My friend Matthew and I are putting together a workshop for men called “More Than Conquerors” next month at Westview Church in Waukee. We originally did the workshop a few years ago in Pella so we’re in the process of updating it for a new audience. The basic idea is that as a man I’m supposed to experience this sense of being a winner, a victor, and God says I’m “more than a conqueror,” but then I get totally overwhelmed by the fact that the IKEA instructions have no words. So, we dig into that dilemma with the guys.
Yesterday we shot some media for promotional material. I had Matthew (who is a rather gentle, somewhat introverted Marriage and Family Therapist) put on war paint and got him to give me his best warrior scream for this photo.
King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites.They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. 1 Kings 11:1-2 (NIV)
Wendy and I have had held a running conversation throughout our relationship. It ebbs and flows. It weaves its way into our conscious thought, then goes away for a time. Its the never ending subject of Mars and Venus, male and female, man and woman. Wendy has publicly made the comment many times that she knows she can easily manipulate me any time she wants to do so. I, on the other hand, know that I can put my foot down and forcefully demand my way when I desire. So it goes, the give and take of power, control and negotiation within marriage. It has been mysterious ebb and flow of relationship between men and women since the Garden of Eden.
Solomon was a wise man in many ways, but he had a fatal flaw. Solomon loved women. He loved a lot of women. According to today’s chapter the dude had 700 wives “of royal birth.” Most of these were likely to have been arranged marriages with the daughters of kings and rulers throughout the region. A king threatened by Solomon’s power would give his daughter to Solomon in marriage figuring that his son-in-law would want to maintain an amicable relationship with family. Solomon also had 300 concubines. These were likely girls of a lower social class that Solomon saw, desired, and attained by leveraging his royal authority. How interesting that Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, was attained by his father David in a similar manner.
While I am married to one women, God has seen fit to surround me with females. Along with Wendy I have daughters Taylor, Madison who still stand under my umbrella, and sister-in-law Suzanna who has joined us under our roof. I will admit that I, at times, find it wearying to navigate my relationships with all the women in my life. They are each unique with their own unique personality, communication style, needs, and wants. I can’t even fathom trying to navigate relationship 997 other women at the same time. It would be impossible.
As a man, however, I can imagine that Solomon had his favorites among his 1,000 wives and concubines. I also imagine that Solomon’s wives were constantly, actively vying for power and position. They would have had to manipulate people, situations, and Solomon himself in order to gain attention and favor. The political intrigue within the royal harem had to have been intense.
There is also no way that Solomon could have meaningful relationship and influence over so many women from so many different tribes and backgrounds. His foreign wives would naturally want to worship their foreign gods. Solomon needed to keep the peace among all his wives. It’s not hard for me to imagine how it all went wrong. Solomon allowed his wives to worship the gods of their people. He had some favorite wives he wanted to make happy and compliant, and so when they wanted Solomon to build a shrine to their god he found it easier to say “Yes, dear. Whatever you want.”
Today, I am thinking about men and women. I am appreciative of the beautiful, strong women God has placed in my life and all that I learn about both God and life in the ebb and flow of our relationships. I am thinking about what it means to be a man and how I am called to bring balance to those relationships. I am thinking about fatal flaws and what happens if I don’t capably play my part. It is an eternal mystery, this dance of relationship between male and female. I have more questions than answers. I’m just trying to:
“I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, act like a man….” 1 Kings 2:2 (NIV)
Over this past weekend Wendy and I enjoyed deep conversation with our friends. While the discussion ran the gamut from soup to nuts, there was definitely a recurring theme around families and relationships. As conversation meandered through hours of conversation, I noticed a recurring theme of men who had been the source of pain in their marriages and families:
The man who lives life to eat, drink, and be merry, but refuses to go deep with his friends, his wife, or his children.
The man who is relationally A.W.O.L. while physically present.
The man who twists and contorts the Biblical concept of submission into self-centered justification for being an ass to his wife and family.
The man who acts like a selfish child when his wife and children need him to step up and be a man.
The man who simply chooses out of relationship.
The man who caused generations of trouble by refusing to accept an adopted granddaughter as his own.
The man who simply walked away at conception.
This morning as I read David’s charge to Solomon to “be strong, act like a man” I was reminded of all of these personal illustrations from the weekend. It saddens me the soul wounds inflicted by men who don’t have a clue what it means to be a man. It saddens me that our culture seems to have, by-and-large, lost the art of raising boys into manhood.
Today, I am praying for the boys and young men who are in my spheres of influence. I am praying for my role as a friend, a mentor, a role model and a guide.
Praise the Lord. Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands. Psalm 112:1 (NIV)
Years ago I read Psalm 112 as a part of my normal reading routine. I can’t explain it, but that day it penetrated deep into my soul. I memorized the psalm and I recite it regularly and prayerfully. I realized that the description of the “blessed man” that the lyricist describes is a description of the man I want to be:
delighting in God’s message
This past summer I had a tattoo inked on the bicep of each of my arms. On the left arm the tattoo reads Psalm 51 and the right arm reads Psalm 112. Psalm 51 is a song of confession and through ages the left hand has been associated with folly. Psalm 112 is a song of blessing and through the ages the right hand has been associated with favor. I placed the tats on my biceps because it is a muscle that men traditionally associate with strength.
