Blog post by: Miles Trump
I’ve had at least 60, maybe 70, surgeries on my throat.
After a while, you just stop counting.
As a child, I was diagnosed with a rare disease called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis. That essentially means wart-like growths would coat the inside of my throat, eventually blocking my airway, and that when doctors would remove them with a laser, they would persistently, stubbornly return.
Before each surgery, I tried to play it cool. Tried to be tough. Brave, strong, level-headed. Tried convincing myself that I wasn’t terrified of everything inside this hospital: The weird white cream that numbed the skin on the top of my hand and alleviated the pinch of the IV needle, the people in the masks who would say things like, “We’re almost ready for you,” the too-sterile smell of hospitals that still makes my skin crawl, the warm blankets, the socks with grips on the bottom, the eerily, nauseatingly sweet smell of the anesthesia through the translucent mask.
I was none of the things I pretended to be. I was a frightened, young boy – so unnerved that just about every time the hospital staff wheeled me away from the parent who brought me to surgery this time, the whooshing by of operating room after operating room en route to the one waiting for me would make me vomit out of sheer nervousness.
I failed to be a man, or what I thought was a man, during these moments. Men didn’t puke when fear popped its head around the corner. They looked it in the eye and laughed. I vomited.
Years later, I wondered where, though, did I get these messages about what men in our society do? About who men were? And about how men acted?
From our culture, more than anything else.
I watched entirely too much television growing up – not my parents’ fault, but my own. One thing I’ve learned about TV is that it can be a simple reflection of the goings-on of our culture, our society. Same with movies, music, art, media — all of which fascinated me.
And so, the culture slowly began to impress on me, to construct for me, what a man was.
Culture taught me that men don’t show emotion, unless you’re letting out a primal scream after posterizing someone on the basketball court.
(I was, and still am, too short to dunk.)
Culture taught me that men are never vulnerable, and certainly never act vulnerable, around other people – especially not other men. How unmanly.
Culture taught me that men don’t cry, even though I cried as a child. Another sign I wasn’t a man yet.
It taught me that men aren’t scared.
That men get rich, wear tailored suits and drive nice cars to important appointments.
That men drink, smoke, swear and play by a different set of rules, and it’s awesome. And that when they get together to do these things, their conversations run the gamut of sports, work, women, maybe family — nothing deeper.
Speaking of women, that men have sex with many women, because sex is amazing and the more you can have with lots of women, the better, cooler and more like a man you are.
That, even if they won’t admit it out loud, men think they are higher in the collective pecking order than women.
That men must always be better than the next man, and must care about the next man insofar as he is doing better than him.
That for many (but not all) men, God is separate from daily living and shows up mainly on Sundays and at weddings and funerals.
The list goes on. (You, reader, can likely add to it without much effort.)
I lived most of my life with this general image of a man impressed on me, with some elements sinking in deeper than others. I also lived most of my life knowing this couldn’t be the only design for a man. If so, then what was I to become? Not that.
I grew up attending a Lutheran church, but 2012 is the year I first considered myself a Christian (that’s a story for another time). And these messages between the man culture told me to be and the man God called me to be started to conflict.
Over the course of the last four years, I’ve grappled with this: What does a Christian man’s behavior, along with his inner life, look like? What does he do? How does he think? And how does he act?
And could I possibly be one of those men, despite all the years I’ve spent living in the ambiguous area between trying to fit our societal standards and ignoring the Gospel tugging on my soul?
Yes, God says. You must be this man. And I will help you.
I have learned, or rather, God has taught me, much about what it means to be a man.
I’ve learned I must try to imitate, and be a reflection of, Christ, and try to live a life filled with love, every day. No days off.
I’ve learned it’s OK to express my deepest, most inner emotions, to be vulnerable with others. Jesus wept. He flipped over tables in the temple. He spoke truth to (earthly) power. He didn’t hide his emotions. Why would I?
I’ve learned that, at times, I will be scared, and that God cares about my fears. That God, through His grace, tells me to cast my worries and concerns upon Him, and to be still and know that He is exactly who He says He is.
I’ve learned that my professional life is important, but that my faith in Christ is what I must build my foundation upon.
I’ve learned that my selfish nature, which likely has taken up deeper roots than I can recognize, must die (repeatedly), so that I can live a life worthy of my calling.
I’ve learned that I must confront and repent of my sins, which are not simply a repetitive series of moral shortcomings, but are acts of hostility against a God who has given me so much more than I deserve.
I’ve learned that as God has blessed me with a wonderful wife, I must love her with the deepest kind of love I can summon. That I must love her to the extent I’m willing to sacrifice my life for her, as Christ did the church He loved.
I’ve learned that women, who astonish me every day, deserve nothing less than our utmost respect and admiration. The men in our society often fail at this, and much more, in regard to women.
I’ve learned that, even amid that deep love for my wife, the best way I can love her (and live the life designed for me) is by loving God before all else. And that doing all that I can to praise, honor and glorify Him (and point people toward His son, Jesus) is my obligation.
I’ve learned that I must create conditions in which the people in my life can flourish – spiritually, relationally, professionally. That doing so takes living a disciplined, intentional life where I am no longer the focus, but God is.
I’ve learned that I must care – every day! – about those who are in need, at the bottom, the voiceless.
I’ve learned that I must wake up each day and recognize that Christ died for me and the people around me, even the people whom I don’t like. I must allow this mentality to penetrate not just my mind but also my soul.
I’ve learned that my life might not ever be easy, but it will always be worth it.
Ironically, just like I felt after vomiting from my hospital bed all those times, I still feel like a failure.
If what I outlined above is true, then I fail each day at what I understand a man to be.
The difference now is that I serve a God who will not fail, who cannot fail because failure isn’t in His nature. I serve a God who will help guide me, correct me, regenerate me, convict me, encourage me and love me as I fail.
I still have so much to learn, so much growing to do. I will continue to stumble my way through manhood. But I will do so happily, because I know God, who sent His son to die for me, and who has given me a life and salvation that I do not deserve, will help me along the way.
He’s the man.