Reaping What We Sow
Why we should be careful what we ask for in life.
Feb. 5, 2011
”Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.”
A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.
It wasn’t my intention for the reflections at this site to be a running commentary on the drama of dating, especially my dating. But life is what happens to us while we are making other plans and words come when and where they are given. So my post-divorce dating lessons continue…
Last weekend a dear woman friend sat me down on the floor of her townhome for a heart-to-heart talk… Dating 101 she called it. “Scott, you’re too nice,” she said. “You’re just too nice! You don’t need to have your heart on your sleeve all the time.” I don’t need to return a woman’s phone calls right away or to put so much into caring for her when she feels bad, she explained. Things are more interesting when there’s a bit of a dance… a little “excitement.” As I listened she said, "Oh, now you have puppy dog eyes.” Her words echoed those of most other women I’ve known. It is the rare woman who will tell you that she likes players and jerks, but most say that chemistry thrives where there is a little mystery and perhaps even a bit of danger. As one woman I dated put it, “There’s a sweet spot where I like to be ridden… when a man leans too far back in the saddle I don’t feel romanced, but when he leans too far forward in the saddle he gets kind of predictable…”
Needless to say, my guy friends couldn’t agree more. The key to a woman’s heart, they say, is at least to some extent to keep her guessing. Be kind, be a gentleman… but never, ever let her be too sure of you. True, some of these guys are stereotypical players, but most aren’t and they don’t recommend that I become one. Their point is that an attractive man is wild, not domestic, and above all else one who presents a challenge. He may hold the door for her, tell her how nice she looks, kiss her like he means it, and laugh at her jokes. But there is a vast emotional and spiritual landscape inside of him that she knows she will never see. And though it may wound as much as it fascinates, in the secret corners of her heart she knows that he isn’t going to sign a lease when he can go month-to-month.
To a point, there is some wisdom in all this. It is possible to be nice not only to the point of being annoying, but also dangerous. There is a “kindness” in some men that is borne of emptiness rather than strength. Their desire to please the women in their lives… at any cost… comes not from true selflessness, but a lack of self-awareness. They don’t really know who they are apart from the approval of women. It was Mommy they needed most as boys, and as “men” it is her face they now seek in the women who capture their hearts—women who through no fault of their own have become sirens whose seductive music promises to take them back to Mommy’s breast. Without a manly identity of their own, women have become their only emotional life preservers. And sooner or later, they end up resenting them for it.
In Til We Have Faces C.S. Lewis retells the myth of Cupid and Psyche through the eyes of Psyche’s half-sister Orual who had a lifelong obsession with her that was more about her own need for control than Psyche’s identity. In the end, Orual comes to realize that like her “love” for Psyche, her heart and soul had been less hers than she had imagined. In her words,
When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?
(Lewis, 1956 – My italics)
If a man is ever to meet a woman face to face he must first have a face of his own. As long as he hides behind the faces that are given to him—by his mother, the media, the women he sleeps with, or anyone else—his words will remain as empty as his soul.
Throughout history sacred ceremonies have marked the transition from boyhood to manhood in many cultures. Ceremonies marked by trials, rites of passage, and wisdom passed down for generations by communities of men with or without the approval of any woman. In many Native American cultures for instance, there comes a time in every boy’s life when he must go on a vision quest. He sets out into the wilderness to explore, pray, fast, seek the gods and wrestle with demons, inside and out. There, God speaks to him from the whirlwind and he replies with the speech that laid at the center of his own soul for years. He lays claim to a face of his own and takes a new name—one which marks his passage and reminds him of his identity, his vision, his code. When he returns, he is no longer a boy. He has become a man. The Apostle Paul wrote,
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” (I Cor. 13:11)
Arthur became a man when he drew the sword from the stone. David became a man when he confronted Goliath in the Valley of Elah. His adulthood notwithstanding, Saul became a man (and changed his name to Paul) when he confronted the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus. Say, or think what you will about these men, but never again did they lose sight of who they were or need anyone to tell them… including the women in their lives. In a consumer culture like ours… where the transition from boyhood to “manhood” has been ceded to rappers, sports stars and Playboy magazine… where teens idolize football players who run dogfighting operations for kicks… it’s little wonder that chaos has filled the spiritual vacuum. Some men measure themselves by their salaries, sports cars, and how many sexual partners they have, others by their ability to please women. Women are right to be as distrusting of men who are too nice as they are of men who are abusive. In the end, both are shadows cast by the same spiritual vacuum and there is less difference between them than you might think.
