No one ever needed to teach their three year old boy to say the words, “Do it myself.”
We chuckle. We take pictures. Maybe he’s got dad’s keys and he’s trying to reach the front door, still six inches well beyond his pudgy fingers, with his pamper diaper puffed out down below. I’m no expert in these things, but it’s probably cute enough for a Facebook or Instagram post, maybe two. And sometimes the same instinct needs to be corrected. He toddles by with a pair of scissors, off on some other mission of do-gooding and exploration and warfare, and loving hands intervene despite his good intentions. Toddling with scissors never did seem safe.
But then again, men and boys have a lot higher tolerance for danger. And this is good and right and healthy and Christian. But God did not make boys, strictly speaking, in order for them to be safe.
I’ve recently written that the Christian Church and many Christian families in the church have essentially created a Gay Greenhouse. We are growing soft, effeminate men, insisting that Christian piety be expressed in primarily feminine tropes, and then we wonder when some of them announce that they are gay. Maybe some of them won’t practice homosexuality, but many of them will, many of them have, and the rest will squander their masculine gifts in aimless apathy and fear.
The obvious follow up question is: What does it mean to raise masculine boys? What does it mean to rejoice in manhood again? What would it look like to see a generation of men leading the church?
The Right Kind of Independence
Well, there’s a great deal more to it than can be sketched in a brief blog article, but for starters, we should want to see a lot more of the right kind of independence in our boys. Boys must not be needy. Independent men create free and independent and successful families, businesses, churches, schools, and nations. Needy men create Marxist and oppressive families, businesses, churches, schools, and nations.
“Do it myself” may be close to the center of what it means to be a man. And, because it’s near the center, sin has dutifully infected it with demon flesh. What is often meant by “do it myself” is pride and selfishness and vainglory. But one of the worst things you can do is discipline that instinct out of a boy. The instinct is right and good and holy, even if the motivations and actions can be sloppy and sinful.
But by itself, the instinct is one of getting the job done and taking responsibility for the difficulty involved. Someone might point out that this is often connected to rewards and glory – men delight in getting things done and not needing help (or asking for directions) – for the glory of the accomplishment. And that person would be entirely correct. Which is why competition and rewards and glory are also good, essential to the health of a culture and society led by men, and even built into the way God intends to save the whole world. There will be a great awards assembly at the end of time, and there will be crowns and rewards handed out – all by His grace, all gift, and yet somehow, truly won – something the Apostle Paul was particularly looking forward to: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
A man was made to compete, made for straining for the glory of accomplishment, victory, creativity, but more fundamental than that is the instinct to be able to help, to be able to serve, to be ready, to be prepared for as much as possible, and to able to solve problems, to save from difficulties, to sacrifice for the good of others. This is why boys love survival kits, camping, tools, swiss army knives, rope, and weapons of every sort. We aim to be ready, as prepared as possible for whatever we might face. And we want to do it ourselves because it may be that we will have to do it ourselves and/or others may not be able to. If we can’t do it ourselves, we aren’t prepared, we aren’t able to serve, we aren’t able to take responsibility for those around us and our situation. All of this is why the Do-It-Yourself instinct should be entirely encouraged in boys and men.
Men tend to be intensely practical and utilitarian and focused on practical problems and practical results: fixing things, building things, hunting/fishing, sports, self-defense, but Christian men must also be prepared spiritually, intellectually, and academically. This need not be done in a way that despises all the other preparation; school need not neuter a boy (as has often been done in the last number of decades). But a boy who can read and think is better prepared to change the transmission on his truck, solve a plumbing problem, or defend his family from a home intruder. And a boy who can hunt and fish and shoot and camp in the wilderness ought to be a boy who can appreciate Homer’s Odyssey, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and David’s Psalms.
Taking Risks & Tenacity
The “Do it Myself” instinct is also related to danger. As it turns out, the mortality rate is a lot higher when you “do it yourself.” Toddling with scissors really is a health risk. But living is a health risk, and living as a male, as a man, is an even higher health risk by design, on purpose. As Pastor Doug wrote recently, quoting the title of an expensive book: eggs are expensive, sperm is cheap. As far as human civilization is concerned, men are more expendable than women. So it is natural, right, and good for men to be less afraid of danger. They need to be less afraid of danger, because they need to get hurt and face danger and die before others. This is manhood. This is sacrifice. This is masculine love. And “do it myself” is an instinctive – if sometimes dense – practice of taking responsibility, being ready to serve, help, solve problems, and lay our lives down.
