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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Men: 7 Battle Tactics in the Fight for Virtue

This past week, I totally wiped out.  I gave into paralysis as described in John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart explanation of the story of Adam and Eve:

Needless to say, the story doesn’t go well. Adam fails; he fails Eve, and the rest of humanity. Let me ask you a question: Where is Adam, while the serpent is tempting Eve? He’s standing right there: “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her. Then he ate it, too” (Gen. 3:6 NLT). The Hebrew for “with her” means right there, elbow to elbow. Adam isn’t away in another part of the forest; he has no alibi. He is standing right there, watching the whole thing unravel. What does he do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. He says not a word, doesn’t lift a finger.* He won’t risk, he won’t fight, and he won’t rescue Eve. Our first father—the first real man—gave in to paralysis. He denied his very nature and went passive. And every man after him, every son of Adam, carries in his heart now the same failure. Every man repeats the sin of Adam, every day. We won’t risk, we won’t fight, and we won’t rescue Eve. We truly are a chip off the old block.

I was haunted by the question Eldredge later writes about his marriage: “What if I offer her all I have as a man and it’s not enough?”    It described me to a tee.

He continues:

The evidence is clear: Adam and Eve’s fall sent a tremor through the human race. A fatal flaw entered the original, and it’s been passed on to every son and daughter. Thus every little boy and every little girl comes into the world set up for a loss of heart. Even if he can’t quite put it into words, every man is haunted by the question, “Am I really a man? Have I got what it takes . . . when it counts?” 

When it counted, I didn't come through for Mimi.  A week later, through gracious prayer from my beloved, I feel like I’m finally coming back to being me.  I’m beginning to feel the warmth return after a frostbite devoid of emotion.  How do I respond?  Prayer has lead me to write this list of advice for men (and to myself) from seven quotes that I didn’t listen to all week.

1. Lean on Christ.
“I can do all things who Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

I believe the most stressed out people (and when I have been most stressed) are those who believe we have to do everything on our own.  We have to handle problems at work on our own, lead our wives on our own, father our children on our own.  That sounds like a burden too heavy to carry.
Do we take time each morning to offer Jesus our day?  Do we believe that He can carry us through each hour, week, year?  Do we let Him?  What blueprint are we looking at?  Do we take time with scripture, perhaps by reading the daily Gospel and from it asking Jesus, “What are you trying to tell me today?”  If we let God lead our lives compared to us leading it, I believe we’ll all get to where we want to be.

2. Know your why and who you fight for.
“Man for others” -Jesuit motto

Why are we fighting and who are we fighting for?  Let’s go back to Adam and Eve before the Fall.  Isn’t it revealing that Adam didn’t know he was a man until Eve was created.  In other words, Adam’s purpose and identity wasn’t clear until there was another in his life to serve.  In my own experience and in talking to a lot of guys, our virtue is best when we are motivated to act on behalf of another---almost never ourselves.   What is my why?  I believe a lot of the world’s brokenness starts with broken families and most broken families stem from a broken father.  I have researched it, and I have seen up close the life-long trauma a father can cause a little girl who later becomes a woman.  It’s what motivates me to work with guys so they can be the men they’re called to be, husbands they’re meant to be, and fathers we need them to be.  It’s what motivates me to love, serve, and be my best for my wife and two daughters.  Almost every conscious, virtuous action stems from this motivation.
What is your why and who are you fighting for?

3. Act before you feel.
"If you want a virtue, act as if you already have it and then it will be yours". -Artistotle

This concept I first got from an Art of Manliness article I read years ago.  Basically, we men think we must first feel like doing something before we do it.  That’s like saying, “I must feel strong in order to lift weights.”  No!  We lift, then we get stronger.  We run, then we get faster.

Something I’ve learned from my parish priest Fr. Dan is the concept of posting.  Half the battle is showing up.  Do I post (physically bring my body) to prayer?  It doesn’t matter if nothing is happening, but did I at least get my body there?  Do I post to my wife and listen attentively with eye contact?  It doesn’t matter if I’m thinking about my next meal (at least this time).  Do I post to my children?  It doesn’t matter if I’ve read that book a thousand times.  Do I post to my work?  It doesn’t matter if I don’t want to answer e-mails that never end.

The elimination of stress is actually accomplishment.  Do one small act and ride the momentum.  That’s why successful people make their bed in the morning.  It gets the day started in a positive direction.  How do you eat an elephant?  You don’t because that’s inhumane.  But if you did, you take one bite at a time.

4. Plan your life.
“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” -Benjamin Franklin

The greatest common denominator I hear when guys tell me they have fallen to their vices is boredom.  Boredom during stagnant, unplanned time.

