By Steve Wickham
Masculinity, for most men, is a subject shrouded in confusion. Society has made it this way. Most men these days want to be seen as strong, capable, and tough, but also sensitive and gentle. Knowing when and how is the confusing part. Between these two poles there exists a place for every man to be at peace with himself. But he needs spiritual direction.
These areas below are the ways in which we may grow:
1. RENEWING IMAGES OF GOD
The aspect of Father in the godhead can be confounding to many men, especially where their images of fatherhood have been interrupted by abuse or neglect.
The image of God as lover of our souls is a strange one for men. Some men need to get over their homophobia to manage this. Such a love in God is gracious and nudging; gentle and convicting; both nurturing and tough. When God disciplines us there is neither fear nor shame, because Divine discipline is always merciful.
2. DISCOVERY OF THE INNER REALITY
When a man can close his eyes in a crowded room upon invitation to dwell within, or he can look himself intently in the mirror and not be scared, he may already value his inner reality. He is not afraid of his true self.
But many men are afraid. But there is nothing to fear. Under good spiritual direction, a man is able to practice the art of stilling himself in his own presence. He begins to accept more of himself, without condition for change. He begins to know himself as God knows him. And then he knows the miracle of God’s interminable Presence.
3. RELATIONAL ISSUES
As we discussed the tussle between patriarchy and matriarchy, many men struggle achieving a balance between independence and dependency. We struggle to achieve interdependence – the ideal blend of independence and dependency, because it is appropriately relational.
Society has done us no favours in this regard. Society sends men mixed signals (and probably women, in this regard, too). It expects men to, on the one hand, be independent. Yet we are also expected to be ‘sensitive’ and ‘available’ and we get this balance wrong by becoming pathetically dependent.
In spiritual direction we can work on models for interdependence. We can begin to understand the need to be independent for the things we are responsible for, but dependent enough that we are caring relationally. Interdependence is wisdom.
4. AMBIVALENCE TOWARD ORGANISED RELIGION
Men struggle more with organised religion than women do. Men are the first to ‘walk’. But men, just like women, need the community of faith where they can both give and receive support. Men are challenged to become more accepting of the frailties within community and of the diversity of teaching. Surviving in community is a continuous series of lessons in grace.
Spiritual direction can help men very much on the journey of acceptance.
In coming to know the one and only True God, men are challenged to debunk their ideas of masculinity and femininity. When we truly understand ourselves as made in the image of God we are freed of many false gender preconceptions. We see ourselves more simply and more acceptingly. When we see God we see ourselves.