My 8-year-old son played in his first organized basketball game this past weekend. Now, if he inherits my basketball skills, he has about as much chance of playing in the NBA as winning the current 1.9 billion dollar Powerball lottery. He sure had fun playing, though, and I certainly had fun watching him. But, something happened that I didn’t quite expect that Saturday morning. While watching him, I actually began to tear up. I felt such a sense of fatherly pride in my son … not because he played so well but more because I saw him taking steps toward authentic manhood.
This really was my son’s first organized game of basketball. He really didn’t understand the rules. Most of the time he wasn’t sure what he was to do or where he was to go. He spent a lot of time looking around and he seemed unsure of himself. Yet, he didn’t quit. I watched my son keep working and keep trying to figure things out. I watched him work hard. I watched him encourage other players on the team. I watched him mess up and then try again ... mess up once more and then try once more. I watched him listen to his coach. I watched him be competitive. I watched him take initiative. I watched him learn how to be a team player. I watched him take responsibility. I was, in essence, watching him take some of his very first steps toward true manhood … and it was a very emotional experience for me.
Those same steps could be taken in a chess tournament, a math competition, a dance recital, or a photography class. Manhood isn’t just developed from sports, although some men feel they need to be able to play sports in order to be manly. But, the reality is that you can be the worst athlete in the world and still be an authentic man. You can be incompetent with a hammer and still be an authentic man. You can drive a Beetle instead of a Harley and still be an authentic man. Manhood isn’t so much found in what you do, but rather in who you are. And, as men it's so important to remember this because who we are will always show up in what we do.
If my son continues in athletics, he’ll quickly realize that one of the most important facets of our body is having good “core” strength. Core muscles are those muscles right around the center of your body … your abs, your hips, your obliques, your lower back, your middle back. It’s the “trunk” of your body … the center … the core. A strong core allows one to generate power when needed or speed when needed. A strong center makes it easier to change direction quickly. A strong core helps prevent injuries. Even if you has good “mirror” muscles … legs, biceps, triceps, and chest … even if those are strong and big … even if you have good upper and lower body strength, you won’t be as powerful as you could be if your core muscles are weak because the core is where the power comes from. It doesn’t matter what physical activity you’re doing, strong core muscles will just help you perform better.
In a “life” sense, I think it’s the same for those of us who are men. If our “center” is right … life will just work better. But, if all we’re doing is focusing our efforts on those mirror muscles of life … the things that may make us look good or even feel good: accomplishments, bank account, status, power, athletics, etc. … not that these things are wrong in and of themselves, but if our focus is on what we want to do rather than who we want to be, we will never experience life the way God has ultimately designed. You’ll wake up one day and see that you’ve accomplished plenty, but you’re still lonely … you can run for miles and miles, but you still feel unfulfilled … you have the Harley, you have the women, you have the bank account, but you still feel isolated. “We each spend our lives searching, and we are all searching for the same thing, though we do it in many different ways. We will go to extreme lengths to try to find what we’re looking for, and many times men can hurt others in their search.” (Ytreeide)
As a man, I sometimes find myself believing I need people to love me … I need people to notice what I do … I need people to admire me. I sometimes find myself believing that the more I’m noticed and admired for what I do, the more value I think I have. God, forgive me. The more I fall into this dangerous trap the more I find that if I “do something I think is great, but nobody compliments me, I feel badly. Or if someone else seems to be the center of attention, I get angry. Or if my friends pay attention to someone else, I get jealous.” (Ytreeide) It’s such a frustrating way to live and I want nothing to do with it! As men, we live in a society that judges winners by winning and losers by losing. If I succeed, if I win, if I get the sale, if make a profit, if my idea works, if I have a great day as a parent and do everything right, if I preach an amazing sermon that keeps everyone’s attention … then I’m a success. But, if I fail, if I lose, if I don’t get the sale, if I end up losing money, if my idea flops, if I have an awful day as a parent and can’t seem to do anything right, if people are falling asleep or walking out while I preach … then I’m a failure. Too many times we allow self-worth to be intertwined with winning or losing, succeeding or failing. We often base our worth on the outcome. But, God is not waiting for us to fail or succeed before He decides how He feels about us. How He feels has already been decided! He doesn’t think more of me when I win or less of me when I lose. And, the reality of that frees me up to be the type of man He has created me to be … to take steps of faith, to take responsibility, to show initiative, to put others first, to work hard and try new things … to win and also to lose … and not allow myself to be defined by either because I’m already defined by Jesus and His finished work on the cross. When we fully allow God to define who we are, it frees us up to concern ourselves with simply being faithful to Him. This is why I am so thankful that Jesus’ primary concern is for our heart and it’s there that He will always begin His work.
So, as I continue to watch my son take steps toward manhood, I’m finding that he’s not the only one doing that. I find myself in the journey every day as well. O, God, allow those steps to be directed by You and may Your grace shape me and my son in to the men you’ve created us to be.