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False Ideas about Masculinity

In my past two blog posts, I have written about men and their unique struggles which lead to depression. So many men do not believe that they have what it takes to be a man, that they are inadequate, and that they do not measure up as men. This produces a sense of shame, and shame is what destroys men’s lives.

But what if men have it all wrong and their sense of masculinity is rooted in a false belief? What if men are chasing an elusive, unattainable objective? Blaise Pascal, the brilliant French philosopher and mathematician, observed that the primary reason people struggle with life is that they have false ideas about reality. I think this is what happens in the lives of so many men: they develop false ideas about masculinity and what it really means to be a man.

In the wonderful book Season of Life by Pulitzer Prize-winning Jeffrey Marx, the former All-Pro defensive end with the Baltimore Colts, Joe Ehrmann, explains how men’s identities so often get messed up because of what he calls “false masculinity.”

It begins on the playground in elementary school as young boys begin to play sports. The better athletes are elevated in the eyes of their peers, and those who are not as athletic become deflated. The ability to athletically perform seems to be dominant in the lives of young boys.

And then they reach puberty and move on to high school where their lives are measured by their ability to relate to and win the opposite sex. A real man has the ability to attract girls. A teenaged boy has to project the macho image that women love. Ehrmann notes that it is very shameful for young men if they feel like women are not attracted to them.

Then as an adult, economic success becomes the gauge with which a man measures his life. It is as if one’s whole value and worth as a man is based on job titles and bank account balances. Those who achieve and acquire the most are deemed to be real men. And those who do not grab the brass ring, well…

So how do we uproot these false ideas about masculinity, and what do we replace them with? Can a man replace his isolation with a sense of belonging? To whom should we look to define true manhood? If you read the New Testament, it becomes quite clear that Jesus is the epitome of true masculinity. God makes it quite clear that, instead of focusing our lives on performing and achieving, He wants us to be most concerned with the type of man that we are becoming. He wants us to become more like Christ.

Now I realize that we live in a culture in which men might not believe that “Christlikeness” is very manly. I know that for me, for many years, it did not have much appeal. In my mind, it means that I had to become more religious…that I had to withdraw from the world and go into hiding, which is not what I desired for my life. However, over the years, as I have studied the life of Christ, I have come to recognize that Jesus was not religious. In fact, the religious people in that culture had great contempt for Him. What I have learned is that Christlikeness is:

  • To be transformed in our character,
  • To grow in wisdom, and
  • To love, have compassion, and foster high-quality relationships.

Character, wisdom, and love make us the essence of what it means to be an authentic man. But how can I make them into realities in my life?

The answer is simple: You can’t, at least not with only your own strength and power.

The truth is that we do not have the resources within ourselves to produce these qualities. Augustine recognized how feeble and weak we are as men, and therefore, he realized that he needed something outside of himself to come and transform his life. He required something or someone who could enable him to do that which he could not do with his own strength. He realized that this transforming person could only be God. Only God can bring forth the change that we need by strengthening our hearts, enlightening our minds, and giving us a greater capacity to love.

What do you think? Can a man change himself by his own strength? Let me know your comments.

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