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HE-MOTIONS Even Strong Men Struggle
By T. D. JAKES
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS Copyright © 2004 T. D. Jakes
All right reserved. ISBN: 0-399-15196-6
SECRET IDENTITY- DISCOVERING THE KING INSIDE THE KID
Failure is the greatest opportunity to know who I really am. -John Killinger
I can still remember those navy-blue camper shorts with the key chain on the side. My brown legs, freshly oiled with a thin coat of Vaseline, protruded out from under the shorts like chocolate marble pillars, albeit those pillars were short and chunky, as I was about only six years old and wrapped in a layer of baby fat. But that extra padding didn't diminish my energy as I came running down the path that led to the bus stop, where the school bus would pick me up. I imagined that path to be a magic conveyor belt, but it was actually a small, narrow stretch of hard-pressed Appalachian soil running narrowly but steadily behind my house down to the street, where herds of screaming kids congregated each morning. It was my first year of school, and I was excited finally to be a "big kid," joining the neighborhood children in a rite of passage that marked the transition from baby to student.
Now I don't have to tell you that children can be mean. If you ever had a childhood, and I know you did, you realize that facing children may be harder than standing before the Supreme Court justices. One might find more mercy at a tribunal hearing or a lynching mob than a group of kids who mask their own insecurities by revealing yours.
Even as a boy, I think I was fairly adept at people skills-that wasn't the problem. No, I liked people, and most people eventually grew to like me. The real problem was finding a way to face my problems without my peers detecting that I was a flawed, less-than-perfect little boy, who felt safer with Momma, Daddy, and my siblings than I was around them. While I worked hard to hide my imperfections, one secret in particular weighed me down, and though I have had worse ones since then, at this time my burden blocked my path. Literally.
When I came to this one spot on the path between home and the bus stop, I found myself stopped cold in my tracks. A big rock loomed before me in the middle of the path, a huge obstacle between me and where I was trying to go. What made it worse was that the other boys seemed well equipped to climb over it. Maybe I was too afraid of hurting myself, too afraid of the bruises and lacerations that I saw in my mind when I imagined myself trying to scale the rock. Maybe it was the fear of tumbling down the rock into the briary patches of blackberry bushes that flanked it on both sides. Each time I walked down the path, those bushes seemed to wait hungrily for me to fall into them, eager to make a fat, juicy hamburger out of my backside if I tumbled into them.
Whatever it was, each day I would valiantly run down the path, confident that finally I would conquer my nemesis. However, time and again, I would stand frozen at the foot of that great rock, fighting back tears, while all the other children mocked me. I would stare at the boulder, humiliated and afraid, paralyzed and defeated. Eventually, my mother or father would hear me crying and come to my aid. I would get a kiss on the cheek and be lifted over the rock and deposited on the other side to continue on my way.
One day, after many days of humiliation, I couldn't believe my eyes. My two-hundred-sixty-pound father-who I thought was a combination of the Hulk and Hercules-took a mallet and pick and went down the path to where I was always getting stuck. All I saw was the mallet swinging and the chipped rock flying out of his way. He hacked that rock in good fashion, and before he left, it looked like an escalator in a major department store. He had cut steps into the rock so that I could get to the other side. My father was my superhero, coming to avenge my adversary and carve a path for me.
As I grew older, I realized that even superheroes have their kryptonite, and my father was no different from all other men. He had some rocks he could cut through and some he could not. But from the ripe age of six, I thought he looked like an invincible giant, and I wondered if I would ever be able to cut through someone's rocks like he did mine that day. And now, I realize how fortunate I was to have such a father, willing to chisel and carve steps into the massive boulder blocking his son's path.
Looking back on that incident, I don't know what I enjoyed most: the defeated, blank stare that the rock gave me when I returned, the blackberry bushes' timid grin as I walked by them every day with ease now, or the fact that I momentarily had my father's undivided attention, that I was important enough for him to stop working and see about me. Perhaps most important of all, this incident gave me a glimpse of who I wanted to be-an overcomer-and a hope that no matter how large the obstacle, it can be overcome.
Little did I know that I would spend the rest of my life with a mallet and pick in my hands trying to help people who were stuck at their own big rocks, helping them over their hurdles into the field of their dreams.
SHATTERING THE SILENCE
It has been forty years since I was that little boy crying at the base of a boulder, and I have come to realize that life is full of big rocks that confront us as men, and sadly there are not enough fathers who have the tools-emotionally, spiritually, and financially-to cut steps into all of the rocks we face while trying to get to the other side of manhood. I have also learned that you can swing a mallet and crush a rock, but that doesn't mean that you can hack through all the pitfalls of life, and if you do succeed on occasion, you should expect to suffer a few bruises and lacerations. I call them the battle scars of those who fought a good fight. A good fight doesn't mean that you won't incur a bad bruise; it just means you didn't let the bruises stop you from fighting onward anyway.
If I had only known that many of the things we face in childhood offer a preview of what we may encounter as we travel the path to becoming men. Too many blackberry briars, too few fathers, and not enough time make it a perilous journey for most men, and only a few who are brave and relentless, wise and well tested have the wherewithal to make it past the rock. Most of us are stuck at the bottom of some intimidating obstacle, bemoaning our fate while all the others pass us by and mock us rather than help us learn to get to the other side of the barriers that are inevitable in the pursuit of manhood. Like the fish in the aquarium screaming silently as the water around them boils, we must learn to break the silence, to overcome the rock blocking our path and verbalize who we are and what we need. It's one thing to wait for Daddy to come with his pickaxe and bust up the rocks in your life when you're a boy; it's another thing when you're still waiting on him when you're a grown man. It's time to move beyond the voiceless cries and rocky barriers of life.
