Life is about embracing the process that leads to our progress.
That is, living a bold life means embracing our circumstances, good or bad, as a vehicle for learning and growing.
I don’t grow courage unless I face some fears. I don’t become more loving unless I’m challenged by harder-to-love people. I don’t learn to lead people well when I isolate myself.
You get the picture. Personal growth for men is about embracing challenge. Sometimes, we need to look for trouble!
Here’s the problem, though.
Most men don’t grow.
Most men stay trapped in passivity, rendered anemic by their fears, haunted by their pasts, and caged by their insecurities.
You wanna know who did grow?
Whether you’re a Christian or not, you’ll likely see the value very quickly in this description of Jesus’ growing up years:
Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people (Luke 2:52 NLT).
In fact, Jesus grew into the single greatest influencer the world has ever known. The entire world lives by a calendar that works because of Jesus (even though we’ve had to make some minor adjustments for accuracy).
While I think there are good male role models from all walks of life, I don’t believe a greater has ever arisen than Jesus Christ of Nazareth. And while truly following him involves repentance of sin and total belief in him, on a practical level, he gives to us a pattern for personal growth as men that leads to a better, bolder life.
What do we learn from Jesus about personal growth as men? I think we learn, even from this brief description of the adolescent Jesus, a clear framework for personal growth in four distinct areas.
1. Personal growth for men means growing in wisdom.
By the time we get old, we’re supposed to be smart. Some of us are a little behind schedule.
It was Arthur Fletcher, the former head of the United Negro College Fund who coined the well-known phrase, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Fletcher was wise.
When you think of “growing in wisdom,” you likely start with books and education. I love books, and education is a priceless privilege. But growing the mind isn’t something that stops with graduation. It’s a lifelong pursuit.
The Greek word for wisdom is sophia, and it means “the varied knowledge of things human and divine, acquired by acuteness and experience, and summed up in maxims and proverbs.” source
Varied knowledge . . . or, as we referred to them as kids, both “book smarts” and “street smarts.”
Of things human and divine . . . Art, science, life, culture, faith, economics, politics, the visible and the invisible, etc. etc.
Acquired by acuteness and experience . . . Which is why getting out and experiencing things is so stinkin’ important!
Summed up in maxims and proverbs . . . Such as “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
Think of it this way. Growing in wisdom means learning about life in this world by paying attention to our experiences.
Want a stronger mind? Live life, and pay attention along the way. Read. Listen. Ask questions. Go places. See things. Take on projects and challenges.
When our minds are stronger, so are our wills. Want to be bolder? Get smarter. Take a course in something.
And don’t just think more. Think more positively. Positive thinking alone won’t fix your life, but it has way better results than the alternative.
Jesus would grow up to say:
The things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts — murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person… (Matthew 15:18-20a NIV).
By the way, when we talk about the mind and the heart, or our thoughts and feelings, we might be referring to different functions of our brains, but we’re talking about our brains either way. The psyche (aka, soul) is the source of our emotion and our intellect.
So when you are melting down and falling apart emotionally, think your way out of it by reminding yourself of what is really true regardless of how you feel.
This is a skill we grow into as we develop wisdom.
2. Personal growth for men means improving our physical health.
It could be that Luke, in describing Jesus’ growth, was merely referring to the basic process of Jesus growing from a boy into a man. But Luke was a physician, so I don’t think he was merely describing Jesus’ height, but also his health, generally speaking.
A couple of years ago, I started going to my doctor for an annual checkup. She does a full blood workup and I’ve learned a lot about my health.
I’ve learned that I have a genetic predisposition to have too much of a certain type of cholesterol and my diet won’t affect it. I learned that my DNA has a defect that makes it hard for my liver to break down acetaminophen, so I use ibuprofen if I’m ever in pain.
And I also learned something totally, completely shocking . . . I’m overweight. And apparently that’s bad according to doctors and stuff. So I, like you, want to develop healthier habits in my life, and eliminate some unhealthy ones.
Last year, I lost about fifteen pounds by eating better. This year, I’d like to lose more by getting more active physically.
I don’t believe that a man’s body defines his worth or value as a man, or that physical fitness is the end-all, be-all defining characteristic of manliness. But I do think it’s wise to have some good goals and practices in place to stay in good shape.
To put it another way, if a mind is a terrible thing to waste, then dying prematurely of preventable diseases is another way of wasting a good mind.
If you want to get ripped or shredded, go right ahead! That’s cool. Develop fighter abs! My own goal is basic health for better energy levels and maybe a little longer to enjoy and influence the world around me. So I’m going to exercise in a doable kind of way, rest well, and eat better.
3. Personal growth for men means growing up spiritually.
Jesus grew spiritually. That might seem like the most obvious understatement ever written. But specifically, Dr. Luke said Jesus grew “in favor with God.”
Did that mean God came to like Jesus more and more? Yes and no.
God is pleased with us as his creatures because we show off his goodness by virtue of our creation. In other words, when God saw the finished product of mankind, he reacted by declaring us good. We were made by a good God, after all.
