A Letter to My Christian Sons:
The world is full of voices who are more than eager to tell you what real masculinity and manhood are all about. Some of those voices are full of delusion. Some are reactionary, merely defining what masculinity is NOT (bravado, arrogance, autonomy). Others define man's role according to time and space (20th century America) without asking what masculinity looked like in 3rd century Egypt or WILL look like in 29th century France. Is it about vocation (business vs. blue-collar vs. the arts)? Is it about appearance (long hair, jewelry, fashion vs. traditional, skinny vs. buff)? Is it about personality (aggressive vs. shy, boisterous vs. chilled)? Is it about social roles (husband vs. unmarried vs. father)?
Are there really timeless truths about masculinity that apply to every time and place? Are there really God-ordained, unchangeable, created distinctives of true manhood?
I am addressing this with you because I have struggled for much of my life with the traditional Christian way of delineating male and female characteristics, roles, and responsibilities. The markers often named are, in my belief and experience, functions of personality, training, circumstances, gifts, talents, and inborn tendencies rather than true gender distinctions. Some markers (i.e. men are rational, women are emotional), are based on pagan mythology but have somehow been widely attributed to biblical Christian masculinity or femininity. Many cultural influences have also shaped and re-shaped our modern vision, leading to a mountain of confusion and debate.
When I examine the Word of God, I can only discern one obvious distinction between male and female. Just ONE. This one difference is expressly manifest in the biological makeup and the subsequent expression of physical oneness.
Man is to be active...a leader...an initiator.
Woman is to receptive...yielding...and responsive.
That's it. It's that "simple."
Of course, the entrance of sin means that man's primary temptations are to either oppressively dominate, or remain idly passive, while woman's primary temptations are to suspiciously resist, or to take the lead herself. But the Gospel and redemptive work of Christ means that the created order can be reclaimed in some measure if we seek to let him, by his Spirit, remake us in the Image in which we were created.
I hope to help you understand a little about the way a woman's heart works and ways you can lead, as a Christian man, that will stir up receptivity in the heart of woman.
First and foremost, it is your duty (and in your best interest) to build a foundation of TRUSTWORTHINESS. Woman can initially follow you without that trust, but every time that trust is broken, you eat away at her willingness and ability to yield to you. But it's not enough not to destroy that trust...it also has to be built. How do you do that?
As a man - an imitator of the Trinitarian God - you fill a number of roles with attendant responsibilities (actions). By the way, each of these roles has a corresponding feminine role and responsibilities which are nearly identical, so the duties themselves are not necessarily masculine, but the way you function in these roles will either build trust or suspicion, which will directly affect your ability to live out your masculine leadership.
God & Christ Imitating Roles w/ attendant actions:
Father - nurture, provide, comfort, assure
Creator - speak life and beauty into existence
Warrior - defend and protect souls and the needy
King - pass judgement; give gifts
Servant - minister to needs
Redeemer - rescue and restore
Husband - nourish; feed; prune; cultivate
Teacher - instruct; enlighten
You WILL inescapably fill each of these roles, but you will do so either actively and intentionally or passively and carelessly. I have named what I see as the primary godly characteristic needed in each role, as well as its antithetical characteristic.
Father - Gentleness...Harshness
Creator - Generosity...Stinginess
Warrior - Courage...Cowardice
King - Discernment...Instability
Servant - Humility...Pride
Redeemer - Compassion...Indifference
Husband - Attentiveness...Laziness
Teacher - Understanding...Naivety
Living out these roles in a godly way (for the sake of others) requires commitment and sacrifice = AKA: LOVE.
When you enact your masculinity in these roles with god-like attributes and for the sake of others, you build trust in the heart of woman (I suggest that these roles of leading and responding apply to man and woman in a general sense - employer-employee, teacher-student, father-offsping, elder-parishioner, etc. - with more particular application in marriage.). With confidence that your actions are intended to enrich, nourish, beautify and give her life, she in turn receives and yields to your leadership and is then empowered to enrich, nourish, beautify, and give life to the world around her.
You initiate and act. She responds and yields. The result? She brings new life into the world. You find your reward and joy, not in her pouring all that life back into YOU, but in the joy and life she continually gives to others! In gratitude and trust, she continues to receive your benevolent actions and thereby continues to give life to The World. This can look a thousand different ways depending on your gifts, personality, calling, and circumstances (time and space). You may be rugged or refined. A soldier or a scientist. Lively or serious. You might carry a gun or a guitar. Wear a tie or skinny jeans. Have rough calloused hands from physical labor, or clean trimmed office hands. But the underlying motivation, the pattern, and the result of true masculinity will be the same: life for the world.
This is True Masculinity: Initiate, lead, and act with committed sacrificial love on behalf of others, thereby infusing them with life so they may, in turn, give life to others.