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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Raising Boys Into Emotionally Mature Men, Part II.

1. Living by core values (living for something greater than the unholy trinity of me, myself and I).

Most measures of emotional maturity give high marks to living for transcendent values which align the person to ethical, moral or spiritual non-negotiables ennobling him or her if practiced for a lifetime. In my way of thinking living by universal core values which bring blessing to others actually humanizes a person. A life lived for something (SomeOne) greater than one's self captures what used to be termed the "normal Christian life." Jesus summed it best for me when he said the fulfilling of all the Law and the Prophets resided in loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. The converse is a spiritually pathological self-absorption: I am the center of the universe and others are merely servants of my desire and will, or bit players in the masterpiece of my life, entering and leaving the stage as I determine. They exist for me.

Helping a boy develop emotionally mature core values gives him eyes to see and love what is priceless in this world: God, persons, sacrificial love, humility, honor, service, compassion, wisdom, truth, generosity, defending the oppressed and defenseless, etc. It starts with learning behaviors like sharing, admitting wrongdoing, being considerate, helping, not hurting people, etc. The goal is to help a boy see others in his life as more than extensions of what he wants.

Life is packed with value-teaching moments, and it's a father's responsibility to take advantage of them repeatedly, modeling and encouraging his son's building life around transcendent core values. A father shows his core values by what he actually lives as non-negotiable, When his words and deeds match his values consistently in front of his son, he incarnates them so they're understood as real and attractive to imitate. He imprints them on his son. The boy must eventually choose, but he is given ample opportunity to emulate what his dad values most.

A distant, angry detached, unavailable, preoccupied or boyish father seriously wounds his son's ability to grasp healthy masculine core values. He learns a wounding message of indifference or antagonism which threatens to blind and cripple his ability to vitally connect with others, much less noble, transcendent values. He can become trapped in a life of habitually serving me, myself and I, thus living as a detached stranger. A detached man is a wandering alien cut off from true relationship, lost in an endless cycle of self-serving transactions with strangers. Every person will value something; it's how God wired humanity. A dad who sees it as his duty to help his children know the right, good, true and beautiful in a winsome and loving way increases exponentially the likelihood his children will be loving people living their "utmost for his highest."

2. Facilitating the priceless attribute of character.

If a boy is able as he grows to internalize transcendent core values reflecting the good, true and beautiful, he will also be developing his character. Character is another sine qua non of maturity, masculine or feminine. It carries with it notions of integrity, soundness, competence and dependability. A person of character has an earned reputation for trustworthiness, steadfastness and authenticity. Someone demonstrating character is relied on because his deeds consistently confirm his words. People don't refer to him as someone who is "all talk," and not to be believed, because while he may say "he'll get it done," experience often contradicts his words. People learn to believe such a person will not come through; he or she has lost credibility.

One of the sure ways both parents can facilitate character development in a boy is by training a strong work ethic into him. He needs to see there are times for play and times for work. Both are good. A strong work ethic takes root by involving a boy in helping around the house or in the yard, Dad's if they can, should include their sons (and daughters for that matter) in their professional work life, and strive to teach the normalcy, responsibility and pleasure of work well done. He should encourage him to help his mother in her work as well. At young ages, making work fun, and rewarding efforts slowly solidifies the idea in a boy that work isn't something to be avoided or is just for mom and dad. Gradually, he learns to take responsibility and builds confidence in his ability to do so.

It's disastrous for a young man not to have a healthy work ethic or sense of responsibility for himself and toward others. It can draw his emerging life into becoming a trainwreck, and set in motion excruciating years of failure, deceit, fear and shame. A man who won't work is a man cut off from his being. He gradually loses himself in a paralyzing boyhood of diminishing returns. He will serve his pleasures and cravings instead. On the other hand, a young man who can be trusted with increasing amounts of responsibility because he's developed character will earn respect and have opportunity given to him. He's found a critical piece of what he was made for.

3. Helping bring forth service as raison d'etre.

The Scriptures teach that avidly pursuing a life of serving God and others as the fundamental reason for being alive is what we were all created for: Mk. 10:45; Ro. 12:11; Deut. 13:4; Gal. 5:13; 1 Pe. 4:10; Lk. 22:26-27; Jn. 12:26.  We glorify God in all we do by reflecting his servant heart. Therefore, a man with a servant heart is well-pleasing to God and of great blessing to other people.

