A book that deeply impacted my life in the 80’s was Robert Bly’s “Iron John.” I never forgot his discussion of “soft males.” “They’re not interested in harming the earth or starting wars. There’s a gentle attitude toward life in their whole being and style of living. But many of these men are not happy. You quickly notice the lack of energy in them. They are life-preserving but not exactly life-giving. Ironically, you often see these men with strong women who positively radiate energy.”
I was convicted. You see, I have a people pleasing personality. I can easily get trapped into being an enabler (life-preserving). I want to be a niece guy who gets along with everyone. But after reading about the soft male, I began to cry out to God to form in me a strong, courageous heart so that I might be “life-giving.” I desired to be a man of conviction, who had a servant’s heart, being able to be vulnerable from a place of inner strength. I wanted to have a strong heart, so that I would have the courage to practice “downward mobility.” with others.
Men, let me ask you? Are you more into life-preserving rather than life-giving. Do women who “radiate energy” threaten you? The present cultural climate effectively squeezes men into a very uncomfortable and limited stance of being “soft males.” Listen to Phillips’ translation of Romans 12:2, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into it own mold, but let God re-make you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed. Thus you will prove in practice that the will of God’s good, acceptance to him and perfect.” I am convinced that a man who is desiring to follow Jesus in our day, will have to be first “inner directed” before he is “outer directed.” The energy that Bly refers to comes from deep within our spirit. It emerges from a heart that practices the “cruciform” life daily, that is, death to our old ways (life-preserving) , and the birth of new life in Jesus (life-giving), radiating up from within.
Navigating a lifestyle that reflects both strength and vulnerability (tough and tender) is not easy. Voices within the church call for for men to be either “tough” or “tender.” Men are confused as to which they should be. I say we are to be both (tough and tender). But it begins with death to our old self (sin patterns) and the ways we have visualized being a man. Jesus taught that wel become life giving when we are willing to die. Listen to his words, “…Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25). Men, the new life of Jesus that can radiates up through your soul, will produce a man who is both tough and tender, because it will reflect the character of Jesus.