But God is displeased when we ignore him and do our own thing without him. That’s humanity’s problem. We’ve walked away from our Creator and invented a lot of substitutes for him in our lives.
As enemies of God because of sin, we are all desperately in need of reconciliation to him as our Creator. So he, as Father, gave us the gift of his Son, Jesus. Jesus came as the ultimate Man and died a sacrificial death for all of us so that, when we place our faith and trust solely in him to make us right with God again, we are forgiven, freed, and born again.
I know. Pretty theologically challenging for a men’s blog, but these are the core beliefs of my life and so they will inevitably interweave with everything else I write. Take it or leave it. No coercion here.
But here’s what I see all around me . . . Men who have never experienced spiritual growth.
I see plenty of men going to church (though women are still beating us to the pews in large numbers). I see plenty of men being religious. And plenty of men even take it to the extreme of self-righteousness, which is just as dangerous as being irreligious.
But I don’t see a lot of men coming to a personal understanding that, deep down inside them there is a craving and a hunger to connect with our Creator.
Growing spiritually begins with the realization that we are spiritual. That we possess the qualities necessary within our souls to actually communicate with God, to hear from him, and to respond to him.
And growing spiritually continues as we, having become right with God by grace through faith in his Son, Jesus, develop the practice of communicating with God on a moment-by-moment basis, in all that we do.
There’s a lot to this. It involves, for the Christian, various spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible reading, fasting, communing with other believers, and sharing our faith with the world.
But none of these practices actually earn us any more favor with God. We aren’t more liked by God when we’re “good,” whatever “good” is. Grace, by definition, is the undeserved kindness and favor of a holy God toward undeserving, unholy people.
He likes you because he made you. He made you so that he could love you.
I believe one of the most powerful moments in Jesus’ life happened the day of his baptism. As he came up from the water, he and all the people observing heard the voice of God, breaking through the portal of the heavenly realm itself to proclaim, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased!”
I meet men, every day, who have never had that moment.
And that’s tragic. It’s destructive. You needed a dad who would, in significant moments, declare over you, “You are my son. You are loved. I am pleased with you! I am proud of you!”
Our unwillingness to go there, to say these things, has crippled too many young, developing men emotionally and spiritually.
Growing up spiritually starts with the realization that, purely by the undeserved kindness and grace of God, we can become his dearly beloved and affirmed children by joining his Son, Jesus, by faith.
Then, the disciplines of spiritual growth become a joy. They are empowering rather than burdening. They give life instead of death. They are the pathway to freedom, not obligation. We are sons, not slaves.
4. Personal growth for men means growing socially and relationally.
John Donne, in his Devotions (1624) said, “No man is an Island, entire of it self; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.”
We were formed for family and friendship. We were meant for relationship, and all that is good about us by virtue of our Creator’s design, is really only seen in fullness as we are connected to other people.
Jesus grew in favor with God. He also grew in favor with man. He earned the respect and admiration of people. He didn’t live to please people. In fact, his willingness to speak truth, no matter whether it pleased people or not, is what led him to the moment where the crowds were crying out, “Crucify him!”
Nonetheless, Jesus loved people, served people, and built strong relationships with people.
He had a dozen compadres who traveled with him and learned all they could from him. Three of them – Peter, James, and John – were in his inner circle. They were his closest companions. The week of his death, Jesus spent time with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, his dear friends.
Jesus was willing to do what many men aren’t – reach out and connect. As he walked by some fishermen, busy about their day’s labor, he invited them to come and get to know him. He invited himself into the homes of Zacchaeus and Matthew and Peter as well as the homes of people who had suffered loss and illness.
He was also willing to serve – giving of his time, his gifts, and of himself. He was a companion to the hurting and touched the untouchable.
He protected the defenseless, such as the woman accused (rightly but underhandedly) of adultery. And he ultimately gave his life for both his friends as well as his enemies.
Does any of this describe your life? Or are you content to remain isolated and cut off?
You can’t influence the world in isolation. You can’t get healthy, or overcome addiction, or cultivate your love life alone.
You. Need. People.
Growing socially and relationally is intimidating for most men because we have a nasty combination of competitiveness (not a bad thing in and of itself) and insecurity. So we’re always afraid.
We’re afraid we’ll be rejected, assessed, and judged.
But healthy men take the risk. Men who grow personally reach out. They text their friends, get coffee together, and talk about life and deep, spiritual things. Healthy men go hunting, or golfing, or hiking, or shopping . . . maybe, with other men.
Here’s one of those gut-level-honest truths you and I both need to hear . . . When we’re lonely, the best thing we can possibly do is go find someone else who is lonely and be a friend!
And if growing relationally means being a better friend, it definitely means being a better husband and dad, if you are one or both of those things. It means highly valuing your family and fighting for it!
I hope you have a vision for your life and for your personal growth and development.
I hope it includes elements of intellectual, physical, spiritual, and relational health.
And I hope you have the confidence to grab life by the horns and go for greatness!
This post was originally published at Bold for Good, a website dedicated to personal growth for men.