Christian Clifton discovers that allowing room for error in his path towards God is difficult but necessary.
I have been told all my life to be a “Godly man”. I have heard this message from countless pulpits, books, people sitting behind desks, and faceless names over social media. Every time someone uses this phrase in conversation they intend it to have only one meaning; however, the meaning varies from person to person which makes this title seemingly impossible to achieve.
When being told to be a man of God we are usually pointed towards one of the men of scripture. Their virtues are championed in sermons and discipleship materials. There is something that can easily get passed over, especially when the lesson is focused on a younger audience. The well-intentioned leader casually leaves out a key part of who these Godly men were; human.
As a boy I heard the messages time and time again that I should follow God, which meant following God’s will, or rule book, often at the expense of others. I was given a list of rules so that I might follow them in serving God. Role models were brought before me to remind me of who to be and yet room was never given to failure. It seemed that failure to adhere to every single point of the Sunday sermon meant utter failure in the eyes of God.
This message rings true in me to this very day; I have to be perfect in every aspect of my life in order to please God. It made so much sense in my young mind that in order for God to properly use me, I must be a particular way. In striving to be more like these fabled leaders of Israel and God’s kingdom on earth it became too easy to step right over the “love” part of the greatest commandment and look for another way to serve. This message drove me to dawn masks and personas to such an extent that I am unsure how to remove all of them.
I first sought to be holy in God’s eyes, which of course meant being holy in everyone’s eyes. I strove to let those that would listen know I was following God. I made public displays of my attempts to avoid temptation and sought to show others the errors of their ways for delighting in such sins. In short I quickly became the Christian no one liked.
Thankfully, and painfully, this was brought to an end by a close friend of mine. He called me out, privately, and destroyed my flag of pride that I mimicked about as the flag of God. He saw what I was doing for what it really was, a self centered action pleasing only myself.
I didn’t know how to handle this defeat. To me it seemed that if God truly was behind my actions that such offenses would never take place. I had been promised that if I followed God with diligence that God’s blessings would flow from heaven. Little did I know that God’s silence in the coming months were His efforts to show me the error of my ways.
My next phase, the one I have only escaped a few years ago, was that of the “humble” servant. I decided that to love God and love others, which meant that I should come last. I leapt at every opportunity that came my way and gave of my time freely to help others. I took on roles that I was certain would win me God’s favor, I told myself that God would love me more if I was devoting everything I had to the people of God.
There was some nasty social and spiritual side effects that came along with my self-emptying attempts to gain God’s favor. The constant giving was slowly destroying me. I lost sleep, friends, money, my grades slipped, health, and sacrificed my own closeness with God. I could only fool myself for so long before it all came crashing down around me.
It was terrifying to have this identity torn from under me. I had worked so hard thinking I was headed in the right direction, expecting blessings from God just around every corner. When they didn’t come I grew frustrated and bitter towards both God and people.
Again I had not been prepared for such a failure. My foundation had not been laid well and so the kingdom I had created crumbled at my feet. I shouted to God for answers and cursed God’s silence.
There was a hope that fluttered in, one that I had known to be true and yet was never able to truly accept. God loved me regardless of my failures or successes. God did not need me to be or do anything.
I see it constantly forced into the minds of men around me, that to be manly or to be Godly they have to prescribe to a certain set of rules. Their lives must fit a mold and any corner that causes an improper fit must be destroyed immediately. It took years and many tears of both anger and sadness to realize that being a Godly man means no such thing.
I realized that God loves me just as I am and blesses me because of that love, not because I have found the right way to live for God. I realized that being a man does not mean prescribing to a set of regulations. Being “manly” will be different from man to man, something we all could use reminding of from time to time. Just as the Godly men of scripture were broken and weak, God can and will use each of us for something marvelous.
I now know that to be a Godly man I do not need me to squeeze into any religious stereotypes, I only need to love God the way I am. Slowly, I’m realizing that striving to be masculine is not about attaining a title or goal; it is about character and heart. It might seem obvious to some but to those like me it can take years to figure out that being a “Godly Man” means realizing that I’m only a man.
Photo via flickr/silent shot