Bryan Lilly tells about the challenges of growing up with a single mom into mature manhood by God's grace.
[Let me introduce you to Bryan Lilly, a young complementarian who has a heart for God’s glory and a newly-minted bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University in Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Resources. His story speaks for itself and is recounted below from his blog. — David Kotter]
One of the hardest things about growing in my Christian life has been my role as a man. Though I will not entertain debate over this point (this is not the type of post to warrant that), let me start out by saying that I am a complimentarian when it comes to gender roles in the church. I see males and females as being equal in worth, but differing in roles and functions according to the order of God's creation. This has nothing to do with inferiority or superiority but a recognition that we have been created both similarly and differently depending on context. That aside, let me share a bit of my struggle with masculinity.
First of all, I have never had a familial role model to look up to in order to see how things are supposed to be done. My mother was a single parent. My dad had left her while she was pregnant with me, and I have never met nor seen him. I was raised by my mom and my grandmother, both of whom worked full-time while I was growing up. In middle school, I was a latch-key kid, coming home from school, letting myself in, and starting on homework (read: watching TV) until they got home and fixed dinner. I have fought hard battles all throughout my life on issues of worth and value (I speak in human terms) and love. I've fought a long battle of feeling like no one can love me because of the rejection I've felt due to my dad leaving (as if it is my fault!). My girlfriend, who has the unfortunate burden of dealing with me when I slip into this mindset, can affirm that this battle is both long and hard. I expect people to give up on me. A history of self-fulfilling prophecy has only cemented those feelings. There is not a day that goes by that I don't question my masculinity. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean that I have issues of questioning gender and other such pop-psychological ideas of any sort. What I mean is that I struggle with my man-ness. I struggle with ideas and fears at failing in my manhood: of being the protector, the leader, the strong yet sensitive one. I've never seen it in action to know whether I'm doing it or not.
In God's grace, he has sent me incredibly masculine men through the church that have shown me what it means. Pastor Smith ("Smitty"), and Pastor Hawkins have been irreplaceable in my life as role-models, both as theologians, counselors, loving husbands, and incredible fathers. I can never repay what I owe them for their continuous pouring into me over the years. But twenty-three years is a long time of doubt and fear to break down anytime soon. Cracks have certainly been formed, but the wall is thick. So thick it would take a monumental work of a sovereign God to break through. Funny that that's exactly what He has been doing. He's probably the best at it too, since he did not only foreknow my situation, but specifically designed it and caused it for His glory. I would rather trust a God who is sovereign over every aspect of the situation than to put my hope in a God who only allowed it to happen via the work of some outside force. The God who only allows it to happen is an impotent God, and one whom I can't trust to get me out of it.
I am currently reading the first chapter of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, called "A Vision of Biblical Complementarity: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible." In this chapter, John Piper sets to give a brief, non exhaustive definition of masculinity and femininity. His working definition of masculinity is as follows:
"AT THE HEART OF MATURE MASCULINITY IS A SENSE OF BENEVOLENT RESPONSIBILITY TO LEAD, PROVIDE FOR AND PROTECT WOMAN IN WAYS APPROPRIATE TO A MAN'S DIFFERING RELATIONSHIPS."
Piper then goes into explaining what his definition means phrase by phrase. My heart fastened onto what he says about "mature masculinity." I will quote his explanation for the inclusion of this phrase in whole:
"A man might say, ‘I am a man and I do not feel this sense of responsibility that you say makes me masculine.' He may feel strong and sexually competent and forceful and rational. But we would say to him that if he does not feel this sense of benevolent responsibility toward women to lead, provide, and protect, his masculinity is immature. It is incomplete and perhaps distorted. ‘Mature' means that a man's sense of responsibility is in the process of growing out of its sinful distortions and limitations, and finding its true nature as a form of love, not a form of self-assertion." (pg 36, emphasis mine)
Amen, and amen. This is exactly what I have seen in the lives of Pastor Smith and Pastor Hawkins, as well as many, many others whom God has thought to graciously bring into my life. They have exhibited the renewing of masculinity, a masculinity that "is in the process of growing out of its sinful distortions and limitations" and finds "its true nature as a form of love." This is what I yearn for, what I pursue. To be a leader in my future family and my church that exhibits a self-sacrificial attitude and leadership that has its basis on a deep love for the people around me. To say it another way, to love people as Christ loved.
I'm not there yet. I never will be this side of glory. But I'm getting there.
Every day that the inward man is being renewed, and the outer man is passing away, every moment of God's sanctifying Spirit renewing me leads me closer to my goal. To be like Jesus.
Realizing that I am trying, by God's grace, to attain that ideal that Piper so wonderfully spoke of and thereby maturing in my masculinity brings great relief to my soul. Yet, as I said earlier, twenty-three years is a lot of stuff to work through. God says that He will be a Father to the fatherless (Psalm 68.5) and will be perfect where no earthly father can be. Praise God!
Healing began years ago, but I'm not there yet. Sanctification is a life-long process.
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