Rites Of Passage

Stephen Arterburn

Many young men are in a state of limbo because they’re confused about when boyhood ends and manhood begins. Our culture has no identifiable rite of passage to announce, affirm, or celebrate this transition.

Many cultures around the world understand the need for such rites of passage. There’s an African tribe where, on the day of induction, one of the boy’s adult teeth is knocked out. Males who still have that tooth act and are treated like boys. Males who have lost that tooth act and are treated like men. The induction ceremony is often painful and frightening for an adolescent boy. But afterward he flaunts his painful wounds as proud proof of his manhood.

One Native American nation had a similar rite of passage. During the winter of induction, a boy was taken to a frozen lake. A hole was cut in the ice through which the boy dove three times to the bottom of the lake. Each time he brought up a stone from the bottom, which, from that day forward, he carried in a pouch around his neck as tangible proof that he was a man.

Of course, I’m not suggesting the reinstitution of these particular rites of passage! I’m only stating that no appropriate rites of passage exist in our society. I do, however, think we need them. Today’s young men usually have no idea when the transition to manhood should take place, leaving them confused, frustrated, and angry as a result.

You Are What You Do

Stephen Arterburn

Have you ever listened to men introduce themselves to each other?
‘Hi, I’m Jack.’
‘Good to meet you, Jack. I’m Ken.’
‘What do you do, Ken?’
‘I’m Senior Manager at Wilson’s Hardware in town. And you, Jack?’
‘I’m Chief Engineer with Allied Electronics.’

One of the primary myths of masculinity is that a man’s identity is based upon what he does and accomplishes, principally in his job or career. That’s why men meeting each other share names and professional titles in the same breath! That’s also why men are despondent, sometimes even suicidal, when their businesses fail, or when they don’t get the promotion they desired.

Our culture has trained men to view their accomplishments, especially in the realm of employment, as a credential for manhood. Many of us think that if we fail at what we do, we’ve failed at being a man.

The epitome of the ‘you-are-what-you-do’ syndrome among today’s men is the workaholic. Workaholics embody this masculine myth. But in neglecting loved ones and denying their own personhood, they become less than real men.

In reality, a man’s identity is based on who he is apart from what he does. That is, who he is as defined by his relationship to Jesus Christ’a relationship that can only begin and flourish when received by faith, not achieved by works. In Christ, men, we’re significant and valued, even when our doings don’t turn out as hoped and planned.

Focus On Being

How can men begin breaking through the masculine myth of ‘you-are-what-you-do’ and see that their true identity is in Jesus Christ. Once you grasp that, you can begin relating to other people, especially other men, apart from what they do. We must open up our schedules, set aside our Day-Timers, and get to the business of allowing our identity in Christ to liberate and transform our human relationships.

A friend named Nathan meets each week with a group of four other men to do what men rarely do. They purposely avoid talking about what they do in order to talk about who they are and how they feel. They’re learning to peel away the layers of ingrained masculine facade; to give and receive the nurture, affirmation, and encouragement they desperately need but are often too ‘manly’ to seek.

Recently Nathan shared a painful issue with his friends. His father lays dying in a nursing home. He’s incapacitated. His mind is totally gone. Nathan visits him, and helps dress and care for him. What he wants more than anything is to hear these words from his father before he dies: ‘Nathan, you’re a good son.’ But he knows he never will.

Nathan’s friends let him share these painful and vulnerable feelings, and offer consolation and encouragement as he deals with his pain and loss. There aren’t many men who function together as these five do. But that can change. And perhaps you’ll be part of that change.

Steve Arterburn