We men, at our best through noble thumos, are life-supporting and life-donating. Though we don't give birth, we were designed to sustain, grow, and protect life; we're wired to charge it with energy and verve, going ahead of and providing for those we love.
Though the results of shadow thumos are real and treacherous, there's still another condition that's at least as perilous: possessing little or no thumos at all.
Low-thumos living is one of the biggest challenges of ministering to men who go to church. They can't seem to get animated about anything. They're unable to stoke an inner fire that gets them moving to improve the quality of their life and enhance or safeguard the well-being of others. They feel stuck in the gear of "apathetic neutral," and they're living off the vitalizing will of others. Usually this will belongs to their wife, and that dynamic does not go down well in families.
"My husband will not take the initiative about anything!" one woman vented at a writer's conference. "It's like he's dead, but he's not. Can you help him?" The answer depends in part on how deep Neutered Christianity has gone into such a man; it depends even more on his willingness to exercise it.
The event that usually stimulates men to take an honest look at thumos is their realization of the sorry state of their marriage. Often, by this point, they're about to be separated, they are separated, or they're about to be divorced. At long last, their wife's finally not being able to take it anymore has given them the gift of desperation.
They really want to keep their marriage together; up to now, though, they've utterly failed to muster the fighting spirit necessary to contend for it. And here is where, once again, their background betrays them. Their bunny Rabbit faith has them believing that all fighting is striving, or as a pastor of mine used to put it, that they're supposed to "stop trying to make things happen and let God take over."
One younger man facing divorce told me, "I know this sounds crazy, but all I need to do is lay this situation at the Lord's feet, and then get out of the way and let him take care of it." Jesus as Super Sherpa, waiting to carry us up life's jagged slopes without any human willingness, cooperation, or synergy—sound familiar? This is the language of a man who is too "spiritual," and who is insufficiently soulful, to be of any real good. What do you think would happen if he behaved this way at work when his quarterly report came due or when his assignment had been left undone?
Another definition of thumos the Greeks gave us is "soul-blood," which represents a vital capacity for life: a living, an expression, a movement, and an action that's ever right here and right now. Women leave weak men who do not care for their soul-blood and who hide their soul-neglect behind a façade of spirituality. They can tell at an intuitive level that such a man is unreliable, unsoulful, inauthentic and untrustworthy. They desire a man who has soul-juice.
I worked with one juiceless man for months, helping him battle his fears and become a more proactive husband and father. He did want to make the adjustment, but he hadn't yet actualized it; his wife, who'd long waited for him to step up to life's plate, also had complained bitterly, even saying, through disdainful lips, "You such the life out of me."
It hurts to so often hear such contempt from wives of low-thumos men; I know how shame-producing it is. As a young Christian Nice Guy who for years followed the CNG script to the letter, I once heard it from a girlfriend I really loved, and being sliced open by the jagged blade of that comment remains one of the most painful experiences I've ever had.
If you've experienced this, you know what I'm talking about. It feels like such a sucker punch. The voice of your emasculated spirituality says that if you're a swell guy, the road to relational happiness will be cleared for you. It doesn't happen this way. Many Christian men come to feel like a mushroom: kept in the dark about how the real world operates and fed a lot of manure. Eventually they tend to turn around and reject the worldview that gave them this worthless outlook.
It's the life-draining, soul-sucking aspect of low thumos that drives a wife to express disgust toward her husband. And for most men it is their wife—not God—who drives them to their knees; by the time they've hit the floor they feel shattered into a million little shards. A woman's rejection is the pinnacle of shame for most men.
Here are some words and phrases that help to describe low-thumos life:
Numb, passive, whining, feckless, anxious, yes-man, acedia, sexually bland, pleasant, agreeable, nice, ahdns in pockets jingling change, innocuous, beautiful loser, let's just be friends, wimp, passed by, divorced, naïve, can't knuckle down, dainty, disease to please, procrastinator, doormat, picked on, held down, no boundaries, always a groomsman, never a groom, irrelevant, lukewarm, rootless, failure to launch.
With this spirit in mind, fill in a few words and phrases of your own.
Single Christian men who do not have the gift of celibacy, who want to be married, and who are unanimated by courageous vitality have it especially hard. Their letters are among the most heartbreaking that we receive at Coughlin Ministries. Most of them struggle with pornography, and their dating life is a veritable sea of disappointment.
Their low-thumos ways pretty much ensure they won't kindle any kind of spark with the women they date. Many of these women say things along the lines of, "I wish I liked you more." They really do want to like such men; in many ways they already are so lieable. Yet in a foundational, crucial inevitable way they are not want-able to women. Most women, most of the time, are attracted to men with thumos heat.
I remember the conversation I had with a single man who works for Compassion International. He caught only a few minutes of a presentation I gave, but he said he felt as if I'd been reading his mind. He said I'd mentioned things I don't remember saying, statements that weren't even in my notes. He told me he wanted to be married more than anything and that he knew something significant was missing in him.
I said that if he's like many other men today, his Achilles' heel is his backbone. I encouraged him to disagree with his next date, when appropriate, without being dismissive and to stick to his guns without being obnoxious. I also suggested that he gently tease his date, to show he wouldn't be rigidly fixed upon her complete approval (something most healthy women will appreciate).
But, like many Christian men, he was an approval junkie, so my advice sounded almost sacrilegious to him. He was shocked, even scandalized. I wish he'd have been willing to give something else a try; it was obvious his blueprint wasn't getting the house built.
The Bible tells us it's not good for the man to be alone, and upon this biblical truth I rest my case against Nice Guy theology and all the damage that goes with it. Men are alone because of an orthodoxy and an orthopraxy—a belief, and that belief lived out—that's constantly been draining and disposing of their God-given thumos. Their boldness, their courage, their will needs to be animated and seasoned by the Holy Spirit; it's not to be suppressed, it's not to be destroyed, and it's not to be crucified!
Paul Coughlin is the author of numerous books, including Unleashing Courageous Faith, No More Christian Nice Guy and No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps. He also co-authored a book for married couples with his wife Sandy, titled Married But Not Engaged. His articles appear in Focus on the Family magazine, and he as been interviewed by Dr. James Dobson, FamilyLife Radio, HomeWord, Newsweek, C-SPAN, The New York Times, and the 700 Club among others. Paul is founder of The Protectors, the faith-based answer to adolescent bullying, which provides curriculum for Sunday Schools, private schools, retreats, and individuals that trains people of faith to be sources of light in the theater of bullying.