When I was in my early twenties, still living in my hometown, I worked the opening shift at the local Athletic Club. Maybe this is where I developed my ability to get up and get going at ungodly hours of the morning (a skill I appreciate now a little later in life), since my shift at this club started at 4:15 am Monday through Friday.
I believe that there is a unique perspective on life that can only come by being consistently awake before the rest of humanity. It forces silence. When I was getting up and getting ready to go to work, I had to do so quietly because my roommates were still asleep. When I drove to work, I did not turn on my stereo…that just seemed rude at 4am. When I would arrive at work, the building was empty and quiet. I was not going to see another soul for at least an hour. And even when club members began to arrive, people are just not chatty at 5 am. Consequently, for a good year of my life, I would spend the first almost 2 hours of my day, five days a week, in relative silence. The front desk I worked at faced a wall of floor to ceiling windows that opened to the eastern horizon of our small town, and every morning I would watch the sun come up. It was a nice.
During those first two hours or so of my workday, I had a lot of time to sit and read. . I took that opportunity to read my Bible, C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and other books to enrich my faith. This was, quite literally, my “quiet time”. Quiet prayer naturally became part of these mornings. Actually, in that season of life, “quiet prayers” would not really be a very accurate way to describe my communication with God. If I am a bit more honest, “angry, frustrated questions hurtled at God from my hurting, doubting, and hostile heart” would be a better label. Forced silence has a way of bringing to the surface things your heart wants to ignore. At the front desk of that athletic club my soul uttered things in brutal honesty to God that never would have been confessed in the sanctity of my church sanctuary.
To explain, I had always struggled with insecurity, and one area of particular insecurity was my masculinity. My given name is Andrew, which means “strong and manly”. For years I viewed my name as either profoundly ironic, or a cruel cosmic joke. It is no surprise, that in the silence of the morning shift of this athletic club, as a parade of near perfect physical specimens of “masculinity” walked in the door every day (because what other kind of guy shows up every morning at 5am to work out), the disparity between the masculinity I saw and perceived in them, and the utter lack I saw and perceived in myself assaulted and condemned my heart and drove me to make some deep and painful confessions and accusations to the ears of God. To be fair, sometimes there were honest prayers that God would change me, or help me so that I wouldn’t be so insecure. But more often my heart questioned God’s plan in making me a man, affirmed by a litany of self-deprecating comments about my temperament or gifting,.and there were the confessions of lusting after what I saw. It wasn’t the most pretty or “sanctified” of dialogs with the Lord, but they were, in retrospect, very sanctifying for me over the long haul.
One of these mornings, in angst over why the Lord was seemingly not doing anything about my pain, the Lord tenderly spoke to me. It went something like this…
“Drew, did you notice that the sun is up?” This took me off guard because I was feeling particularly angry, hurt, and insecure that morning. This question seemed way off topic! “Yes… I did…So what!?”(I was so teachable back then) The Lord replied. “When you got to work it was pitch black outside.” I started to get annoyed. “Yup…and again, so what? That is not anything new, it’s the same every day. What’s your point?” The Lord patiently and gently replied, “When did it change from dark to light?”
As I sat and thought about His question, I began to realize the beautiful, and yet unwanted point of His answer. There was no one distinct point where it went from dark to light. It was incremental. The changes were so subtle that honestly, I couldn’t make a determination. I sat with this question, in silence, for the next couple of weeks. Every morning as the sun came up I would do my best to watch and study it. I thought if I could catch the moment that the sun peaked over the hills, then that would be it. But for several days, just as that moment was about to arrive, some club member would walk in and I would turn to greet them, and turn back and the sun was up. Or another distraction would hit and I would be facing the other way, and soon notice the sunlight hitting the back wall. It became comical how I would miss the moment every morning.
One morning, I finally caught the sun coming over the horizon. It was one of the most anticipated sunrises of my life, and it was glorious, painting the sky in glowing pink, orange and deep blue. Yet in the beauty of the moment, I realized that even though the sun had broken through the horizon, light had been slowly overcoming the darkness long before the breakthrough occurred. That was the Lord’s answer to me. There would be a day when the sun broke the horizon, and it would be beautiful and glorious, but long before that moment the Lord would be actively displacing the dark with the light.
