I’m pretty good at throwing axes. Don’t believe me? Watch this.
But does that make me manly? Just to add confusion to that question, I’ll tell you that we borrowed these axes from a group of Mormon girls camping near-by. I digress. What I really want to ask is, “Do muscles, sports, and beer-drinking-abilities make one manly?” Nowadays the outdoor kind of stuff typically equated with masculinity has been converted to pimping your ride, playing video games in your basement, and ignoring-your-family-abilities. So, what then really determines manliness?
The King’s Men retreat got me thinking about masculinity. What qualities should a man strive for? What does it mean to be manly? More important than a disposition to loudness and large muscles, I think authentic manhood begins with asking, “Who am I?” and following nature’s signs to the answer.
In the classic film, Braveheart, the character Hamish proposes a “test of manhood.” He sees this test measured by power but William Wallace responds that true test resides in the mind. Muscles are good when one has a mind oriented toward truth and a will seeking goodness, but are wasted if driven only by the passions. As C.S. Lewis put it, the head should rule the stomach through the heart.
Men, if we want to consider ourselves brave, we must courageously ask ourselves, “What does it mean to be a man?” The refusal to seriously consider this question is the choice to continually live with childish immaturity. The ability to control and crush others does not make you a man but a grown four-year-old who has perfected selfishness. Guys, let’s stop upholding this man-child icon as who we hope to be. Throwing big rocks won’t make you a man.
Besides the most common, non-answer (just don’t think about it), we have two basic responses to our inquiry into manliness. One view allows each man to determine his own meaning, drive, and purpose for his existence. This conclusion says, “Manhood is whatever you want it to be. Whatever you as a male decide to do, we will declare it a good and healthy reflection of what you are.” This is like picking up a phillips-head screwdriver and instead of concluding that it was made to get screws into the wall, deciding, “Well this is my tool. I found it. And it’s a knife, a toothbrush, or a flower for my girlfriend, if I want it to be.” This could lead to some problems. With this response one determines his meaning by his own subjective standard. But there remains another option where one ultimately discovers his meaning by an objective standard: he finds that his nature reveals truth, is ordered toward goodness, is completed by self-less love.
Man was created for a purpose, and we can discover that purpose in his design.
A man’s body doesn’t make sense by itself. Man was created for relationships. It is only in the complimentarity of male and female that he can find the answer to the question, “Who am I?” Nature shows we were made to give and receive the gift of love. Each natural relationship is in turn a visible sign that points to the ultimate supernatural relationship. Human love reflects and refracts Divine Love. It remains an authentic image and enraptured amplifier of who God is. And so finally, I propose that the essence of mainlines is one’s ability to love as God loves. What is love? It’s certainly not a feeling or whatever you happen to be in to.
Love is doing whatever is best for the other person. If I love my son, I’ll change his diapers, even when I don’t feel like it. If I love my wife, I will remain faithful to her, even when I don’t feel like it. If I love God, I”ll worship Him on Sundays, even when I don’t feel like it. If I call “love” the thing I have the most feelings for, then the only thing I love is myself. And my stomach is telling my head what to do.
True love, guided by the mind, transcends self-love. Striving past selfishness, man finds that love begets love. Self-love remains enclosed and sterile. Real masculine love embraces the other and thus perpetually maintains creative power to bear fruit. By becoming a gift himself, man gives the gift of strengthening relationships and welcoming new life. In each moment, every man holds the capacity to love through manly sacrifice which engages the mind, body, and and heart.
My muscles only contribute to my manliness proportionately to the degree I love my family and others. Men, there are more important muscles than your biceps: your mind, will, and heart. One who fights for truth, goodness, and beauty embodies authentic masculinity.