It’s done. It’s finally over! 30 days of challenges and tasks and I’m supposedly a better man. Except, I don’t feel much different.
It may be in part because I thought a fair few of the daily tasks were irrelevant and not worth making the time for. There were many suggestions that I’ve taken on board and plan on completing and repeating. Unsurprisingly, my favourites involved writing. The love letter I wrote last week went down well, but I haven’t got into the flow of journaling just yet and I haven’t written a letter to my dad yet. But I’m definitely going to. I’ve written it on a sticky note and we all know that if you write something on a sticky note – it’s, like, the law or something.
The whole way through the 30 days though, I was really bothered by the lingering sense of how narrow the writers’ view of ‘manliness’ was. As Tim Wyatt rightly pointed out in his article right before Christmas (A men’s ministry moan) that men’s ministry needs to “grapple with masculinity on a much deeper level than … tired stereotypes.”
Are the daily tasks they suggest limited to manliness? In other words, if a woman undertook any of those tasks is she acting ‘manlier’? If she were to undertake the entirety of the 30 days – well, minus the testicle-copping, increasing testosterone and the straight razor shave – would she be a better man? Of course not.
No, she’d be a better human. I’d recommend everyone to start a debt repayment plan and to budget their finances. I’d recommend everyone to consider their posture and incorporate physical activity in their weekly routines. I’d recommend everyone to write to their loved ones more, to journal, to read, to learn a new skill, to memorise poetry, to go on good dates, to cultivate gratitude. Why should these things be limited to men?
That isn’t to say that there isn’t a place for men’s or women’s ministry; I think they’re still a valuable resource and can provide great opportunities for discipleship, fellowship and mission. I’m just not so sure that all men should be aspiring to be the kind of men that existed in the days of our grandfather’s 20s and 30s.
Back to the challenges. Were any of them enough to propel us towards greatness? Yes and no. No because I believe that nothing we do of our own accord will propel us towards true greatness. The whole 30 days was framed around the idea of self. Yes, it often related to the nearest and dearest around us, but ultimately it was being greater for the sake of it. I’m just not interested in that. Self-help bores me and I don’t have time for it. I believe true greatness is found in living according to how a disciple ought to live and everything that comes with that. The idea of greatness in the Bible is entirely opposite to what our culture tells us greatness is.
It’s also a yes – although it has a massive clause. In and of themselves, the tasks don’t lead me to be better or greater, at least not in a biblical sense. But taken within the context of my desire to grow as a disciple they can be quite useful. I plan on writing more frequently as a way to encourage those near to me, and to thank them for how they’ve blessed and contributed to my life. As a disciple I want to be healthy in the most holistic sense so that I can point towards God’s goodness in all things. As a disciple I want to be diligent with what God has entrusted me with so that I can use it for the purposes of his kingdom.
To finish, one more question. What makes a great man in my eyes, then? Being utterly convinced that the Bible is God’s word and the story of all humanity, it lies in there. A great man knows that he’s a divine image-bearer whom God called good. He knows that we didn’t stay that way and that we’re now deeply flawed, selfish beings. He’d know that God set about righting that by moving towards us as we move away from Him. He’d embody the Psalms as worship and the Proverbs as wisdom. He’d have doubts for sure, but would know that he can bring them to a God who can hold them more than us. He’d know that Jesus was the fulfilment of God’s movement towards us and that in the action of the cross and the resurrection, he’s a new creation, even if that’s hard to believe most of the time. Empowered by the Spirit of God which descended on believers, a great man lives a life of sacrifice and service. He’d have a hope in the future because of his understanding that the Lord – who has kept every promise so far – has promised to return to dwell with humanity for eternity. A great man wouldn’t just know these things, but live them out too.
A great woman wouldn’t be much different.