And yet, there is another face to the “too nice” dilemma that few women are willing to even acknowledge, much less own up to their own role in it. Having spoken with countless women over the years about their relationship histories and what they most desire in men, I’ve noticed some predictable patterns. Though most would choose their words differently, ultimately the guy they are looking for is;
- Trustworthy, faithful, ever-present… but also unpredictable.
- Open, honest, genuine… but also mysterious.
- Loving, romantic… but also dangerous.
- Interested in them and confident enough to initiate… but also "challenging" enough that he needs to be pursued.
- A nice guy… but not too nice (where the definition of “too nice” is far more stringent and vague that the false manhood described above).
- Ambitious. A tiger at the office and well paid for it… but never works more than 40 hours per week and has plenty of time for them and the kids.
Those who were Christians had an expanded list including;
- A man of God… but still worldly enough to meet all of the previous requirements.
- Bible-based… but flexible enough with its interpretation to justify all of the previous worldly requirements.
- Not materialistic or idoloatrous… but very well paid, if not rich, and willing to go to whatever lengths are necessary to maintain it.
If this list seems a little schizophrenic, perhaps that is because it is. Is it really any wonder that so many men believe that a woman’s heart is a mine field, or that so many women end up disappointed by the men in their lives?
One of the first things I learned as an undergraduate physics student was that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Fire a rifle and it will recoil. Detonate an explosive and there will be high velocity shrapnel. The same goes for emotional and spiritual realities. Paul tells us,
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal. 6:7-8)
Like so much else Paul wrote, this was not meant to be a rebuke or an appeal to God as a traffic cop in the sky. It is simply a statement about the way the world is. Worldviews have consequences, and so do the lives we base on them. Living as we do in a post-Enlightenment world, we take it for granted that character is nothing more than opinion and daily choice. We decide what to believe and how to act just as we might decide to buy a Ford instead of a Toyota. Real character is so much more. It is a life journey, a path to be followed. It is who we are.
A few years ago there was a popular movement in Evangelical communities based on the question “what would Jesus do?” The idea was that in any life situation, we would become like Jesus if we would simply ask ourselves what He would do in the same situation and then just do it. Like so much modern spirituality, the question is well-meaning but hopelessly naïve. Jesus didn’t just "choose" to be the way He was any more than swimmer Michael Phelps "chose" to win 8 gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics because he had nothing better to do that week. Both men achieved what they did by committing themselves to walking a lifelong path that included work, sacrifice, and daily regimens. Diet, exercise, study, prayer, fasting, intentional community and accountability, vision quests… whatever the means, they practiced intentional lifestyles that over the years shaped them into a certain kind of man. Then, when the time came for them to act they did what came naturally to the men they were.
Michael Phelps didn’t have to ask himself what an athlete would do. He had become one.
The term “believer” is a modern one, and even the word “Christian” wasn’t used by the early church (the term was first coined in Antioch by opponents of the church and was derogatory). The first followers of Jesus referred to themselves as disciples (Greek: mathetos). This is of course, no accident. Whatever their spiritual tradition may be men of character aren’t born, nor do they put on wholeness and integrity like a dress shirt or sport jacket. Their lives are a consequence of the disciplined lifestyles they have chosen and the worldviews that grew out of them through years of faithfulness and commitment. “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law,” said Solomon (Proverbs 29:18 - NASB), and he was right. Spiritual discipline cultivates restraint, and this leads to vision. Men of integrity know who they are, what they believe in and why, and who their gods are and are not. Their restraint leads to a centered faithfulness that can weather life’s storms and protect their loved ones.