But remember even part of the denseness – dense as it appears to finite man – is actually glorious. A certain kind of stubborn dense is what led the Wright brothers to keep trying to get a big hunk of wood and metal into the air. Dense is what got us light bulbs and a certain form of dense is what has always driven men to be missionaries, pastors, and martyrs. What I mean is a certain kind of stubborn, a certain kind of tenacity, courage in the face of danger, hope in the face of despair, resolution in the face of mockery, faith in the promises of God and a certain kind of imagination that just won’t quit. Boys who are encouraged to do things for themselves will fall down, fail, mess up, and they must be cheered on to get back up, to be tough, to take their knocks and bruises bravely, and to be undeterred from good goals. And some of those boys will die in battle, some of those boys will die in a foreign mission field, and some of them will die of unexplained cancer. God is the Lord of all.
And so it is that the gospel must be at the center of all of this. The center of all human history is the story of a man come to do it Himself because no one else could, because there was no other way to save our fallen race. So He laid His life down, and when He had satisfied the demands of justice, He took His life back up again, all by Himself, because He could, because death could not hold Him. And having broken the curse of sin and death, He began to make all things new, including men and women, boys and girls. And those who have been made new serve their Lord with joy and courage. What can separate them from the love of God? All things must work together for good, all things must serve Him, and then we rise again.
Boys who have been made new practice the right kind of independence by regularly confessing their own sins and making things right without being asked. But these same boys also refuse to ask for forgiveness for anything that isn’t a sin, no matter who tries to convince them to. Boys who are learning to “do it themselves” must be relatively unconcerned about what people think of them. They care about what God thinks of them, and they honor their fathers and elders, but there should also be a deep streak of holy independence burning in their chests. They have the Bible, their sins are forgiven, the Spirit is in their hearts, and they are on the winning side of a Great War, fighting for the King of the Universe. The whole thing makes Christian men the right kind of rowdy. And so boys need to learn to think for themselves, and have a deep independence in forming opinions, generally critical of fads and trends and whatever is considered cool, all informed and checked by God’s Word. Boys who are afraid of how things look or seem to others do not understand the gospel of Jesus and will therefore rarely do anything of much use. The fear of man and the guilt of sin will always hold them back. They will be followers, not leaders.
The thing that’s hard for some women and all soft men to understand is that men actually work better together when they work hard at being independent. Sure, sinful rivalries can mess this design feature up, but men are generally encouraged by other men doing things well. Men are inspired by other men who worked long and hard at something, generally by themselves. And holy ambition feeds a holy competition. And this is good and godly so long as it is driven by a deep recognition of God’s grace enabling it all (cf. 1 Cor. 15:10). A well trained military outfit is based on this concept, so are sports teams. The better each man is individually, the better the team is, and while the teamwork part takes some practice, it generally figures itself out. But primarily focusing on the teamwork is a great way to discourage men or create soft men. Are you raising a man who can receive instructions and carry them to completion and rejoice in a job well done? Or are you raising an effeminate man who needs his hand held at every step and needs lots of encouragement/flattery to get anything done.
So healthy Christian communities will be places where men are busy doing good things on their own. They will do these things with an eye to all of their responsibilities before God: providing for their families, loving and teaching their kids, building the Kingdom of God, and serving their neighbors. But there’s a certain underlying independence that allows men to have skills worth sharing. A man who works on cars can do so selfishly, but a Christian man might find joy in working in the garage on an old beater pickup and the lessons he’s learning are being passed on to his sons and/or coming in handy when the neighbor’s car won’t start. Boys who study weapons and hunting and survival skills often do so for hours, often relatively alone, trying to understand, thinking about various scenarios, and drawing conclusions about what they might find most useful and helpful. In many instances those hours will be used for blessing down the road. There are forms of isolation that are entirely unhealthy for boys, but with the right encouragement and safeguards, independence is a great strength and virtue.
Going back to the book of Genesis, the Bible teaches that men leave and women cleave. This is why men have generally worked outside of the home, why men are to be on the front lines of war and pastoral ministry, and why men generally need time alone to work, to think, and to study. This duty must not become an excuse for failing to perform other duties and responsibilities, but there is an underlying independence of thought and ability that allows man to serve others better. Failure to celebrate that independence is a recipe for societal, familial, and ecclesiastical disaster.
So too, pastors must be independent men. They must be independent in prayer and in the word, knowing God for themselves, and proclaiming the gospel from an independent knowledge of its truth, not merely repeating what the commentaries and popular preachers say. Pastors must also be given to a certain measure of independent ministry. They must not be committee men, hamstrung by popular opinion or fear of man. While they must be in submission to their elder board in the Lord, they must be men on a mission, men who see the needs of the congregation, the needs of their community, and men busy with gospel work, not waiting around for someone to suggest something. Ministers are men on the move, fighting sin inside and outside the Church, guarding the flock of God, keeping their guns dry and their knives sharp, always ready to give an answer.
We could do with a lot more Christian men with the spirit of Jonathan and his armor bearer. “Come, and let us go… it may be that the Lord will work for us; for there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few” (1 Sam. 14:6). These are men of initiative, who start schools and businesses and churches; they see opportunities and take them. When others are unsure or waiting around, men see possibilities, trust the Lord, take risks, and say, “I’ll do it myself.”