How many wives are now ex-wives; how many children can’t stomach Father’s Day; how many congregations have been torn to shreds; how many lives have been hurt or destroyed—all because we men think we have something to prove? I’ll be the first to admit that this drive to prove myself ultimately proved my undoing. Like many men, I felt this need to prove to my family, my friends, my students, my church, my God, and—most of all—to myself, that where others would fail, I would succeed; where they would settle for average, I would excel; where others would melt into obscurity, I would be known. And because, deep down, I knew the sinister nature of this drive, I employed an age old tactic to deal with it: I renamed it. I called it “driven” or “a competitive spirit” or “the will to succeed.” But it wasn’t. My lips may have called it a beauty, but my heart knew it was a beast.
We like to define ourselves, and to have others see us and talk about us, based upon our accomplishments. What I have done defines who I am, gives me self-worth, makes me feel like I’ve proven myself a man among men. But there’s always that nagging sense of doubt. There’s always those other men who have more trophies, bigger salaries, sexier wives, who make us feel like we’ve not done enough. Of course, we’re not going to admit this, because men don’t like to admit weakness, especially any sense of inferiority we feel in relation to other men. So, instead, we embark on these quests to prove ourselves.
Maybe we pour ourselves into work, so that our wives find themselves alone every evening on the couch and later in bed, while we’re out proving that we deserve that promotion, that we do a better job at work than anyone else. Maybe we’re getting a little older, and we wonder if we still have what it takes to bed another woman, so we strike up a flirtatious conversation, then friendship, then hook-up, with this young, sexy thing who makes us feel alive again and proves that we have as much sexual prowess as any other man. Maybe we’re clergy, and we see how other churches are growing while ours seems stagnant or even dying, so to prove ourselves we begin to water down our theology and sexy up our services to fill more pews and fatten the offering plate, so as to prove to others that we’re just as good as any other man of God.
Where does all this proving ourselves get us? Very often it gets us out of our house and into an apartment, where we see our children every other weekend, take up a second or third job to help cover the child support check, and crawl into bed every night hoping that we don’t wake up in the morning to face the reality of the life we now have since we’ve gone and proved ourselves. And maybe, once we hit that bottom, we’ll realize that all we’ve proven is that somewhere along the way, we bought into the lie that life is defined by what we do, what we accomplish, instead of who God has made us to be and what he has accomplished for us.
One of the best things that ever happened to me was failure. It was like a trip to the ophthalmologist, by which my vision was improved so that I was able to see how I’d gotten to that point. Failure did not make me worse or make me better. It simply gave me clarity, so that I beheld the evil, selfish, destructive dispositions slithering around inside me, tempting me with forbidden fruit, inflating my ego, urging me always to prove myself.
I also found in that pit called failure another man, one named Jesus, who, to my utter astonishment, told me that I had nothing to prove. He told me that He loved me just as I was. I didn’t need to become the best so as to have His best. I didn’t need to succeed to secure His favor or win His approval. I didn’t need to do anything; He picked me up, threw me over His shoulder, and climbed out that dark pit into the light of life, with me in tow.
What are we trying to prove? Who are we trying to prove it to? And what and who are we willing to hurt or neglect or destroy along the way to achieve this goal? I tell you the truth, it’s not worth it. There is a better way. This better way does not mean emasculation; in fact, it makes us real men. It is the way of finding our identity in the man of the cross. To lose our lives in Him is to find a true and meaningful and fulfilling life, for it is the life that God intended for us from the beginning. It is who He created us to be. To live in Christ is to live in fidelity to our wives. To live in Christ is to love our children. To live in Christ is for Him to live His life through us, so that we become His hands and feet and lips by which others are served.
You have nothing to prove. But you have everything to gain by losing your life and finding real life in the Man from Nazareth.