|By Danny Burns|
FCA Manager of Online Ministry
My junior year of college, a young man I knew for only a week came into my room and after 40 minutes broke down in tears. Men don’t cry, especially young, proud, college men like Shawn.
Later, after we talked through the issues of life and God, I realized there were more “Shawns” out there. Young men, old men — men of all ages — all bound together by similar challenges and struggles. And no matter where they are in life, the remedy is the same: today’s men are desperately in need of their heavenly Father.
Researching the physical, emotional and spiritual health of men today is discouraging. Roughly 40-50 percent of all marriages are crumbling in divorce. Fatherless homes produce 85 percent of all children who have behavioral problems. Seventy-nine percent of domestic violence is committed by men. And men as a whole make up the majority of those who struggle with internet pornography.*
From that first conversation in college to the lunch I had at Wendy’s last week, the men I meet with have shown me just how much is at stake. The health of their relationships, their work, their families and their influence seem to hinge on whether or not they truly know their Father. Without Him, men walk the dangerous line of becoming one of those easy-to-find statistics.
Fatherlessness (the absence of a father in the home) has long been recognized as a major social issue in the United States. National organizations have been formed to help combat the problem; the government has done studies and started initiatives in an effort to keep dads at home. It’s no shock why some believe the current condition of men is a direct result of a fatherless nation.
For years, best-selling Christian author John Eldredge has been writing about the challenges men face. He also has counseled many through his own ministry. Eldredge recently released the follow-up to his popular book Wild at Heart, a work appropriately titled The Way of the Wild Heart. He believes that without fathers in the home investing in the lives of their sons, men grow up unskilled in life.
"What we have now is a world of uninitiated men. Partial men. Boys mostly, walking around in men’s bodies with men’s jobs and families, finances and responsibilities."
“What we have now is a world of uninitiated men,” writes Eldredge. “Partial men. Boys mostly, walking around in men’s bodies with men’s jobs and families, finances and responsibilities. The passing on of masculinity was never completed, if it was begun at all. That’s why most of us are Unfinished Men. And therefore unable to truly live as men in whatever life throws at us. And unable to pass on to our sons and daughters what they need to become whole and holy men and women themselves.”
This lack of initiation is all too familiar to National Center for Fathering CEO and former FCA Vice President Carey Casey. Forfive years he helped pastor an inner-city church in the Chicago area. His perspective goes hand-in-hand with that of Eldredge. Men who aren’t fathered themselves can’t be expected to father.
“You have these men who are born into the world, don’t know where they came from, are insecure about where they are and there’s no way they can grow or mentor anyone because they’re dealing with their own issues,” said Casey.
With so many uninitiated men who are unable to father, there’s little doubt as to why fatherlessness is so widespread.
Future generations seem to be destined to take similar paths. But what about men with fathers? What about men who grew up with dads? A lack of fathering can’t solely explain the masculine condition. The answer? Even if they know their earthly father, many don’t know their heavenly Father.
The True Father
During my time as a collegiate athlete I watched many of my peers try to succeed in sports and in life while holding varying views of God. Some saw God as a Father who provided only when it was convenient for Him. If life didn’t line up perfectly, that meant that God wasn’t real. Some saw their failures and hardships as the absence of God. Failed relationships, failed seasons, career-ending injuries all proved that God didn’t care about them. A majority simply didn’t believe that God was big enough or powerful enough to handle anything that came their way.
Now on the graduate side of college, I have found that men’s views of God are the same. Unemployment, poor health, death of loved ones — any failure or disappointment in a man’s life is considered proof that their Father isn’t at the helm. Kenny Luck is the men’s pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. Luck has been in the trenches with men for years, starting Every Man Ministries and co-authoring several Christian books.
In his latest book, Risk, Luck wrote, “No man’s life for God will ever outperform his view of God.” When I interviewed Luck, he added, “The biggest challenge facing Christian men is not the world so much as their view of God. I see little risk and aggressive pursuit [of God] among Christian men. You can always tell the spiritual direction of a man if you know what his view of God is. If it’s accurate there will be aggressive and bold spiritual commitment.”
"No man’s life for God will ever outperform his view of God."
When I interviewed Eldredge, he commented on the same subject. “Of the thousands of conversations I’ve had with men over the years, I believe this is the core issue of our shared dilemma as men,” he said. “We just don’t believe we have a Father.”
Without an earthly or heavenly Father, the issue of fatherlessness becomes a huge challenge for men. The effects get passed down to everyone and everything he touches. In order to reverse the trend, men will need to face the battle head-on.
Tackling issues of fatherlessness, personal faith and fellowship will be the major building blocks in getting men back on the right track — the heavenly track.