Masculine emotional maturity finds its deepest expression in the freedom to be a servant rather than the childish idea of the macho man who demands to be served. That man is a caricature and a boy. True and godly emotional maturity requires the loyal obedience of a bondservant to his LORD and Master. We don't like that notion because of the ignoble history of humans cruelly forcing other humans (including children), into harsh involuntary servitude, even today. In reality, the Greek word used in the Bible (NT) repeatedly for servant is doulos which actually translates to slave. In other words, a Jesus-follower's reason for being is to serve Christ and his Kingdom interests as his primary identity and "reasonable" service.

To help a son embrace such radical service (either vocationally or as a fundamental attitude in everything) as a chosen way of life helps him move close to his Kingdom missional calling, thus preventing the all-too-common bifurcation of what he does in the Kingdom and what he does in the world. All of life becomes an existential platform for serving Jesus -- the way it should be.

Therefore, he should see his dad as one who's eager to serve; one who initiates serving at home in concert with his mom, in the neighborhood, at church, or even for strangers. Such a dad helps without complaining. He's a "what can I do?" kind of guy. No job is too ordinary or beneath him to be done and done well, cheerfully and with integrity. A dad who constantly complains about having to help around the house or shows indifference to a family's many chores, especially "woman's work" sends a boyish and wrong message to everyone in the household. In so doing, he serves the One to whom he belongs, emulating his nature.

4. Nurturing your son's giftedness.

One of the most important blessings a parent can give his son is to look for and recognize the gifts he's been given and call them forth. I had a brilliant mentor who has an understanding of giftedness second to none. I worked with him for 10 years helping people discover their motivational design of gifts. I still do such work.  He's written a book, (Discovering Your Child's Design,,)  and worked extensively on the matter. His name is Ralph Mattson. In my opinion. you'd be wise to purchase and read it with your spouse.

When you understand how compelling motivational giftedness is, and its link to emotional maturity, you want to help ignite it in your son. Giftedness is linked to emotional maturity through the door of developing a sound work ethic and drive to serve. Valuing hard work, developing skill, and seeking a job well done is enhanced by being able to work in areas which are intrinsically motivating. There is pleasure and purpose in being able to do what we're designed to do. God did not make us like ants or bees programmed to perform our role as automatons. In his exquisite goodness, he gave us the ability to receive pleasure meaning in work. An emotionally mature man will use his gifts to do serving work which must be done regardless of it being intrinsically motivating, and work which makes him feel alive. The point is to balance both. Both bring God glory with the right heart-attitude.

So it's important for a father to notice what naturally seems to captivate his son in play. What is he drawn to naturally without being influenced or coerced? What patterns of behavior and effort do you see often? What do you notice he has potential for because there seems to be beginnings of a knack for something like:
  • physical agility or speed, 
  • the ability to figure out simple problems or come up with a creative way to do something, 
  • a rich fantasy life or fascination with stories,
  • strong communication skills,
  • loving to work with his hands and build structures,
  • the ability to draw or a fascination with a musical instrument lying around the house,
  • a love of machines and how things work etc.,
  • organizing things and creating order.
remember, you're looking for patterns and repeated activities he just naturally moves toward. In those areas, you should provide all sorts of activities to explore and try with increasing sophistication as he ages or until he finds another fascination (there may be many). If done in an atmosphere where you are also teaching him the value of work and doing a good job, you provide an open road and the necessary encouragement to help him make a mature approach to finding who he is motivationally, and you let him know it is good to do so.

5. Teaching him to be able to pursue and hold the heart of a woman for life.

I can't stress how important this is for masculine emotional maturity, and a God-honoring relationship with the woman a man commits to walk with through all of life. I've had the excruciating experience many times of seeing how a boy in a man's body can crush the heart and spirit of the woman he stood next to promising love and honor all of his days. Sure, I know some women, because of their woundedness and emotional immaturity, can be the ones who kill the relationship no matter how honorably a man tries to love and serve her. But, truth will out, my experience has been it's the man who refuses to grow up and take responsibility to lead spiritually, and pursue his wife's heart with courage and sacrificial love. He convinces his soul-weary wife he does not love her by his continual indifference to her feelings and needs, and willful self-absorption. She eventually becomes convinced because he taught her so for years.