When it came to insecurity in my masculinity, this is exactly how the Lord has worked healing in me. I was in a dark place for a while. My identity was distorted and I did not view myself as valuable or qualified as a man. Healing was a slow and incremental process as God illuminated the goodness and the intentionality of Him creating me as a man. He did this in a multitude of ways, both obvious and subtle, and I grew more and more secure over the years as He poured light on me and on His purpose for me as a man. I have had some glorious moments where that has shown more confidently and profoundly than I could have ever hoped, but there is not one discernable moment where it shifted from “dark” to “light”.
How did He accomplish this?
I believed wrong things about manhood and masculinity. Quite honestly, I think we all do. But the thing is, we don’t know what we don’t know. Call it deception, or call it blind spots. However you want to label it, we all have areas of life, falsehoods we believe and standards we hold ourselves to that either have nothing to do with reality, or are broken distortions of reality. These can quickly become strongholds of condemnation that rob us of joy and peace and cripple our lives. Sadly we have no idea that these are operating in our lives until the Lord sheds light on them. This is what the Lord did for me, starting with those mornings at the front desk. Facing every day the image of what I felt I lacked and believed I could never attain exposed in my heart what I coveted in others, and what I despised in myself. It was painful and embarrassing, but necessary. It made me admit and articulate what I thought masculinity was, and what it wasn’t. It made me confess and declare what I believed to be true about other men, and what I believed to be true about me. It revealed merciless and marginalizing standards. When all of that ugly was exposed, the Lord then spent several years confronting, deconstructing, and rebuilding what I believed to be masculinity. He helped me to see it in other men, and affirm it in them, and He helped me see it in me. I can’t tell you what day it happened, when the shift from cripplingly insecure to secure and believing that I belong in the world of men happened, but it did and I am so grateful to the Lord to answering my prayers, and sustaining me all the while.
Why share this?
As I have travelled this last year, one of the more common concerns brought up by audiences at speaking engagements is the question of how to respond to gender identity issues. This is, rightly, a growing concern among believers, and a topic that deserves serious and thoughtful attention. But one concern that I have, which is thematic for me, is the continued focus on what to do about “them out there”, and metaphorically forgetting to pull the log out of our own eyes. More directly stated, in the church we often get focused on what we see as the problem with the world and we forget to question whether we are engaging the issue from a healthy, helpful, or spiritually accurate place. I believe that as the church seeks to effectively minister to these concerns, we need to honestly evaluate whether we are approaching gender identity issues and masculinity and femininity from a Biblically informed view, or a culturally informed view. I have known and ministered to too many men and women, some coming from a same-sex attraction background, and some who haven’t, who have felt like failures in their gender because they felt they didn’t measure up to a standard, didn’t display the right character traits, interests, body type, or temperament. None of these are standards of which are based in Biblical revelation of masculinity or femininity, but are strictly cultural in nature.
I have no doubt that God has created very distinct differences in male and female, and that we can rely on His Word to discern many of those distinctions. I also believe that if we believe that God intentionally creates us in His image, as male and female, than we can also rightly believe that God purposely designs us, as the Word of God affirms, individually in the womb, purposefully, fearfully, and wonderfully. So if he made me a man, and made me unique, He has a unique plan for me as a man.
I now know confidently that God intended me to be male, and the He also intended me to be artistic, intuitive, sensitive, and dramatic. These are all traits that, viewing masculinity strictly through the distorted values of my culture, I hated and despised in myself. But now years later, as God has poured His light on me, and in my vocation as a public speaker, pastoral counselor, and father to three daughters, I see the goodness of His intentional design, and see how these traits can be places that my masculinity flows out of, not hindrances or barriers to my masculinity. I know he made me on purpose, for purpose.
Obviously my reflections here are not complete, by any stretch, to address these issues. There are many books and resources that have been helpful as I have wrestled through these issues. One book that I would highly recommend to help navigate this discussion is “Fully Alive” by Dr. Larry Crabb. However, may I ask in light of this discussion, that we simply go to the Lord, and to the Scriptures, submitting our ideas of what masculinity and femininity are,and allow Him to challenge and remove what is unworthy? I think that would be powerfully redemptive for so many of us.