The Masculine Journey - Fathered By God
Four men in their twenties, four old codgers and a four-day adventure in the High Country wilderness to invest in the heart of one 14-year-old lad.
We fly-fished; we stalked; we hunted; and we witnessed a Holy God bestow something precious upon a teenager in a rite of passage ceremony where blessings and encouragements flowed freely over a young boy’s heart.
But it’s never just the boy who gets blessed at these special events… many of the men who came to offer something were themselves incredibly touched by such an occasion. The truth is, not one of us present at these epic events ever received such investment for our own hearts. Every older male lamented that what we hungered for most of our lives was to be invested in by such a fellowship of men.
Every one of my five sons has had the privilege of being taken away and invested in by a fellowship of men at special ceremonies where the young adolescent son is the focus of the whole weekend. Those rites of passage took place over a 13 year window from 2006 to 2018.
The idea to offer something like this was birthed in me when I stumbled across Robert Lewis’s book Raising a Modern Day Knight back in 1997. At that time, I had three young boys aged four, three and one years old. I was inspired by the author’s idea of making a special investment into a young lad’s heart at the crucial age of 13-14 years, much like a bar mitzvah in the Jewish tradition. That book launched me on a trajectory of seeking Father God as to what shape that special investment could take for each of my own sons when they reached that crucial age.
I recall that in my own life - reaching puberty with no father around to guide me or come alongside and help me navigate that period of my life – left me quite lost. I can certainly point to a great deal of my life going astray from that point onward. Indeed, life can go astray for many unfathered young men when there is no deliberate investment over time from any key male authority figure.
Robert Lewis’s book had given me hope that I did not need to replicate that loss in the lives of my sons, and it led me to begin planning over several years what that rite of passage might look like. In the lead up to my initial attempt at my firstborn’s Rite of Passage (Daniel; 2006) I have to admit to feeling overwhelmed and under-prepared. But from this low-key beginning with myself and just three other men, came the evolution over the years that became quite a powerful and solemn sacrament by the time we completed son number five’s Rite of Passage weekend (Aaron; 2018).
These special weekends provided every essential adventure for a clan of men’s hearts. (I have learned that it’s not just the boy that gets ‘fathered’ on these events). Adventure always sets a beautiful backdrop when specific investment is offered to the masculine heart.
We fly-fished on cold pristine mountain streams. We spent hours target shooting to improve our accuracy. We competed side by side, blasting clay targets out of the sky. We stalked the pre-dawn light for a glimpse of a Razorback pig; and we silently hunted the fading light at sunset in search of the majestic Fallow buck. We chased some ‘wild’ in whatever way we could find it in an area of unspoiled and untamed beauty, for this prepares the masculine heart in a way that makes it ripe to receive essential truths.
An endearing memory for me of such a weekend was seeing a young son bring down his first deer – and then having the silence of the outback shattered with the unified shout of a band of brothers cheering triumphantly at a lad who’d just put venison on the table!
It was a holy moment. A moment one a young man and his dad will never forget.
Adventure has always been a sacrament for men. As we partake in it, we are present to God and to one another. We become more engaged to each other. We become truer than we otherwise are.
And so, sitting fireside back at camp, we swapped stories of the day over steak and chips. We re-lived the day’s adventures (usually embellished with each re-telling!). It is in this environment we were safe to ask questions about everything that really mattered: love, God, Eve, identity, desire, career, and the big unknowns. It was Good. Very good. Better than good.
Such ambience allows the perfect transition to the evening’s ceremony where the boy is placed in the midst of the men. Younger men are invited to share first; followed by the older sages — sharing the stories from their decades of life. These stories carry requisite scars, each with lessons to be heeded. Gifts are given to spike the moment and mark the lesson imparted. A passing glance at the boy reveals his eyes wide open, taking in the richness offered by more seasoned men. Our desire is to humbly unveil the ancient path we’ve all staggered onto that leads to becoming a whole-hearted man.
I was never offered such a rite of passage by my own earthly father. Sadly, he disappeared from my life when I was just three years old. He made only occasional appearances until I reached about 12, and I am thankful that he re-entered my life, taking my brother and I on some adventures that I can now recognise God used to begin the rebuilding of my wounded heart.
Sadly, once I left home, I was really lost. A high cost is paid by the unfathered, and I was flying blind and naïve, unable to negotiate the quagmire and unpredictable tides of life. The ache and void in my heart couldn’t be articulated at the time; it was a simple matter of dreading when, where, and how the next mistake would be made. I lived with a constant subsurface anxiety that ruled my life and I turned to masks and addictions to survive. There was no sage, nor father, no guide.
Or so it seemed.
Over the years, Jesus has helped me recall key men whom He injected into my life at crucial times. Their mini-rescues of my heart at certain junctures mostly went unnoticed in the moment, lost in the sea of time. But Abba Father was weaving a golden thread that Holy Spirit ensured I would eventually discover.
The truth is Father God has always been fathering me down through the years… once I had eyes to see it!
Allow me to recall just one example: A teacher at my Catholic school named Julian Maher offered me this advice late in my high school years:
“If you feel like you’re a failure and will never understand what God’s purpose is for your life… that’s okay. You are exactly where you’re supposed to be; you are on the mark. You’ll be fine. You will know what that purpose is when you need to know it. For now, just accept the truth that you are a beloved son of the Most High God… because no one can find their destiny until they first learn that God loves them unconditionally”.
I remember being stunned, overcome by his words.
I exhaled the foreboding that was suffocating all hope at that time and bringing confusion into my life. Instead, I embraced a perspective only a good father could offer. And Julian Maher in that season was a good father to me and to many other teenage schoolboys. His wisdom, immense kindness and the authority he possessed silenced the shame and the fear. He assured me I would be okay, that it was early in the journey, and that I would make it. And make it I did.
There were others who spoke deep validation and gave guidance and instruction through my years, but it wasn’t until later, much later in life, that I saw it was actually God fathering me through them. God’s wisdom was spun from their words. Something of Holy Spirit was seeded and nurtured by their investment into me. (“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” Hebrews 13:7)
There have many such ‘fathered by God’ moments throughout the years where God has rescued me through an individual’s investment at a crucial time. Indeed, He ‘fathers’ us through others He brings alongside us at important crossroads in life.
He is still fathering me today.
I have come to learn from personal experience that our God is a father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5). A father to all of us – if we could just learn to see it.
If you (or the men in your life) would like to explore more regarding masculine adventure; rites of passage; being part of a band of brothers or being fathered… come join us in an online conversation as the men associated with Ellel Ministries bare their souls. This webinar will be on Saturday 23 October and will discuss what The Masculine Journey looks like and what it means to become a Whole-Hearted Man!
Until next time