Reason for hope comes from the fact a father has a great opportunity to open his son's heart to the other sex. When he is a little boy it comes in the form of loving his wife and showing her deep respect and honor in front of his son. Mommy is special to daddy. He is continually affectionate to her in front of his kids (not sexual mind you). He honors her and shows deference to her opinions and preferences. he is always helping do chores around the house and helping lessen her load in any way he can. It also comes from dad helping his son see his sisters as people to love, respect, and befriend. Yeah, sibling rivalry can be formidable between brothers and sisters, but dad models and teaches that a boy's sisters are family, family is precious, and learning to relate is important. Simple, he learns how to be with girls in a way that honors them as God's creation like he is.

Secondly, an emotionally mature father requires his sons to treat their mother with kindness, affection and respect, especially as the boys get older, particularly in the teen years. She is never the hired help or their peer who can be bossed, ignored or abused, including verbally. Dad is in complete unity with Mom in front of the kids, especially in matters related to them. That doesn't mean he never challenges her opinions or actions, but never in the way that teaches his children they can too. It's done offline and with kindness and respect as well.

Pursuing a woman's heart means treating her as a person, not an object or thing, merely a body to use. At the very least, she is made in the image of God, or if she follows Jesus, she is a beloved daughter of the Most High God, and is to be treated as such. Her sensibilities are not constitutionally masculine. She thinks differently, feels differently, and has a profound bent toward relationship (unless she has been traumatically abused physically, emotionally, spiritually or all three). God created her femininity to balance and complete her husband's masculinity and vice versa. Helping his son cherish and serve her opens him to treat his sisters and girlfriends similarly. This is important, especially when sexual desire becomes a part of the equation.

An emotionally mature man understands that through gentleness, kindness, servant-hearted strength, courage with humility, compassionate sacrificial love, and leading so his wife feels free (and safe) to become who she really is with him will open a her heart and keep it open for a lifetime. He doesn't have to be perfect at this, just determinedly attentive to it. He can "hold" her heart because he's convinced through attitude and correlating behavior her that he really loves who she is in toto, not merely what she provides for him. A boy who grows up in the company of such a man increases his prospects substantially for being an emotionally mature husband and father in relationship to women.

May God use what I've written to help men and the boys they father/disciple to grow into full and real masculinity: utterly surrendered to God and ably offering everyone by his life godly strength, love and service.

ab emo pectore
(from the heart)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Raising Boys Into Emotionally Mature Men, Part I.

On November 29, 2010 I wrote a post called When a Man Decides to Leave Emotional Boyhood Behind In it I listed 9 characteristics of emotional boyhood and their equivalent contrasts of emotional manhood. Check it out to get background for what follows in this post regarding fathers helping sons become emotionally mature men.

Let me begin by reminding us that emotionally mature sons need the help and guidance of both fathers and mothers working together to help boys become authentic men. Each has a necessary role in raising them. The masculine and feminine influence shape boys differently, but each balances a boy's sense of himself in the company of both.

However, I am utterly convinced masculinity best internalizes masculinity. Masculine being is best transferred by masculine being, especially through willing identification and imitation. I know I'm getting heavy here, but its a heavy deal. God created masculine and feminine being. He also provided the means through which it could be healthily passed on from generation to generation.

Therefore, emotionally healthy men are the most fitting means by which the existential transaction takes place developmentally over time. Again, this is especially true, but not exclusively so, when it occurs in a loving family where dad and mom work in harmony to model what it means to be an authentic, person of character and integrity -- male or female.

For boys of Christian parents, becoming Christian men centers on gradually learning to live life as a follower of Jesus, at his disposal, and on his terms in every endeavor. Serving the Lord of lords becomes the greatest priority and highest End in life. Such allegiance flows from a radically transformed heart and focused will toward Kingdom mission and God's glory. Pursuits of wealth, power, influence and achievement are placed under obedience to Christ. Doing so with resolve is a far departure from pursuing the American Dream as one's Prime Directive.

