Identity

The other night in class we were talking about how a leader’s identity effects how he leads. How we view ourselves makes a difference. As a new father, this subject really jumped out at me. Dr. Ayers showed us a quote by Nathaniel Brandon, “In considering the many parental messages that may have a detrimental effect on a child’s self-esteem, there is probably none I encounter more than some version of “You are not enough”. . . The tragedy of many people’s lives is that in accepting the verdict that they are not enough, they may spend years exhausting themselves in pursuit of the Holy Grail of enoughness.”

When he showed it to us, I couldn’t help but think about my own son, Kasen, and I wondered how I would communicate his enoughness to him. How could I communicate his value and worth? How could I show him that God Himself thinks he’s worth dying for? I was reminded of something I read in “Wild at Heart” by John Eldridge. Here’s the excerpt I thought about:

Wildatheart
A Man’s Deepest Question

On a warm August afternoon several years ago my boys and I were rock climbing in a place called the Garden of the Gods, near our home. The red sandstone spires there look like the dorsal fins of some great beast that has just surfaced from the basement of time. We all love to climb, and our love for it goes beyond the adventure. There’s something about facing a wall of rock, accepting its challenge and mastering it that calls you out, tests and affirms what you are made of. Besides, the boys are going to climb anyway – the refrigerator, the banister, the neighbor’s grape arbor – so we might as well take it outside. And it’s an excuse to buy some really cool gear. Anyway, when I climb with the boys we always top-rope, meaning that before the ascent I’ll rig protection from the top of the rock down, enabling me to belay from the bottom. That way I can coach them as they go, see their every move, help them through the tough spots. Sam was the first to climb that afternoon, and after he clipped the rope to his harness, he began his attempt.

Things were going well until he hit a bit of an overhang, which even though you’re roped in makes you feel exposed and more than a little vulnerable. Sam was unable to get over it and he began to get more and more scared the longer he hung there; tears were soon to follow. So with gentle reassurance I told him to head back down, that we didn’t need to climb this rock today, that I knew of another one that might be more fun. “No,” he said, “I want to do this.” I understood. There comes a time when we simply have to face the challenges in our lives and stop backing down. So I helped him up the overhang with a bit of a boost, and on he went with greater speed and confidence. “Way to go Sam! You’re looking good. That’s it. . . now reach up to your right. . . yep, now push off that foothold. . . nice move.”

Notice what a crucial part of any male sport this sort of “shop talk” is. It’s our way of affirming each other without looking like we’re affirming. Men rarely praise each other directly, as women do: “Ted, I absolutely love your shorts. You look terrific today.” We praise indirectly, by way of our accomplishments: “Whoa, nice shot, Ted. You’ve got a wicked swing today.” As Sam ascended, I was offering words of advise and exhortation. He came to another challenging spot, but this time sailed right over it. A few more moves and he would be at the top. “Way to go, Sam. You’re a wild man.” He finished the climb, and as he walked down from the back side, I began to get Blaine clipped in. Ten or fifteen minutes passed, and the story was forgotten to me. But not Sam. While I was coaching his brother up the rock, Sam sort of sidled up to me and in a quiet voice asked, “Dad. . . did you really think I was a wild man up there?”

Miss that moment and you’ll miss a boys heart forever. It’s not a question – it’s the question, the one every boy and man is longing to ask. Do I have what it takes? Am I powerful? Until a man knows he’s a man he will forever be trying to prove he is one, while at the same time shrink from anything that might reveal he is not. Most men live their lives haunted by the question, or crippled by the answer they’ve been given.

When will this moment come for Kasen? Will I recognize it? Will there be lots of opportunities? What kinds of activities can I be involved in with him that would bring out these opportunities? (I’m pretty sure I’m not a rock climber – of course it does sound fun, but. . .)

As a youth minister, I recognize this question being asked. I have even had the opportunity to give the answer sometimes (although I wish their own father could have been the one to give it). My job as a leader is to equip others to serve and that means delving into the character questions – into the identity of those I work with. What a huge task. . . what an incredible privilege. . . what an amazing opportunity. . . Thank you God for allowing me to be a part of Your work!!

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