My tats remind me daily that my strength for life’s journey is not rooted in my effort, social standing, intelligence, gifts, finances, career, or abilities. My strength for the journey is found in:
Humility and daily confession that I am broken, make mistakes, and am in continuous need of God’s grace and forgiveness.
God’s unmerited favor and blessing as I daily seek to be the man God calls me to be.
Confession and blessing. Every day. Every step. Confession and blessing.
Manliness is most often associated in our culture with strength, grit, and accomplishment on the field of battle, athletics, or business. King David was, no doubt, a man’s man for his military prowess and leadership. When an entire nation is singing the praises of the tens of thousands of enemy you’ve slain, you’ve got to feel the testosterone surge. I’m just saying. When it comes to masculinity, David was a stud.
But the thing I personally love about David is that there was a balance to his masculinity. Not only could the guy wield sling and sword, fight lions and bears, kill giants and lead successful military campaigns, but he was also a poet, songwriter, and musician. Most of the lyrics we read in the book of Psalms were penned by David. He could express himself and his emotions in beautiful and creative ways. He could play harp and lyre with such beauty that it drove away the darkness and lifted the spirits of those who listened.
Masculinity is much more than the stereotypical muscles, mechanics, and athletic ability. Being a man is equally about walking in the ways of the Creator who expresses His person and character metaphorically in all manner of beautiful acts of creation. There is a balance which we see embodied in David who was both warrior and poet, creator and defender, and man after God’s own heart.
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6 (NLT)
“He’s just not a baby guy.”
I’ve heard that said of many a father or grandfather who shuns holding a little one, getting involved in changing diapers, or relating to infants and toddlers. I’m sure it is cloaked in machismo or family systems in which men avoid getting involved with kids until “they’re old enough to have a relationship.” I wonder, however, if the reality is simply a toxic mixture of good ol’ fear, ignorance and cowardice.
Either way, my experience tells me this is a sad reality for both the man and the child. Relationship, and the lack of relationship, start in the earliest moments of life. If you wait at all to get involved in the rearing of your child, you’ve waited too long. A child, even in it’s earliest stages, needs the strong hands and nurturing of a father. A a man needs both the blessings and lessons that come from caring for his infant child. Being a dad is as much, if not more, a part of the masculine journey as being successful at a career or proving yourself on the field.
My adult daughter has shared with me on more than one occasion the experience of having conversations with groups of her peers. Almost everyone, she says, talks about their distant and detached fathers. They longed for their dads to be engaged, to feel their presence and support, to hear words of blessing like “I love you” and “I’m proud of you.” She finds it sad how many never had that experience, and how much it seems to have spiritually and relationally crippled her friend’s lives.
It makes me sad as well. Being a father has made me a better man. I made a promise to myself that I was going to enjoy relationship with my daughters at every stage of their development as infants, toddlers, children, tweens, teens, young adults and adults. I have not been perfect. Both of my daughters can attest to that. I can honestly say that I’ve done my best. There are so many lessons about being a man, being human, and being a child of God that have come directly from the daily role of being a dad to my daughters at different stages of their growing up.
To any dad reading this: Better late than never. Spend time with your kid. Play with them. Read to them and tuck them in. Go watch their game or concert. Write them a letter. Hug them. Tell them you love them or that you’re proud of them. Perhaps it would be appropriate to say “I’m sorry.” However you need to do it, be man enough to rustle up the courage to be a good dad for your kid.
Then Joseph hurried from the room because he was overcome with emotion for his brother. He went into his private room, where he broke down and wept. Genesis 43:30 (NLT)
“Big boys don’t cry,” many of us were told when we were young. Boys are supposed to be strong and fearless. We’re supposed to hold our emotions in check. At least, I know that has been the generalized sentiment I’ve both experienced and witnessed. I’m not even sure that it’s a conscious and overt message for many. It’s just the message our culture has sent and believed. I can still remember seeing my dad cry for the first time. It made such an impression on me I can recall almost every detail of the moment.
I find it interesting that Joseph hurried from the room each time he became emotional. Of course, he did not want to tip his hand and reveal himself to his brothers before he had a chance to work his plan. Nevertheless, I would tend to believe that the culture of Egypt was not that much different than our own in that regard. It would likely be seen as a sign of weakness.
The further I get on life’s road and the the deeper I grow in my relationship with Jesus, the more I feel, identify and express my emotions. When I was younger I would brood and act out in all sorts of ways, completely unaware of the emotions that were seeping to the surface in my words and actions. I can recall going through a period of time in my thirties when I literally experienced Ezekiel 36:26:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
God took me through a stretch of the journey in which there was an uncorking of emotions that I’d been stuffing my whole life. I learned to feel, identify and express things like anger, disappointment, fear, joy, contentment, and satisfaction in meaningful and healthy ways. In the midst of it, I learned to weep and to experience the healing of spirit, soul and body that comes when you can feel strong emotion and let the tears roll.
I’ve come to embrace the truth of Ecclesiastes 3, that there is a time for everything. I believe for all men there is a time and place for utilizing our God given bent towards controlling emotions in order to accomplish a difficult task and persevere through certain circumstances. But this does not mean that it’s necessary or particularly healthy to dam up our emotions all of the time. There is time for controlling emotion, and there is a time for expressing them. Maturity comes with the wisdom to know the difference.
Do a keyword search for the word “wept” in God’s Message and you’ll find a long list of manly men throughout antiquity who wept openly as Joseph did in today’s chapter. Jesus Himself is among them. I’ve come to learn in this life: Real men weep.