To give you a sense of the essentials of a boy turning into an emotionally mature man, the following are helpful markers, I think. I realize, much I will say below holds to true for daughters in principle as well. I will write about that later. I also do not mean to disclude a boy's mother from also modeling, teaching and supporting the attitudes and values below. As I said, she also plays and has a uniquely vital role in growing him up into emotionally mature masculinity.

1. Helping a boy learn to love Jesus and value the spiritual side of life.

If you are a Jesus-follower you will naturally desire for your sons and daughters to become Jesus-followers. If you are wise, you won't try to force a relationship; you will help motivate and create it as a model, supporter and teacher. In other words, a father helps his son open and relate to Jesus, at first to know him as a Friend and Gentle Shepherd, then as he ages and matures, as a Savior, King and Lord.

The goal is intimacy with God, the heart after God's heart intimacy David had : "I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do."(Acts 13:22) They key to this level of surrendered heart is helping a boy know God's nature and will as revealed in the Scriptures. It is helping him know the "still, small voice" of the Spirit as the voice of One who loves him, by "dialoguing" with God in prayer and reflection. Thirdly, it's involving him in the life of the Church as the community of the Beloved, of which he is a part, gathered around God, loving one another and serving Christ's redemptive Kingdom mission in the world.

As a boy repeatedly sees his father reading Scripture, praying (alone and with mom) and sharing the work of the Church it normalizes for him. As dad talks freely about his relationship with God his son learns it is a normal part of life. Jesus can be talked to. Jesus can be listened to. Jesus protects him and loves him. He learns Jesus is never far even though he can't see him. The birth of Jesus is a good place to begin as well as passages showing him relating to children.

Depending on the cognitive and emotional maturity of the boy, somewhere around the 4th to 6th grades, he can begin to grasp that Jesus is the Savior of the world and King of kings. Concepts such as the cross and resurrection, the fact Jesus paid for our sin and was raised from the dead can be slowly introduce and talked about. There is no reason to hurry these truths, but they need to be developed for a boy to understand the Gospel core of the Christian worldview.

As a boy heads into the emotional maze and minefield of the teen years, he should explore the idea of Jesus as Lord. This is his invitation to "big-league" Christianity. The Lordship of Christ summons all his followers to radical obedience for a lifetime. It is the more challenging or demanding part of the Gospel message, but one which expresses its core. To have a heart after God's from his perspective means, "he will do everything I want him to do." This principle is essential to masculine emotional maturity of the highest order. Loving Jesus is ultimately obeying what he commands. True intimacy with him is surrender and following hard after him in all things.

A Dad who lives with God like this will "warm" his son(s) to living this way as well. The Christian spiritual life is radically following Jesus because of love for him. Knowing him at the deepest levels of the heart translates to being where he is as he redeems the world one day at a time. When his father relates to Jesus this way and is open about it it can become real and enticing for his son, especially if dad is inviting him into missional projects and tasks of serving.

2. Developing a boy's understanding of the power God has granted him to live his life.

In my work as a lay counselor, I've become aware of the critical need to help boys grow into an emotionally healthy understanding of the power God has given him to make a worthy way in the world. For a boy to come into his own, he needs to see he can pursue what matters to him, even if he fails at times. A boy has to acquire the confidence to step out and act in the face of challenge and difficulty knowing God has called him into being at a particular point in history to do something only he can. The gift of life and the power to live it confirms his right to be. This too is following Jesus.

Through trial and error salted with a father's gracious encouragement, supportive correction and generous love, a boy steadily comes to trust his potential and inherent giftedness. He learns to rely on the instincts God has put in him to accomplish things because he has come to know and trust him, his Savior and Lord. Conversely, he doesn't learn to shrink back into an unhealthy dependence on others who seem more strong or capable, thus surrendering to a life of impotence no matter how he might posture in front of others. Such boys, and later men, hesitate and hold back, afraid to try something new in front of others. Fear of failure and a growing shame cripple ability to recognize the power God has put in them, and they gradually submit to a half life of mediocrity, or worse, manipulating others.

A healthy understanding of the power God has put in him, and it submitted to a far-greater Power, namely Christ, centers him in life to the full as Jesus desires it. A young man's dreams allied with God's will can change the world, and has many times over.

