People have a lot of bad ideas about what it means to be a man in this world. We have a lot of ill-conceived notions of manliness that are wrapped up in self-aggrandizing notions of honor and toughness. Little of what our culture tells us about being a man has any worth at all.
Being a man is not about who you can beat up. It is not about how many women you can score. It is not about how much alcohol you can handle. Being a man is not about how much money you make, or how many toys you can buy. It is not about the car you drive, the TV you watch, or the phone you carry.
Being a man (or woman, for that matter) is about a lot of things, but to me it is mostly about this: “How do you respond to adversity?”
When things aren’t going well, how do you respond? We all experience adversity. My adversity might not be on the same scale as others, but we all experience tough times. We all have lonely nights when the dawn seems so very distant. We all have relationships that need to be mended, and work that has been left undone.
The story of the Bible is full of people facing adversity. It starts with two people left with a tough choice – follow God’s will, or do what we want and eat that fruit? It tells the story of a family facing doom at every turn and at every generation. It tells of a people under persecution and slavery. It tells of a kingdom under attack, and kings under pressure. It tells us of God’s Son, arrested, mocked, betrayed and crucified.
At every turn, the Bible is a story of people facing adversity. How is it handled? How do people respond? Some fail. Some eat the fruit. Some pass their wife off as their sister so as not to endanger themselves. Some worship idols. Some run off, but get chased down by fish. Some take the easy way out.
Others find victory. Some wrestle with the angel, and come out with a limp, but come out nonetheless. Some wander in the desert, but persist and reach the Promised Land. Some stand up to the giant, with nothing but God on their side and a sling in their hand. Some preach the truth even when it is not popular.
And one found the final victory. One found the lost, set the captive free and gave sight to the blind. One healed the sick and fed the hungry. One regarded honor as foolishness, and pride as folly. One had the love in his heart to lay down his life for us all. One cast aside the power of God to take his place on a cross. And one rose again.
Being a man is about a lot of things, but God has taught me that it is really about one thing: responding to adversity.
And that is why I love football. It is a game. It is a foolish, violent game. Yet it is a test. Every time I put on the helmet, I know I will face adversity. Sometimes that adversity comes in the form of a 300 pound lineman staring me in the face, itching to cast me aside and crush my teammate.
Sometimes the adversity is exhaustion. Sometimes it is heat. Sometimes it is a sore ankle. Sometimes it is a lopsided score. Sometimes it is in-team disputes. But it is always adversity. It is always a physical, mental and emotional struggle. And everytime I get to answer the ultimate question: “How will I respond to adversity?”
I don’t win every contest. I don’t make every block. I don’t always like the answer I get to my question, but I keep trying. I pick myself up, look adversity square in the eye, and ask myself again, “How am I going to respond?”