We’re not very good at this, but one thing my wife and I know is that if we don’t plan we’re set up for a very difficult and stressful time.  Each Sunday, we plan our week, what each of us is doing, who will be home at what time and how the children will be taken care of.  It gives me a chance  to look at my work week and what I need to get done and when I need to achieve those tasks.  We’ve even had to start planning our vacation and recreational time, especially planning when we pray each day.  At the beginning of each month, we look ahead for big events so things don’t surprise us or so we can plan ahead and be proactive.  We plan date nights.  What gets on the calendar is law.  We plan the next time we’ll sit down and look at our finances and budget.  Essentially, when we plan, we are proactively attacking life, not stressfully reacting to it.

A great book I’ve learned this concept of planning is from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey.  Remember: fail to plan, we plan to fail.

5. Don’t fight alone.
“No one has greater love than this [than] to lay one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

Having had many close conversations with men of all ages and stages of life for years, I am beginning to understand the biggest deficit to man is the ability to have authentic brotherhood.  If you are a man reading this, think now: is there at least one man in your life that you can be completely vulnerable with, someone who is not afraid to tell you the truth, someone that would do anything for you and you for him, someone who challenges you to be a better man, someone you can pray with and yet someone you consistently enjoying spending time with, laugh with, shoot the shit with?  I bet a $100 your answer is no.

As my chaplain from college, Fr. Bob, once said, “Man’s greatest sin is not lust, it’s pride.”  We think we can do everything on our own.  We do not want to nor do we know how to be trust another man.  Trust takes vulnerability which is the water to our vinegary pride. And it’s not necessarily our fault.  Chances are no one taught us and no one showed us.

The concept is difficult for me as well because of my pride and busyness.  If I had to answer my own question, I know there are at least two men in my life I could say qualify, maybe branching out to four.  But the problem?  I don’t reach out to them enough.  I only want to talk to them when times are good.  This past week, I reached out to one of them, Anthony, and asked if we can get back to talking every week, even for 10 minutes over the phone.  We scheduled to call at 4:30 p.m. on Thursdays.  This is the only time that he and I would both be on the road driving home.  This consistent communication builds trust and trust builds vulnerability.  When Anthony (a friend of 10 years now) and I end our conversation, we say “I love you man” and mean it.  I also ask him what I can pray for and I tell him what he can pray for in my life.  Anthony was one of my groomsmen as I was one of his.  I'm the godfather of one of his daughters as he is for one of mine.  I need this fellow warrior in my life.

6. Execute with violence of action.
My new favorite battle tactic 
“The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.” Matthew 11:12
“Siempre adelante” (always move forward) -Pope Francis

A military term, violence of action “means the unrestricted use of speed, strength, surprise, and aggression to achieve total dominance against your enemy.”  I first heard this concept from model-now-Catholic speaker Leah Darrow who borrowed the phrase from her Special Forces Green Beret husband.

If we believe in Good, than Evil also exists.  Satan is real.  Let me repeat that.  The Devil is real, and he hates humans.  He wants as many of us to suffer with him in hell and he persuades us to dig our own holes with our sin.  Imagine if you know an attack was coming to your house with your wife and kids in it.  Wouldn’t we men lock the doors, get a weapon, and stand guard?  But then we open up the (Internet) window of pornography and let the attack in ourselves.  We distract ourselves with the stats of fantasy football or YouTube’s latest prank video.  We are the Adam standing by with a screen in our face as our family suffers on our watch.

Using violence of action is to not sit still in open fire from the Devil, but to run and attack first.  When we wake and rise, we fall on our knees in the morning letting the Devil know you are a man of God not to be taken lightly.  To always move forward “siempre adelante” as Pope Francis said in his address during the canonization of Saint Junipero Serra.  Do we do what’s right when we know one else is looking?  Do we settle for complacency or pursue excellence?  Are we the passive bystander or do we actively stand by those in need?  These are the front line decisions of using violence of action with our virtue.  Remember:  “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour." (1 Peter 5:8).

7. Get up each time you fall.
"Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." - Confucius
“Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.” -Winston Churchill

My favorite disciple in scripture is definitely Peter.  Recall the story of Jesus in the middle of the sea.  When Our Lord calls him, Peter does the impossible of walking on water, and it only happens because he’s keeping his eyes on Christ.  The moment he takes his eyes off Him and notices the crashing waves is when Peter falls.  The great thing about Peter is that he’s constantly falling, but always gets up.  It culminates when he denies Jesus his savior three times in a row.  But what makes Peter and Judas different?  Peter comes back, Judas despairs.  Brothers, when we are in our darkest corner, deepest shame, wedge of despair, remind yourself: this too shall pass.  Amongst the crashing waves, reach out like Peter and say deliberately, “Lord, save me!”

Remember that Jesus did save you. Remember that Jesus does save you. Remember that Jesus always will save you when you need him.

He saved me.


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