3. Enticing boy's courage so he develops the habit of taking initiative.

Closely related to number 2 is the critical need to gradually entice a boy's courage. Courage is a key component of authentic masculinity, an essential ingredient to defining a man's ability to face and move through fears of all sorts. Fear can can hamstring a man and chronic fear will slowly crush his spirit, trapping him in a life of boyish posturing and impotent cowardice. A man without courage is like a badly-tuned engine; it can never perform to the level it was designed. Courage makes a way where it seems there is no way. Courage says "Yes" in the face of many "No's." Courage asks, "Well, why not?" or "Who says it can't be done?" Courage creates movement where stultifying inertia has ruled the day.

Over the years, I've recognized through counseling hundreds of men that unless they grow up in a supportive environment where they can develop the habit (way of life, really) of taking initiative to tackle a challenge or solve a problem, they will learn to hesitate, shrink from, or even worse, chronically procrastinate. The sad fact is they weren't trained to negotiate a daunting dilemma or tough task requiring resilience, ingenuity, and determination. A man who's been well-trained in boyhood to face challenges and obstacles may have no idea how to deal with the situation at first, but he'll roll up his sleeves and find out: ask questions, look at options, think it through and then take take action. He goes into the chaos or fog even if he isn't dead sure of the way forward. There will be a kind of, "Let's see if this works," sensibility to how he tries to achieve a solution. In so doing, he reveals an emotional maturity which subordinates fear to taking initiative.

To raise a boy into such a "can-do" way of life he needs to have many chances to try all sorts of things, to test his intelligence, and strength. Clearly, such testing will look different for a 2-year-old than an 8 year-old, or a 13 year old, but the principle of trying holds true for each. So Dad, Grandpa, Uncle Mike, and older brother, Louis, all need to walk along side him frequently: supporting, encouraging, helping and inspiring him to try new things and see what opens. The men in his life also need to help him see failure and frustration as opportunities for learning and persevering or altering his course for a better result. Over time, this essential feature of emotional maturity will take root: failure is not seen as a sign of existential bankruptcy and shame does not begin to distort his self-awareness into ingrained boyishness when it comes to living the way of courage and initiative-taking.

In the end, helping him discover and live this quality of masculine emotional maturity will grant him the ability to act even if he doesn't know the way or is confident he will succeed. A life well-lived requires such an attitude.

4. Being able to test reality in the face of strong feelings.

Wisdom necessitates seeing things as they really are not as they appear or feel. Wisdom is a fount of life and freedom. Foolishness is a wide portal to chaos and bondage.

Emotional maturity requires the weathered ability to reality test because all that glitters is not gold, and unexamined impulse can quickly lead to disaster. So it asks questions such as:

  • What's really going on here?
  • If I do this what are the consequences?
  • Are my feelings telling me the truth?
  • Am I getting an accurate read on the situation or seeing what I want to see?
  • Should I take more to get the facts before I commit?
  • Am I being deceived?
  • Will good or evil come from my actions?
  • What is this going to cost me in the end?
    The Scriptures are filled with warnings about not testing reality from God's perspective especially when it comes to trusting how a man feels as the most reliable measure of his response to all sorts of enticements. So helping a boy balance his feelings with an ability to see what's actually true based on time-tested standards of truth becomes an exercise in grounding him in what is, not what seems to be or what he wants it to be because his feelings want what they want. Many a man has shipwrecked his life because his feelings and impulses deceived him.

    Perhaps the surest way to help a boy develop this tool of emotional maturity is to talk about what he is feeling in light of what actually happened or what the situation needed in reality. Sometimes it will mean comforting him or soothing his wounded ego. Always it will mean using the issue as a teaching opportunity to point him toward truth and reality, not merely desire and impulse. When done so in an atmosphere of compassion and masculine love, it opens the way to recognizing the difference between feeling something is true because he desires it to be so, and actually knowing it is objectively true.

    Emotional maturity in this regard will help him navigate the avalanche of enticements hurtling toward him from every direction promising happiness, pleasure, power, and freedom if he acts and acts quickly. Having such navigational skill in our culture of endless entitlement will bode him well  for a lifetime.