Posts Tagged ‘self identity’

I was the youngest of three brothers*; two years younger than the oldest one, and a year younger than the other.  Because we were so close in age, I was always trying to prove that I was their equal.  That desire deepened in me when I wound up in the same grade as my middle brother, and was compared to him on an almost daily basis.  Despite my best efforts, I never could quite measure up to either of my brothers.


In hindsight I can see that it wasn’t really a fair comparison, as a year (or two) makes a very significant difference in the development of a child, but at that time in my life I didn’t understand.  Combined with the fact that I was slightly built, with poor eyesight, and very emotional, I grew up with a deep sense of inadequacy.  These feelings were magnified during adolescence, when I found that girls never seemed as interested in me and as I was in them.


In those years I struggled to find a place where I felt significant, or where I sensed that I fit in.  During high school I was working at a downtown restaurant, where for the first time I encountered openly gay men.  For many of these men, a skinny teenaged boy was a thing to be coveted, and they had no trouble expressing their desire for me.  While I was not physically attracted to men, I had to admit that it felt good to be seen as desirable and special; and those feelings began to open a door way in my mind.  I began to wonder if the reason I didn’t really fit in and that women didn’t seem very interested in me was because there was something deficient in my manhood, which could somehow make me gay by default.


While it may sound a little strange for a boy who was wildly attracted to girls and not attracted to men to wrestle with the idea that he might be gay, I had adopted the world’s philosophy that some people are just made that way and it made me wonder about myself.  The issue wasn’t really about sexuality as much as it was about identity; because I was insecure in my identity as a person, I started to become insecure in my identity as a man.


Fortunately for me, one of the most significant elements in forming the identity of a child is its relationship with its parents, and the relationship of its parents with each other.  In this regard, I had been blessed with two parents who loved me, believed in me and modeled for me the God given roles of a man and a woman.  Even though I was not conscious of it, these things were strongly encoded in my being, and eventually this sense of my identity as a man was strong enough to keep me from being drawn into the gay community.


Though that experience cleared up any potential for confusion about my sexuality, it didn’t necessarily solidify my identity as a man.  I continued to struggle in finding much common ground with the cultural images of manhood (e.g. Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Rambo…) and as such I drew the conclusion that I must not be much of a man.


Over the years I found ways to compensate for, or to conceal, those traits which weren’t seen as being particularly manly (e.g. being expressive, showing emotion, loving children…) and eventually I came to what I thought was peace about it.  Years later, when I came into a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ and began to read the scripture, my whole concept of manhood was revolutionized.


In the light of God’s Word I could see that the culture had adopted, and even promoted, a faulty image of manhood; and that only “The Creator” could reveal to me my true identity.  When I read about Gideon, I heard him essentially say that he was the least of the least, and the facts surrounding his life seemed to support that claim; but God’s assessment was that he was mighty, and once Gideon got that revelation, his life went on to validate that view.


It struck me that God knew who He made Gideon to be, and that nothing from his past had the power to change that.  I understood that if this was true of Gideon, it was true of me too.  It didn’t matter what my history had been; only God’s assessment of me was valid.


When I read that God said that David was a man after His own heart, I decided that he must be an example of what God was looking for in a man.  And while David possessed many of the traits that are typically associated with men (e.g. strong, bold, fearless…), he also manifested others that aren’t (e.g. expressive, emotional, vulnerable…).  Through this I began to understand that God’s concept of a real man was quite different than that of our culture.


As I read the Gospels I realized that Jesus Himself was God’s model for manhood and in the Epistles I learned that He’d predestined me to be transformed into that image.  With this understanding I stopped trying to live up to some false idea of what a man should be and began to pursue becoming the person God made me to be.


Not long into that journey I discovered that many in the church are more in tune with the cultural image of what it means to be a man (or woman), than what is portrayed in scripture.  As I heard teaching on the subject of men, women, children, marriage…much of it seemed more rooted in Psychology than in the Word of God.


I remember as a young father, I volunteered to be in the Nursery to watch the kids, and that there were actually parents who refused to leave their children with me because I was a man.  If Jesus is our model, why should a man who is willing to serve, and who loves children be so unusual?  I would suggest that it is because we’ve been more influenced by cultural images than by the image of Christ.


There are certain images of Christ that men seem to willingly embrace, like Christ preaching the Sermon on the Mount, or turning over tables in the temple, or dueling with the Pharisees; but are men willing to embrace the image of a lamb led to slaughter, or His open display of emotion at the tomb of Lazarus, or of Him washing the feet of the friends.  Love, kindness, patience, and gentleness are all hallmarks of His character, but these things run counter to the generally accepted concept of being manly.  Are we endeavoring to mold our little boys into the image of Christ, or are we more interested in molding them into the next Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Bill Gates…


The people of God need to see “manhood” in a different light than the culture.  The tenets of scripture stand in stark contrast to the principles of the world.  The Apostle Paul said that “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself as love”.  David said that the kind of heart that God honors is broken and contrite; and Jesus said that unless we come as little children, we would not receive the Kingdom.  If outward expressions of love, having a broken heart, or possessing childlike trust don’t sound very manly, I’d suggest that maybe it’s because we’ve studied the wrong model for manhood.


* I also have a sister who is eleven years younger than me.  While she is the jewel of our family, she was not around in my formative years, and thus didn’t impact the sibling rivalry dynamic I developed with my brothers.

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