In my great city of Chattanooga, TN, I regularly see men escaping into the woods.
Just outside the city, you’ll see older men traversing the John Muir trail only to wade into a lively river that all at once accepts and attempts to reject him. There in the river he takes his stand and casts a fly with a grace that is both a natural gift and a learned skill, all while gingerly holding his pipe between his teeth. As if the scene came straight out of a Norman Maclean novel, it conjures yearnings for some tranquil space in our chaotic lives.
While this is not a formula for manhood, something about the imagery of the solitary figure standing in the midst of God’s good creation stirs us as men. I believe the longings that these and similar images create in us is the longing to be a man who is comfortable in his own skin – un-rushed and un-hurried by the world around him. The tranquility around this fly fishing sage draws out a hunger for an inner tranquility that most men just don’t experience.
Instead, our rushed lives mimic the state of our souls. Think of all the men you know, navigating their way through corporate America climbing the corporate ladder while buried under paperwork. Think of their pace and schedules. Most often when you ask a man how he’s doing, his answer has more to do with how busy he is rather than how he’s actually doing. Men are created by God to be workers, but work alone can’t define us. If work alone defines us, then it will define us to death with ulcers and heart-attacks.
And it’s not just work. We live hurried and rushed lives with our churches too. We’re like Martha who got busy for Jesus rather than Mary who enjoyed the presence of Jesus (Lk 10:38-42).
Eugene Peterson in his book The Contemplative Pastor says that we’re busy because we’re vain and we’re lazy. Our busyness makes us feel important, and we’re not disciplined enough to slow down. While our friend, Eugene, is most certainly right, I would also argue we’re busy because we’re scared. We’re scared to sit in stillness with Jesus for fear of what Jesus might reveal. Busyness becomes a numbing agent for the deep wounds of our souls. So, we stay busy. And, when struggles arise, we bury our fears under a veneer of busyness like painting over a decaying wall.
This is why I regularly see men escaping into the woods. Yet, even their good intentioned “escape” is a hurried exodus that doesn’t ultimately satisfy their souls.
The State of Our Souls
Most men have no idea how they’re doing because they never slow down long enough to know.
But, every time you explode with anger, fall into sexual sin or choose your iPhone over your family, your exhausted soul is screaming at you. I really want you to hear this, men:
Your struggles are the check the engine light for your soul. They’re crying out that you’re stretched too thin, you’re too tired and you need to rest with Jesus.
“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” – Psalm 46:10
God may not change your circumstances, but He can give you rest in the midst of chaos. You don’t have to be hurried and rushed, but with Christ you can live your life as a man who is comfortable in his identity in Christ. The way forward is to create space and margin in our lives.
Creating Space and Margin in our Lives
1) Take 15 minutes 5 days a week to be still – If you’re like me, you are probably so busy that you’re first reaction to this is, “I don’t have enough time to take 15 minutes 5 days a week.” If that’s where your mind goes, I want to loving say, “That’s ridiculous.” Prioritize, find, make time to be still with Jesus. Your goal during this time is simply to sit with no agenda. Allow yourself the freedom to be open to whatever God wants to reveal. And as He reveals things, respond to them. As He reveals past memories, present sin or future anxieties, simply give those things to Jesus. This practice will ground you in who you are in Jesus as you daily cast your cares on the One who cares the most for you (1 Pt 5:7).
2) At least 4 times a year, set aside 3-5 hours for silence and solitude with Jesus – If you had a hard time wrapping your mind around 15 minutes 5 days a week, then 3-5 hours may just blow your mind. Sitting alone with yourself for that long can be intimidating, because as much time as we spend with ourselves many of us would rather be with somewhere else. The reason I know that is true is because of the inordinate amounts of distractions you place in your life from music to people to tasks.
Most men are not comfortable with their thoughts and feelings. But, we need to learn. As busy as Jesus was, He never stopped getting alone. Sometimes He would even give up sleep to spend time with His Father. As you and I learn this tried and true practice of silence and solitude, we will begin to experience the love of God in fresh ways. Here are some examples of what you can do with this time:
3) Implement a transition time from work to home – Part of the reason men have a hard time being present with their families is because they truly need to let off some steam before they blow up. They go straight from work, to home, to bed, to work, to home, to bed with no release, and they end up escaping into TV, the sports page or their smart device. And this is sad, because being a husband and father is a deeply satisfying and rewarding gift that God gives men. I encourage men regularly in our church to create a transition time that allows them to prayerfully process their work day and ask God to help them be present with their family. Be creative, giving yourself 15-20 minutes by yourself to do something that helps you re-energize and refocus:
4) Learn how to say “No” – There are so many good things you can do with your life. But there are very few things that only you can do. Only you can be a husband to your wife. Only you can be a father to your children. Only you can be a friend in your relationships. Ephesians 4:16 says that when “each part” of the body of Christ “is working properly”, then the body grows “so that it builds itself up in love.” God has created you to play a significant part in His church and world. As you continue to understand your role in His Story, you’ll have to make some choices about what you do and don’t do. Don’t be afraid to say, “No” to things other people can do so that you can say, “Yes” to the things only you can do.
Men, do you have enough margin in your life to know how you’re doing? Our temptation is to try to find rest, value and meaning by staying busy. Instead, learn how to rest in Jesus so that you can work hard for Him out of a solid sense of who you are in Christ.
ABOUT RUSTY: Rusty McKie is the founding pastor of Sojourn Community Church in Chattanooga, TN. Sojourn is part of the Sojourn Network, which is a network of churches committed to planting more and healthier churches. Rusty received his MDiv from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to his lovely wife, Rachel, and is a father to his son, Justus. You can follow Rusty on Twitter @RustyMcKie.
You, too, can help support the ministry of CBMW. We are a non-profit organization that is fully-funded by individual gifts and ministry partnerships. Your contribution will go directly toward the production of more gospel-centered, church-equipping resources.