And guess what… this kind of centered discipline doesn’t breed what most women today think of as “mystery” or “excitement.”
Ladies, I couldn’t agree more with your assessment of men who are nice out of need. But I would remind you that words are sacred—they have the power to build up or destroy, to enlighten or to blind, and like it or not, there is no escaping their consequences. If you are careless with them your life choices will reap bitter fruit.
Be careful what you ask for… you might just get it! Seek God and He may confront you from the whirlwind rather than places you’re more comfortable with. Seek a man of integrity and you may get more than you bargained for… you may get one of His disciples.
Ask such a man to love you and the love you receive will be full of joy and romance, but it will also be as much an act of will as of passion—solid, unyielding, faithful. If that seems too “predictable” after a while, he’ll remind you that by definition, faithfulness is predictable. Show him your heart and he’s liable to show you his and mingle his tears with your own. If that doesn’t seem "strong" by the standards of our society, he’ll point out that true strength is tender—Jesus wept at Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:35). If he has “puppy dog eyes” it will be because those are the eyes of sincerity, and patience, kindness, gentleness and longsuffering are fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22). His caring for you will be tangible and specific. The day will likely come when he will wash your feet as Jesus washed the disciples’ at the last supper. If you find this "unmanly" or too servile and protest, like Jesus he may tell you that unless he washes your feet you can have no part of him (John 13:8). Being a warrior rather than a mere soldier, he will choose his battles wisely, and prayerfully, because he will know that there is a time to heal as well as a time to kill (Ecclesiastes 3:3). He will stand up for what is right before he stands up for himself. As a man of God rather than a man of the World, it’s unlikely he will be wealthy. Protest to him that he is not “ambitious” or “successful” enough and he will remind you that no man can serve two masters, you cannot serve God and material wealth (Matt. 6:24). He will be one who clears the temple before profiting from it (John 2:14-16).
In the eyes of the world there isn’t much here to admire. You won’t find such a man on the cover of Forbes, nor will you see him on The Bachelor or any other “reality” show. Whether he’s physically attractive or not, it’s doubtful that he’ll be much of a lady’s man by the standards of GQ, Playboy, or Cosmopolitan. But he will be centered, with an inner strength that will sustain you. When he tells you that he loves you, you’ll know that he has weighed the cost of love and does not say such things flippantly. His love for you will be true, unshakable—as perennial as the mountains. You will never answer the doorbell and be confronted by another woman cradling an infant who looks just like him. His kiss will never be followed by his fist. When he makes love to you he will do so from the center of his own soul—with a passion that transcends mere sentiment or lust the way eternity transcends a flash in the pan. You will know, as certainly as you’ve ever known anything in this fleeting life, that until death and beyond he will be a loving sanctuary for you against life’s storms.
Make no mistake ladies… you will reap what you sow. Cling to a schizophrenic view of manhood and you will spend the rest of your lives in schizophrenic relationships. No amount of facile, teenage soliloquies about "chemistry" or "mystery" is ever going to save you from that, and neither will blaming the men you've given yourselves to. If true love is what you seek then you must renounce its noisy, sequined imitations and embrace the kind of manhood that is worthy of you.
No man can ever do that for you… The choice is yours.
(Unless otherwise specified, all Biblical quotes are from the New International Version)
Lewis, C.S., 1956, “Til We Have Faces” Recent Edition: Harcourt Brace & Company, First Harvest/HBJ Edition (July 9, 1980). ISBN-10: 0156904365, ISBN-13: 978-0156904360. Available online at www.amazon.com/Till-We-Have-Faces-Retold/dp/0156904365/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1296934339&sr=8-1. Accessed Feb. 5, 2011.
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