Boys to Men

Every year in my history classes I use what I consider to be a witty journal topic to talk about our culture’s crisis of manhood.

“All women should know how to take care of children. Most of them will have a husband some day.”   -Franklin P. Jones

The students often misinterpret it at first, but it doesn’t take long before one sharp student gets it:  “Men are like children.”

Yes, indeed.   Why is it that our culture is producing so many old boys and not very many young men?  We are becoming a nation of kidults.

You know how sometimes you don’t understand something until you hear yourself say it?  As Charles Swindoll says, “Our thoughts untangle themselves over the lips and through the fingertips.”  I felt like the Lord helped me to hit upon something in our discussion that I had not thought about in this way before—that one difference between boys and men is how they understand pleasure.

Boys seek to pleasure themselves as a way of life, while men understand what true pleasure looks like.  God designed us to build, create, develop, design, dream, organize, transform, beautify and grow.  There is another word for these things…work!  A primary source of true pleasure is to go about our God-given tasks and bring life to our God-given callings.

A character in Despicable Me 2—young, confident, tweeny Latin charmer Antonio—epitomizes this distinction.  When introducing Antonio, his father says smoothly (Nacho Libre accent on), “This is my son Antonio.  When he grows up he wants to play video games for a living” (Nacho Libre accent off).   Perfect!  This is a boy.  And while I think tween-age boys are the perfect age to begin leaving childish ways behind them, pleasure-seeking as a way of life is not surprising for boys.  But what about for adult males (“men” avoided intentionally)?

For too many males, becoming a legal adult simply means finding more sophisticated ways to pleasure ourselves.  When I asked some of the students to start dreaming a little about what they can build, create, develop, etc., one student shared his dream of playing in the NBA.  To accomplish this goal requires a tremendous amount of hard work and determination—qualities to be admired and a glimpse of what it means to grow from boy to man.  But how many NBA players have simply used this dream as a more sophisticated way to pleasure themselves? How many have left behind numerous unfathered children, broken relationships and other moral messes?

Just working hard to accomplish something is not enough to become a man.   I would argue there also needs to be a vision for furthering a cause bigger than your own pleasure.  If my student’s goal is to play in the NBA so he can be a blessing to others and give back to society in some specific way, then he will become a man in the process of pursuing that dream (I would argue that he will become so even if he doesn’t fully accomplish it).  But if playing in the NBA is simply an avenue toward fame, wealth and women, I predict he will remain largely an adolescent.  A man has learned that strength is to be employed in a life of service, and this service is a counter-intuitive path toward joy.  And until we get that, part of us never grows up.

Sadly, how few fathers today are modeling and leading their sons to grow into men?  How many fathers teach their sons to dream, build, create, organized, develop, and design?  May God “Turn the heart of our fathers to their children, and the heart of the children to our fathers.”  And thank you heroic single moms (whether married or not) who are doing your best to stand in the gap for your sons.  May God reward your sacrifice.

And Lord, please help me to teach my daughters to develop their God-given gifts in order to accomplish their God-given callings.  I have so often failed to be intentional in this.  And if they are to marry, may you be preparing young men to love them.  Give them discernment to distinguish godly men from boys. In Jesus’ name.

A lost generation of men

World-renowned psychologist Phillip Zimbardo recently published The Demise of Guys: Why Boys are Struggling and What We Can Do About It.  It was recently profiled on CNN.

The central thesis is that addictions to video games and online porn are devastating a generation of young men.

Dr. Russell Moore from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary writes poignantly, with spiritual discernment, about this crisis:

Pornography promises orgasm without intimacy. Video warfare promises adrenaline without danger. The arousal that makes these so attractive is ultimately spiritual to the core.

Satan isn’t a creator but a plagiarist. His power is parasitic, latching on to good impulses and directing them toward his own purpose. God intends a man to feel the wildness of sexuality in the self-giving union with his wife. And a man is meant to, when necessary, fight for his family, his people, for the weak and vulnerable who are being oppressed.

Moreover, these addictions foster the seemingly opposite vices of passivity and hyper-aggression. The porn addict becomes a lecherous loser, with one-flesh union supplanted by masturbatory isolation. The video game addict becomes a pugilistic coward, with other-protecting courage supplanted by aggression with no chance of losing one’s life. In both cases, one seeks the sensation of being a real lover or a real fighter, but venting one’s reproductive or adrenal glands over pixilated images, not flesh and blood for which one is responsible.

Zimbardo and Duncan are right, this is a generation mired in fake love and fake war, and that is dangerous. A man who learns to be a lover through porn will simultaneously love everyone and no one. A man obsessed with violent gaming can learn to fight everyone and no one.

I have seen these h0llow, shriveled young men in my classes.  It is the young women who are assuming the vast majority of the leadership roles on campus.  Male leadership among the young generation is largely absent.  Those few that are emerging leaders are so attractive to the young women, particularly the insecure, that I am seeing more and more examples in my classroom of these insecure young women verbally throwing themselves at these young men.  Given the shrinking population of strong men, I can sympathize with their desperation, though they are called to a higher standard.

Meanwhile, those young men spending hours playing video games or looking at online porn are in a downward spiral.  They are not developing the kind of social skills and character necessary to be successful and to have real relationship.  So when they experience the resulting rejection, it drives them back to their addictions as a place of comfort and solace.

Lord Jesus, rescue this generation of men!  Lord, give parents of these young men wisdom and firmness.  In this generation, “Turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6).  Lord, raise up the men in your church to discipline themselves, to come together for encouragement, and to stand against the enemy.  May we be so caught up in your kingdom adventures that these kinds of addictive behaviors aren’t even tempting. Consume us with your love and passion.  Give a vision to our men that you have called them to love passionately and to fight aggressively in your kingdom.  Lead us in repentance and restoration, in Jesus’ name.

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