I love my boys! They are awesome and fun and they challenge me to be a good Dad in ways that are very different than how my girls do. It is a joy to teach them the things of this life that are particularly manly. Of the particularly Christian manly virtues, the ones that seem to challenge parents of boys the most are meekness, gentleness and self control. The old expression “boys will be boys” is often trotted out as boys who are part of a lovely Christian family are wrestling to the death in the middle of the church lobby floor, fighting over the score of a baseball game or lighting the cat on fire. Yes, these examples are fictional for the most part, but the expectation that boys are somehow entitled to proudly wrestle, fight and run amok regardless of the setting is one that seems to show up wherever there are boys. Even stating to others that we want our boys to be meek and self controlled will get you some interesting looks in response. I would submit that this expectation is doing great harm not only to those boys but also their families and the church mainly because it replaces a biblical standard with one created by the world.
John Eldredge is a popular Christian writer who set the Christian self-help world on fire years ago with his book Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secrets of a Man’s Soul. In the book, Eldredge sets out the premise that man needs to be more passionate like God and fight the battles of life like Mel Gibson from the movie Braveheart (his reference not mine) and seek adventure like wilderness camping and hiking adventures to quench the restlessness that is in every man’s heart. Adam was created outside of the Garden of Eden, Eldredge claims, and therefore he was not comfortable with being domesticated and serving within confines. Man’s heart longs for the wild and adventurous and one needs to only understand this, perhaps mixing in a little primal scream therapy and watching MMA fighting, to fulfill the true desires and find the true contentment of man’s heart. Man is not restless in his heart because he is fallen and subject to his sinful flesh and his heart is not restless because it is wicked, it is because God made him this way. Discontent is good and its God’s fault. If you are cringing right now, that is a good sign.
So why do I bring this up when discussing raising boys?
When I first read Wild at Heart, I thought it was the greatest book that I had ever read. I spoke so directly to the discontent that I felt at that time early in my Christian walk and gave me an outlet to try to get rid of it. If I just put on a kilt and rebelled against english oppression all would be well! Jokes about inappropriate movies cited in Christian books aside, based upon its success I was not alone as millions of people soaked it up and countless men’s groups and small groups got together to study how they could be more Wild At Heart. The problem was and is that the wildness of heart referenced by Eldredge may be something we are born with but it is not something that the Lord wants us to keep. The feelings and impulses that drove the wild at heartness are caused by sin and should be the focus of sanctification. When we are following Jesus, we should be seeking to purge it from our lives not embrace it. It is taking the wrong side in the war between the flesh and spirit that is raging within us. Thus, the message of the book directly conflicts with the clear message of the Bible. Trust in Jesus and learn to be content in all things the Bible teaches. 1 Thessalonians 4:10-11 says: Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life. Jesus described Himself as meek and humble and rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. The fruit of the Holy Spirit working in our lives is supposed to be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control not love of battles or inappropriate movies or restless desires to go hiking. At heart, pun intended, the book takes what is sinful in man, discontent, lack of self control, desire for power, lack of faith, lack of gentleness and glorifies it saying don’t follow Jesus’ example, follow your heart. You are really ok, your wild heart just needs to be indulged rather than taught to be submitted to Jesus. No thanks!
How we treat the boys of our families often reflects a similar mistaken belief about how God made them and what the Gospel is supposed to do in their lives. While some boys may have more of a natural inclination for impulsiveness or to test their strength against their siblings or against their parents or just to generally run amok, trust me I know of which is speak — my mom is still recovering from my childhood, there is no reason to accept this as a static unchangeable character trait that must be accommodated rather than as a sign of immaturity often motivated by sin. Look at and compare the expectation for boys with the life of Jesus and the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the signs that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives and having a harvest in our lives. Yes, strength is something that boys are always interested in and I cannot tell you how many times my boys have asked me to arm wrestle or to see if they can pick me up or push me to test their strength, but Jesus in one of the most specific biographical statements about Himself in the Bible described himself as meek and humble. He is all powerful and could have destroyed all of humanity with a word, yet His power was under control and submitted to the will of God to come and serve. The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve. He is humble and self controlled. He submitted Himself to the indignities of the Cross without a word so that the plan of salvation could be brought to fruition.
When the woman caught in the act of adultery is brought before Jesus in John 8, Jesus does not go tearing into the crowd of sinful hypocrites who are actively warring against Him, He shows love to them by trying to teach them. My heart would be filled with anger and rage against these rebellious children, the man reaction, but Jesus extends mercy and offers grace. When Jesus turns to the woman who clearly is a sinner and clearly does not deserve it, He is gentle , patient and kind and filled with love. He is filled with mercy and grace. He is not Wild at Heart, His heart is always under control and directed along the path of God. Our goal as parents who are seeking to raise our boys in a way that pleases God is to help free them of the things that make them look like man, the desires of the heart which are wicked and unknowable, and teach them to walk just like Jesus walked.
So just as God is patient and gentle and loving with us and does not require a jump from new believer in Christ to looking just like Christ in one day, He allows time for maturing, our expectation for our little ones should be reasonable based upon their age, their particular personality and the situation. A two year old is going to get squirmy in church and likely say Hi to to someone as the pastor is speaking and there are going to be a fair share of all of the “boy” issues, but the expectation and goals for them to act like Jesus should never get lost in the chorus of voices that are advocating for the “he is a boy he just can’t help it” method of boy raising. Every Christian was dead in his or her sins and trespasses with no ability to help the situation until they met Jesus and he worked his miracles in us after all. There is a reason they are called the fruit of the Spirit after all, it takes the Holy Spirit in us to get them coming out in spite of us.
And just a note — I like hiking, fishing, camping and general outdoors adventures with my boys and my girls. I try to teach my boys how to be strong men and how to defend others as I believe Christian men should. I want my boys to be brave and adventurous, just under control while being humble and gentle and most of all submitted to Jesus. My oldest loves archery and has been taking Krav Maga with me but also loves working in the nursery at church with the babies. I don’t believe strong and meek and gentle are contradictory.