It’s called the risk of humility.
Boys become men
The fully grown man faces the final frontier. Confronting our culture.
You and I live in multiple cultures simultaneously: families, work, Christian movements, and volunteer organizations. Each has been infected by the culture of the world and the flesh.
Are we willing to stand up to the worldly infection in our movements and cultures? The peer pressure, legalism, Not Invented Here-isms, modern answers to ancient problems, and bullying? Go ahead. We are no longer boys playing men; we are men deepening one Jacuzzi at a time.
Men stand up. Boys sit down. Boys playing men just spit. It’s that simple.
It has nothing—nothing!—to do with testosterone. I’ve witnessed muscle-bound, doily “men” sit down, simper, and conform. I’ve also seen outwardly effeminate men stand up and tackle. Which will we be?
Of course, we should always begin at home, with the doily buffoon sitting behind this keyboard.