The first step, if you are willing to try to move beyond your obstacles, is to honestly assess your current condition and get in touch with where you really are. A man can't always locate himself: the women in his life may think him lost; even God asks the man where he is, much like He called out to Adam in the Garden: "Where are you?" (Genesis 3:9). Like Adam, most men hide from those who love them, hiding not beneath fig leaves as he was, but beneath mounds of work, hobbies, accomplishments, and anything else that will keep the issues that remain unresolved buried deep within the Garden of Eden. What should have been the utopia we dreamed of in our youth is now overgrown with unexpressed, unconfessed mistakes and liabilities. You and I both know that coming out from your fig leaves may be liberating, but it is also intimidating as well. But, in order to move forward in life, you must acknowledge your pain and recognize your needs and tend to your suffering soul.
We find one of the most famous instances of a man coming to terms with his circumstances in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11). Here is a man whose soul was crying out, yet he sought to drown out these cries with the many diversions in life that tempt us. He drank, he partied, he enjoyed the leech-like friends that big bucks attract. It was only when he crashed and found himself tempted to eat the pig slop in the troughs he now worked that he finally realized he could no longer ignore the silent screams within himself. In Luke's Gospel, we find that he "came to himself." Alone at the pig trough, with time for true introspection, he had an epiphany of life-changing proportion.
But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in the land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, "How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.'"
For many men, it's necessary to come to this place of abasement, to wake up the morning after, to see the evidence of your indiscretion or the consequences of your addiction, to see your reflection leaning over the pig trough. While it can be a time as confusing as being lost after midnight on the foggy country road without your GPS, you must learn to navigate, to ask for directions if necessary (something we men find impossible to do!), to make a U-turn and redirect your vehicle's destination. You must be willing to get comfortable with the journey of your life and quit waiting for life to begin when you reach a certain destination. Even the failed choices and wrong turns in your life can be redeemed by God if you're willing to let Him.
The Apostle Paul knew about this process of going through the fog; he wrote: When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. (1 CORINTHIANS 13:11-12)
Paul's phrase "when I became a man" indicates someone who endured a process and became comfortable in his own skin, who was in touch with himself, his personality, his needs and desires, his strengths and flaws, his sexuality, his fears, a man who knows that accepting himself is just as important as improving himself. So often men improve themselves for other people-to fit in, to look good in a way others will notice, to change and adapt to a new environment. Some men learn what wine to order at the restaurant to impress their woman, they get the right suit for the job interview, they work out so that others will be impressed with our fine physique. But what do we do to get to know ourselves at an intimate level that isn't for external approval or perceptions of others? To become a man, as Paul indicates here, we men must be willing to stop thinking as a child, to wrestle with our thoughts, acknowledge them, and learn to accept who we are. "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7).
As we explore who we are, we have conversations with ourselves, and there are constantly thoughts that we don't share with anyone: thoughts about money, about sex, about God. Many of us aren't courageous enough even to have these inner dialogues about these very important topics with ourselves, let alone with others. It's as if we're afraid to plumb the depths of our beliefs, our hopes, our fears. Generally speaking, men are much more prone to action without introspection, a natural reflex, perhaps, but one that will eventually get you in trouble. Come on, let's be honest. Have you ever acted first and then wondered, "What in the world was I thinking?" I know I have, but I'm learning that God has gifted us with intellects, with sound minds that can reason, remember, and reflect upon the data that each day brings into our lives. The great philosopher Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living; I say that the unexamined life falls short of who we could be and what God has empowered us to do, and makes it a tragedy, a life wasted.
Please realize that this isn't a self-absorbed all-about-me exercise. As Paul explains, knowing yourself is a vital means to fulfilling the purpose for which you were created:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)
How can we commit ourselves as living sacrifices, as we're instructed here by Paul, if we don't know what's inside ourselves? We're also told to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, but how can we transform what we haven't informed? Like the Prodigal squandering his future inheritance, we're in denial about ourselves, about who we really are and what we really want.
As a man who struggles on his journey, one who's come to his senses many times, one who limps like Jacob after spending all night wrestling the angel for his identity, I know what it means to struggle with the complexity of finding out who I am. The vast majority of the men I've known struggle at some level with what it means to be a man. The stakes are high and the consequences can be lethal if the conclusion is not correct. Armed with no manuals, few tutors, and a bus load of critics, we embark upon a journey to be correct and complete, but often we reach midlife defeated by the harsh reality that the conquest is far more challenging than we thought. This is true for men in the Bible and for all the many men I've known: sons, uncles, friends, some now dead, many still living, some Jewish, some Christian, some who don't believe at all, rich men and homeless men, men as diverse as any tossed salad. I've seen men at a bar mitzvah and soul food restaurants, men driving sports cars and go-carts, men who are professional athletes and those who are armchair quarterbacks. We're all on this journey together, and it's time we came to our senses and started making our way back home.
Excerpted from HE-MOTIONS by T. D. JAKES Copyright © 2004 by T. D. Jakes. Excerpted by permission.
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