Strong Enough to Cry: Why John Wayne is No Model for Real Men

johnwayneHollywood never made a John Wayne movie in which the cowboy broke down and bawled like a baby. He’d put a bullet in an outlaw’s chest, break some noses in a barroom brawl, and charge headfirst toward enemy lines, but he wouldn’t skulk off to cry his eyes out. He was too much of a man for that. A man’s man knows that tears are womanly, a sign of weakness. So tighten that jaw. Flex those muscles. But keep those eyes clear and dry. If tears start leaking out, just go ahead and surrender your man card. Real men, strong men, testosterone gods don’t keep a Kleenex in their pockets. I don’t know that anyone ever taught me that philosophy of life, but that’s certainly the unspoken creed I grew up believing and confessing. The men in my circles had callouses on their hands. They rode horses, drove tractors, hammered nails. Not once do I remember seeing a man weep. Bad things happens, of course, but you just suck it up and keep on going. You get ‘er done. You don’t go to your room and cry like a little baby. And if you do, heaven help you, because now everybody’s gonna know you need to grow a pair. It’s fine for women to cry; that’s just what they do. But men, no, never, and certainly not in Texas.

Now that I have a few years under my belt—along with some skeletons in my closet, scratches on my soul, and a growing number of gray hairs—I look back on that stoic philosophy of life with utter contempt. With apologies to all you John Wayne fans, that tough, dry-eyed man is far from the model man. And he’s certainly not the biblical man, the man God holds up before the world as a man after His own heart. As I’ve come to discover, the men in the Bible, especially the heroic men of the Bible, find their strength only in times of weakness and tears.

Of all the men in the Bible, who do you think cried the most? The answer may surprise you. It’s certainly not a spineless man who skirted conflicts and ran off to the shadows to suck his thumb. It’s not a weak-kneed man, or foolish man, or one of those men who seems forever stuck at the maturity level of a teenager. No, the man who cried more than any other biblical figure went through hell and back yet proved himself gifted by God with wisdom, endurance, fortitude, fidelity, and a whole host of other laudable qualities. He wound up eventually being the leader of men, indeed, the leader of a nation and a savior of countless people. The man who shed more tears than any other biblical person is Joseph, the son of Jacob.

Talk about a man who knew weakness, suffering, deprivation. Joseph was hated by most of his brothers, who sold him into slavery in his late teens. When he was a slave, his master’s wife falsely accused him of sexual assault and he wound up behind bars for years. Exiled, alone, betrayed, forgotten, Joseph was refined by the Lord’s fire. For years, his life was like one long crucifixion, with another nail and a few more thorns added every few months. Yet when the Lord finally resurrected him from the dungeon and exalted him to Pharaoh’s right hand, he was not hardened. In fact, amazingly, his first recorded tears happen after all his suffering.

When Joseph first sees his brothers again, twenty years after they betrayed him, he turns away from them and weeps when he overhears them lamenting what they’d done to their young brother so long ago (Gen 42:24). When he finally lays eyes on his younger brother, Benjamin, he loses control of his emotions, runs to his bedroom, and cries his eyes out (43:30-31). Eventually, as Joseph reveals his true identity to his brothers, he weeps so loudly that the Egyptians in other parts of his house hear him crying (45:2). He falls on the neck of his little brother and weeps, then afterward he sheds tears over all of his brothers (45:14-15). And when father and son are finally reunited, Joseph “fell on Jacob’s neck and wept on his neck a long time,” (46:29). A river of tears cascade from the eyes of this weak-yet-strong man. And as it happens, we learn a most important truth about what makes a real man.

Our culture teaches us that real men dig deep down inside and find there strength to face the obstacles of life. Our God teaches us that real men dig deep down inside and find there the terrible truth that we are found lacking, that “we are not sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from ourselves,” (2 Cor 3:5). We dig down deep, like thirsty men shoveling for water in the Sahara, and all we find is more hot, dry sand. We don’t have what it takes. Supermen are phantasms of a child’s mind.

The true strength of man is discovered in the confession of weakness. As long as we are focused inward, and seek to tap within our hearts some deep reservoir of testosterone to sustain us, we are destined to live a lie. When I admit that I am nothing, only then do I begin to discover that I am something. When I confess that I have no strength of my own, God starts to reveal to me a strength stronger than I could have ever imagined. When I sit with Joseph in exile, in slavery, in the dark and lonely nights of an Egyptian jail, I find the God who sits beside me, holds me, weeps with me, and pours into me His strong Spirit.

“Our sufficiency is from God,” Paul says (2 Cor 3:5). When Paul prayed that his thorn in the side might be removed, God replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So the apostle confesses, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong,” (2 Cor 12:8-10). I am content to cry with Joseph, to wail with David, indeed, to weep with Jesus at the news of Lazarus’ death, for when I am weak, then I am strong. When I confess that, in and of myself, I am nothing, then Jesus, who is everything, makes me something: he makes me His servant, His ambassador, His brother.

Tears are a gift from above. Like two small fonts, weeping eyes remind us that our strength is found in the waters of baptism, for there Christ finds us. He washes away our self-sufficiency, cleanses us of our testosterone idols, and makes us strong by making us His. We die to self and rise to Christ. And in that resurrection, we discovery honesty—the kind of honesty that doesn’t need to hide behind a stoic mask, but can weep precisely because of strength, can cry only because of Christ, can truly say, “When I am a weak man, then, and only then, am I a strong man.”

If you’d like to read more of my writings, please check out the two books that I now have on sale. From now to the end of 2014, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons and The Infant Priest: Hymns and Poems, are on sale for an additional 25% off through CreateSpace. Click here if you’d like to purchase Christ Alone or here for The Infant Priest. When you check out, enter this code, YLECQSWE, for the discount. Thank you!