I love having two boys in my home. They are often loud, sometimes make obnoxious noises, routinely turn the living room into an impromptu WWE ring (even though they have been told at least a couple thousand times that this is not allowed), can turn anything into a gun, are mostly against lentils, love to sit and read hunting magazines (even though they don’t hunt) and fishing magazines (even though their patience with fishing lasts about 72 seconds), invent incredible stories mixing Marvel superheroes with Rescue Heroes and Batman and Luke Skywalker, and are both training to become Jedi. They are the two coolest kids in my life, and I never, ever want them to stop being the people they are. So it makes me sad when I’m reminded that our culture does not value boyishness the way that I do.
Forgive me if that sounds a little dramatic. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, take a look at this video:
As though to punctuate the point this video makes, recently a boy got in trouble at school for thinking a cloud looked like a gun. No, I’m not making that up. You can read about it here.
Yes, I am a dad of little boys, so yes, I am a bit biased. But I think there are some major implications here both from a theological and practical perspective for the Church. See, boyishness is, in many ways, just a yet-to-be matured form of manliness, something we want to see redeemed and sanctified and put to good use in the church.
The restlessness that leads little boys to move and fidget and disrupt the classroom grows into the desire to get hands on and get things done.
The aggression that leads to roughhousing and wrestling on the playground grows into bold assertiveness and a willingness to take action.
The warplay that often includes guns and other weapons is just an expression of the courageous and adventurous spirit that grows into godly risk-taking and the willingness to step out of the comfort zone to accomplish something big.
These are good traits, traits we want to see in the men of our congregations. They are the traits that allowed Peter and John to stand before the Sanhedrin and proclaim Jesus. They are the traits that inspired Paul to travel the Mediterranean to get the Gospel to the Gentiles. They are the traits that inspired Luther to stand and boldly confess the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. And those are just the names we all know! These same traits inspired thousands upon thousands of Christian men to make bold strides to spread the Gospel. They are the traits that drive millions of Christian men to be leaders in their families, their churches, and their communities.
It is certainly true that sin has twisted these traits, and I’m not denying that boys can be very sinful. Rebellion, rage, violence, sexual sins, all are perversions of qualities God intended for good. But does that mean that the way to curb these sins is to train our boys to deny these God-given qualities? For that matter, is curbing sin by training them to suppress certain qualities the goal at all?
See, I think that at its heart this is really a theological issue. If we understood that God has made male and female unique for a specific purpose, that we are uniquely created to reflect different aspects of his character, that he is interested in redeeming and restoring his creation, not changing the original design, and that ultimately we don’t become better through behavior modification but through sinking deeper into the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, then what reason could we possibly have to try and make our boys be less boyish?
Yet, I hear of moms and teachers asking the question, “How can I make my boys do X less?” (when X is something that is typical boy behavior). What is the goal? To raise a generation of boys who are less boyish?
What we’ll get are men who are less manly. I don’t mean in the macho “toughen up and be a man” sense that is really just encouraging sinfulness. I mean in the sense of being leaders in their families, churches, and communities. If the only time a boy gets noticed is when he is told that he shouldn’t be doing what is in his nature to do, then he’s going to grow up avoiding getting noticed. How is that going to help him lead?
Just to be clear, I’m not saying that we want to encourage sin. I’m not saying that we don’t need rules in schools that ensure a safe environment (though I do think it has gone way overboard and needs reining in). I’m not saying anything about how we treat girls – at least not in this post – because the solution is not to make girls be more boyish either. I am saying that we need to start thinking very hard about what our goal in raising boys is, as parents and as a society, and how we plan to accomplish that goal.
The best way to mature this boyishness into godly manliness is to introduce them to the God-man. Let them see what it looks like when when their male qualities are perfectly expressed, and let their hearts be broken as they see how much their own actions fall short of what they were created to be. Then let Christ’s limitless love, incredible sacrifice, and amazing victory over death lift our boys out of the dust of their failure and set them free to be men.
That’s not something we can ask of our public school systems. Christian schools have the advantage that they can use the Gospel the way it was meant to be used; the important thing is to make sure they are doing so, and not simply following the educational trends of the world, at least not when it comes to character formation. First and foremost, though, the responsibility lies with us as parents. It is our job to point out to our boys when their boyishness has led them into sin, to take them to the cross and show them that sin is completely forgiven, and to show them what the Word says about how they can use their manliness to lead and serve others. Let’s raise our boys to be the men God intended them to be.
I’m trying to do this with my boys. I can’t count the number of conversations we’ve had about why playing the “capture the girls” game on the playground might not be the most godly expression of boyishness, and maybe “rescue the girls” or “foil the bad guys who captured the girls” might be a better way. But I know that the solution is to continue to show them the One who foiled all the plans of the Bad Guy, who rescued all of us from sin, and has set them free to be what God made them to be.