Matthew Hoffman felt out of his element as man until he realized the importance of purpose.
I have cats. Three of them. They’re good pets for my family because they’re self-reliant and don’t need much attention. Cats, by their very nature, are hunters. My three are happiest when stalking each other – or an unlucky mouse – around the house. They are built for action, from their claws, teeth and tail to their eyes and brain.
But my cats are indoor cats. Unlike their wild brothers and sisters, hunting, to them, will only ever be a game, a sport if you will. They don’t need to hunt to stay alive, and they are always kept warm and safe. To put it another way, the world they live in isn’t the one in which they excel. They are out of their element.
As a man in 21st century America, I sometimes feel this way myself, and I know some of you feel the same. We are historically the hunters, the ones who bring the deer home for the village. From our greater muscle mass and heavier bone structure to our action-oriented brains, we’re built for it. But our world isn’t a hunter’s world. It’s a gatherers world.
The traits that are often considered most valuable today—patience, social skills, attention to detail—these are not the skills of the hunter. I’m speaking in general terms, of course. There are plenty of men who have no problem working in the world of 2013, and there are plenty of women who have a tough time of it. But as a whole, my gender isn’t the best suited for what needs doing today, or how it needs to be done. We, men, are out of our element.
Some of us find an outlet in sports. Sports in general demand the traits many men possess; physical, action-oriented skills. Running, throwing, smashing into things at high velocity, grunting. Ok, I’ll admit I’m not a sports guy. But in my own way I respect and envy those who play sports. I’ve never had that outlet.
Still, even sports have their limits. We’re all getting older, and very few of us keep playing sports into our advanced old age. There will come a time in most men’s lives when sports become just another show on TV. This is well documented with some athletes who, after retiring from their sport, go into a depression, or even a downward spiral. Their purpose is gone, and they are suddenly domesticated house cats.
I floundered for many years with this, trying to force myself into the mold that society wanted. Square peg into round hold and all that. It wasn’t pretty, and I was unhappy much of the time.
So my cats, they’re clever and all, but not like us humans. My cats don’t worry about whether they’re living in a cage, whether they’re doing what they were born to do. To put it simply, they never question their purpose.
But we humans do, and I feel very strongly that the need for purpose—however you end up finding it—is a spiritual pursuit. Whether you believe we’re born with a need for some form of faith because God made us that way, or you believe that spirituality is a biological trait hardwired into our brains, the end result is the same. Having faith in something greater than ourselves can give us purpose and meaning.
More people the world over, male and female, claim to be spiritual in some way than claim to be totally non-spiritual. And I can tell you from personal experience, and from others I’ve known, that even many Atheists are pursuing a form of spirituality. I’ve heard the term ‘born-again Atheist’ and ‘orthodox Atheist’ more than once, and I understand why. It’s just another iteration of the pursuit of purpose. It’s another form of faith, choosing to believe the universe is sans pilot. Richard Dawkins, you know where to find me. Faith is not just about whether there is or is not a God. It’s about believing there is something meaningful outside your physical body, some reason to get up in the morning. It is, as I said, the pursuit of purpose.
This is my story. I was working a customer service job I hated, living a life with no purpose other than paying the bills and avoiding hunger. I told myself I knew what I was doing, that I was in control. I gave the impression to others that I was calling the shots, I had a purpose. But I didn’t. I was miserable and too proud to admit it because, you know, men don’t admit that stuff. Even to themselves.
My spiritual breakthrough came when I met the woman who is now my wife, but it’s important you understand my experience is only one of many paths to faith. It can come to you from any direction in your life.
I met her, and through her I found my particular faith. I came to realize that my manhood wasn’t defined by fitting into the system around me. I had the option to be a good boyfriend, and later husband, to this amazing woman, and that was a purpose.
Many of the same traits that society denied me were useful with her because I came to see her as the metaphorical deer I was hunting. If I could take my hunter’s instincts and apply them to my relationship with her, loving, respecting and caring for her, then I had a lifetime goal, a goal I could never quite reach but could always get closer to. Talk about a challenge!
I also found that my inner hunter could pursue the written word, so I threw off the shackles of Customer Service Conformity and became a writer. The thrill I get from trying to make my thoughts clear to others—like in this article—never ends. I love it, and I will pursue this goal for the rest of my life, hunting it through the jungles and traffic jams of my daily life. Stalking it through the lines at the DMV and over the rough patches of my existence. There will always be another story to write, another tale to tell.
And finally, I found a purpose in living a faithful life. My faith is based on Christianity, and my man is Jesus. By choosing to follow Him, to relentlessly pursue the humility, peace and empathy that Christ demands, I have another goal to be always shooting for.
I understand very well that your faith may be different than mine, and that’s fine. You might pursue Buddha, or Allah, or the perfect micro-brew beer. It’s filling the same hole by giving you something to focus your hunter’s talents on, by driving you to become a better man.
And at the end of the day, I think that’s what faith and spirituality give us men more than anything else. We will never be perfectly suited for the modern world. We can play sports, love our partners, pursue our interests, do all the things we think matter. But it’s the constant striving to be better men that spirituality gives us which really matters. For most of us, spirituality gives us purpose, and the strength to do what we need to do. It changes our life from ‘me’ to ‘we’.
So, what’s your purpose?
Image courtesty of Flickr/Jerry Feist