What does it mean to be a real man?
For today’s contributor, whose self-doubt brought him to the verge of self-destruction, the realization that manhood has to do with spiritual qualities, not conquests or achievements, was life-changing.
It sure seems as though there’s a checklist of things that make a man. In high school, for instance, some of my coaches and fellow athletes implied or said outright that sexual prowess and accomplishments on the playing field were crucial aspects of manhood. In college, an evening hookup which didn’t, shall we say, come to fruition ended with me questioning my potential as a relationship partner and even my manhood itself. I was also mentoring a teen and didn’t seem to be making any progress with him at all.
I really started to doubt my worth. This all came to a head one evening after another frustrating meeting with my mentee, whose boastful stories of sexual conquest tore the lid off all the repressed anger and frustration within me. Driving home alone, with no one else on the road, I hit the accelerator and deliberately headed straight for a massive tree.
Brood o’er us with Thy shelt’ring wing,
’Neath which our spirits blend
Like brother birds, that soar and sing,
And on the same branch bend.
(“Christian Science Hymnal,” No. 30)
I can still see the scene in my mind’s eye: the tree ahead glowing in the headlights, and then, as that hymn poured into my thoughts like a heavenly chorus, me hitting the brakes and coming to a gentle stop on the grass. That hymn hadn’t ever really stood out to me before, but now I sat there sobbing as it ran through my head. Could God really be sheltering me, naming me as one of His precious brood? He must be, since He’d just saved me from self-destruction. I gathered my wits enough to continue my drive and returned to campus safely.
I realized that I did have wonderful examples of manhood in my life at that point; they gave me consistent, thoughtful examples of the goodness of real masculinity. The problem was that I kept thinking I had to battle through self-doubt, failure, and negative models of manhood before I could truly find satisfaction and self-worth.
But the saving words of that hymn made me realize that these men were my “brother birds” right with me, teaching me about what it really means to be a man. And I suddenly realized that the qualities of real manhood, which have nothing to do with conquests or achievements, were already within me because they are God-given; they are spiritual qualities such as integrity, unselfishness, and purity. We all (men and women alike) have them because God is our loving Father-Mother, supplying us, His children, with everything we need.
The next few months were a watershed for me. In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” Mrs. Eddy wrote something that really helped me: “Do you not hear from all mankind of the imperfect model? The world is holding it before your gaze continually.…
“To remedy this, we must first turn our gaze in the right direction, and then walk that way. We must form perfect models in thought and look at them continually, or we shall never carve them out in grand and noble lives” (p. 248).
The more I kept my gaze on a God-defined model of manhood and excellence, the more I found I just wasn’t interested in other models or expectations. I became more humble – not a quality some might associate with manhood, but one that I found indispensable in relating to others and in loving myself. I also gained confidence in making new friends, and my focus shifted from what I could get out of relationships and experiences to what I could give.
I still had some lessons to learn, but with this foundation I felt equipped to approach each day with a consistent spiritual sense of manhood – and to bring strength, morality, and love into everything I did. I also found that the more I put these qualities into practice, the more they took on new depth and enabled me to help others more in all my activities and relationships.
Far from being a checklist of things to attain, manhood is the active honoring of the excellence that God has already created in His children. We can all discover this spiritual sense of manhood as an innate quality within us to be revealed and honored.