Becoming Godly Men
When I was 16, I was benched by my high school basketball coach. (My killer aim from behind the three-point line couldn’t do anything to help my height.) In an effort to get a competitive edge I went out for cross country. I eventually made the varsity team and traded in my basketball shoes for a pair of long-distance spikes. My success, however, didn’t come mmediately. I had to learn how to be a runner. I had to go back to the basics of training and endurance. At that time in my life I had only experienced one thing: basketball. I knew nothing about the world of endurance sports.
For fatherless men, the same principle applies. Most don’t know what life is like with an earthly father, let alone a heavenly one. They’ve always gone it alone. They’ve picked up bits and pieces along the way, but they probably have seen no other options, no possibilities and no Father. They’re used to sitting on the bench.
Recovering a real relationship with God — going back to the basics — will help men discover a life and a Father they might never have thought they could have. It will help them discover something for which they never knew they were created.
“No matter who you are, no matter where you are, God can come to you, and He can take up our journey right now and all the things that got messed up and all the things that never got spoken to you, He can speak, and He can take you as your Father now,” said Eldredge, who further expanded on that idea in The Way of the Wild Heart. “I believe that’s what [God] is primarily up to at any point in a boy’s or man’s life is initiating him. So much of what we misinterpret as hassles or trials or screwups on our part are, in fact, God fathering us, taking us through something in order to strengthen us, or heal us, or dismantle some unholy thing in us.”
In distance running, the condition and endurance of the heart is a huge indication of how well a runner will compete. For a man, the condition of his spiritual heart is the barometer of his life. In addition to recovering a relationship with God, a man must look deep within his own heart.
"For a man, the condition of his spiritual heart is the barometer of his life."
“The human heart is the center of the whole story in the Bible as it relates to the heart of God,” said Eldredge. “The heart is a disaster apart from Christ. But the good news that most men haven’t heard is that the saving work of Jesus Christ reaches the human heart. It is from the heart that we have fellowship with God. It is from the heart that we learn to love others. It is from the heart that we find the passions that God has put within us to fulfill our particular role in His story.”
Added Luck in his book Every Man, God’s Man, “God is looking for the man who will not be afraid to identify with Him.” This “Undivided Heart,” with total commitment to God, must be coupled with consistency. Men must choose God’s way time and time again.
The Way of the Wild Heart
Every Man, God's Man
Stephen Arterburn, Kenny Luck, Mike Yorkey
Wild at Heart
Every Young Man, God's Man
Stephen Arterburn, Kenny Luck, Mike Yorkey
My sophomore year, in the middle of a high school cross country race, I was about ready to shut it down. I had started the race too fast and had fallen into “no-man’s land,” which is a point in a race where runners are in front of you and behind you, but none of them are close to you. The runners in front were too far away for me to catch, let alone see. The runners behind me were too far back. I was in the center of a moving desert.
Luckily for me, my older teammate Josh had worked through the race and made his way to my side. Breathing heavily he mustered the words, “You ready?” I nodded, and we began to move. With Josh’s help, he and I ran out of no-man’s land. We worked past the lead pack and finished second and third behind another of our teammates.
Had Josh not come alongside me, I would have faded into the bowels of the race. But he and I worked together. We brought each other along, and with every step, with heavy legs and burning lungs, we finished. Similarly, men today need to come alongside each other and race toward God together.
They can’t win the race marked out for them without this male fellowship. “Masculinity is bestowed by masculinity,” said Eldredge. “You can’t get it any other way. No matter how loving a mother that boy may have, no matter how supportive a community, the only place he is going to get what his soul needs is from another man.”
Added Casey, “It’s so important that men empower men. My dad did that for me, and he raises me more now from the grave then he did when he was alive. Having him in my life was that powerful.”
True fellowship, where men invest in the lives of each other, is essential. We were wired for relationship. Jesus Christ set the example by surrounding Himself with 12 other men. But these relationships have to go beyond the depth of water-cooler conversation. They must go deeper than sports scores, the latest movie, music buzz or countless other safe, superficial topics. Men can’t be afraid to ask each other tough questions, to keep one another accountable and to help bring each other through the no-man’s lands of life.
“Close connection between God’s men are fueling the nextwave of spiritual revolution,” wrote Luck. “We are discovering the life-changing difference such relationships can make, and we are becoming close allies in the battle to finish strong.”
The Journey Ahead
Today, that young, proud college man who broke down in my room is chasing after God with a vengeance. Shawn and I still keep in touch. We’ve become brothers, trying to be godly men together. And as I look at the landscape around us as men, I find tremendous hope in the power of our Father. In Malachi 4:6 the Bible says, “He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”
With a renewed faith in their Father, healed hearts and authentic fellowship, godly men will multiply. Marriages will be restored, houses will become homes and the generational tide will change.
Our journey has begun…
* Data from divorceform.org, townhall.com, Jill C. Manning—U.S. Senate
Covers courtesy of Thomas Nelson Publishers and WaterBrook Press
*For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.