Are You Brave Enough to Accept the Ultimate Initiation?
- Bill Delvaux Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2019 18 Jun
For years I ran a training camp for my boys’ high school cross-country team. As a coach, I was always looking for ways to push my runners as well as bond them as a team. The training camp became the place to accomplish both.
The set-up was straight forward: each day we would run, bike, and swim, climaxing in a mini-triathlon at the end. But the experience was anything but straightforward. Runners would get lost and dehydrated on the trail runs in the woods. Then there was the annual bike accident (fortunately, the only serious injury was a broken arm).
The river swims kept us all on alert for safety issues in the deep water. By the time they got to the mini-triathlon, they were exhausted. But in this final competition, they would push themselves beyond known barriers, sometimes collapsing at the finish.
You may think I was a cruel taskmaster driving athletes that hard. Think again. My team loved the camp and couldn’t wait to go back the next year.
Their response puzzled me at first. I knew I was pushing them to the edges of endurance. Would they embrace such rigor? They not only embraced it. They reveled in it.
Something happened to them there that answered a lurking question in their souls: Am I am man? Can I enter the company of men as a man?
What happened to them was initiation. They walked into that camp as a boy. They walked out it as a young man.
The longing to be initiated as a man goes back to time immemorial.
Every ancient culture had its own way of doing it. But it always involved a difficult challenge, an enduring of pain, or even facing death. As much as a boy may fear the initiation process, he fears even more being left uninitiated.
In our modern culture, the longing to be initiated hasn’t gone away, but the rites of passage have all but disappeared. And the ones that are left — getting a driver’s license, having sex, getting drunk — are pitifully insufficient. So much of the anger and angst of young men emanates from this point of pain. They feel uninitiated and have no idea what to do about it.
My own story involves feeling that anger and angst for years. It brooded underneath the surface of the respectable life of a minister, Bible teacher, and high school coach. I hid that brooding from others for years out of shame. Perhaps I was the only one who struggled here. Now I know better.
There are multitudes of young and older men who feel trapped inside their boyish souls.
It’s the reason behind so many marriage failures, emotional meltdowns, and destructive addictions.
It got more confusing when it came to my faith. My own struggles over feeling uninitiated didn’t seem to be helped by Jesus. He never seemed to speak about it. So I began to wonder if He really understood the heart of a man. Perhaps I would have to go elsewhere to find what I needed.
Then one day it hit my like a thunderclap.
What Jesus was offering to me, to all men, was the highest and broadest initiation ever conceived.
Jesus is not only the Savior of the world but also the pioneer of a new order of manhood. He is the new Adam (I Cor. 15:45-49). He is the new Man. God became a man to show us what a true man looks like, a man untainted by shame, a man uncorrupted by sin.
And what a man he was! World history since Jesus corroborates this. It is hard to think of another man who has had such global impact.
He lived like the man we long to be, with exhaustible vigor and drive. He was always fighting for truth and justice.
All the power He possessed was never used to dominate. It was used to bless others, heal them, and help them flourish.
And what a voice! His words still reverberate down through the ages into the hearts of multitudes.
He had the courage to speak that voice even when it got him into trouble, even when it enraged the opposition — yes, even when it led to His death. But death wasn’t the end, only the passageway. He came out more alive than ever in His resurrection.
Jesus came to unleash the new Adam inside of us.
He came to make men like Himself. That’s the whole point of Christianity. That’s the whole point of following Him. How does He do this? He does it like all initiation rites have been done. He does it by asking us to face what feels like death.
The initiatory rite of the Christian faith is baptism, a physical symbol of the washing away of our sins. But baptism also implied death. In the ancient world, bodies of water were feared and associated with death because so few knew how to swim. To be baptized is to be plunged down into that death, only to rise up into new life.
But the symbol points to the reality. Jesus spoke candidly about taking up the cross as a part of following Him. It was jolting to 1st century audiences to hear such words. It is still jolting today. Yet this is how He initiates men.
He is asking us to follow Him into death so that we come out alive as new men, as real men, like He was.
So how do we accept such an invitation? We may still balk at it, understandably. But haven’t all the initiation rites we’ve read about prepared us for this? Haven’t our own experiences with fear and facing it helped us to see this? And hasn’t the primal longing in our souls to be initiated already urged us that this is the way?
Once we choose to accept His invitation, we open ourselves to the incalculable — and the incredible.
This has been my story. A number of years ago, I felt Jesus calling me to leave behind a safe and secure job and start a ministry to men. When I said yes, I entered a three-year wilderness of failure, defeat, and anxiety. It seemed like I had made one of the worst mistakes in my life.
Looking back on it now, I can see those three years as the way Jesus initiated me as a man. It was His way of asking me to enter death, so that I might come out more alive than ever. So many things have shifted in my heart. So many good things have come out of that wilderness time. I am so thankful He led me there. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
To accept Jesus’ invitation into initiation for yourself, here are a few important points to remember:
- Start admitting where you are as a man to the Lord. Speak your heart honestly to Him.
- Ask Him plainly to initiate you as a man. And keep asking! He will answer in His own good timing.
- Don’t try to figure out how all this will happen. How He works in your life will be very different than mine or any other man.
- Find another man to share your journey with. He may also be a man who needs initiating.
- Keep a journal of how Jesus is working in your life. It will be a treasure to you to look back on.
For those who accept His invitation, a great adventure awaits. It’s the adventure of entering death and resurrection in the company of Jesus. You will come out more of a man than you can possibly imagine, more alive than you can possibly conceive.
But first, you have to say yes.
Bill Delvaux is a graduate of Duke University and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has been a church planter, a high school Bible teacher, and a running coach. Six years ago, he pioneered Landmark Journey Ministries to help men find their guide, own their identity, and discover their quest through retreats and spiritual direction. His newest book Heroic: The Surprising Path to Manhood charts out the path of initiation that Jesus invites men to take. His greatest claim to fame is being married to Heidi for 33 years and having two amazing daughters, Abigail and Rachel. He and his wife currently reside in Franklin, TN. He can be reached for questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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