Recently I have been contemplating the nature of true manhood. I feel that in the past month or so God has put it on my heart to grow as a man, to study manhood, to mature in certain areas. I’ve been made painfully aware of manly qualities I lack.
One of my favorite examples of true manhood (apart from actual men in my life) is the film Braveheart. For those who don’t know, this film chronicles William Wallace’s liberation of Scotland from England’s tyrannical occupation. Even though I’ve watched it 5,128 times, every time I watch it I feel edified as a man. It’s helped me to identify important traits of manhood that I wish to implement in my life, and even shed light on what the journey to being a man looks like. I hope sharing some of these observations will cause you to give serious thought to what makes a man a man. I’ll also be borrowing many concepts from John Eldredge’s books Fathered by God and Wild at Heart, which have also greatly shaped my journey into manhood.
When we first meet Wallace in the film, he is a young boy living in the Scottish highlands. Like many boys, he has a passion for adventure and roughhousing, and he also has a father who loves him deeply and sets for his son a great example of manhood. However, this idyllic scene is tragically shattered when Wallace’s father and brother are brutally killed in battle.
The boy’s life seems to be crashing down around him; as he stands at his father’s grave, watching shovelful of dirt after shovelful of dirt cast onto the stiff corpse, the harsh realities of life strike his heart. At this moment, the future of the protector of Scotland is uncertain. The man who would’ve been his guide into manhood has perished. Will he give into the numbness that floods his heart, and make a subtle agreement to forever deplore the theft of his childhood?
It’s at this moment that a very young girl named Murron, also present at the funeral, notices his immense grief and attempts to comfort him. She gives him a touching gift and then abruptly leaves. Wallace is very moved by this gesture. Immediately on the heels of this act, however, comes Wallace’s Uncle Argyle, now his guardian in the wake of his father’s death. While Wallace cherishes Murron’s gift, at this point it is Argyle, not Murron, who contributes the most to young Wallace’s development.
I think this is important, specifically as it relates to a man’s relationship to a woman. In order to become a man, the young boy needed to be mentored by his Uncle. Argyle evidently shows Wallace how to become a great man, for the next time we see him, he has grown into a strong warrior. He moves with an obvious strength and confidence, confidence that could have only been gained in this time of trials and testing, proving his competence to himself. It is the humble self-assurance emanating from his eyes, the strength evident in his bearing that draws Murron, his childhood sweetheart, to him. I really can’t say it any better than Eldredge does:
“The masculine journey takes a man away from the woman so that he might return to her. He goes to find his strength; he returns to offer it” (Wild at Heart, 187).
Wallace is only able to properly pursue, marry, and care for Murron because he has already discovered the strength within himself, apart from her. His self-confidence and identity are not determined by the woman in his life; he knows his quality and it shows.
Modern society tells us men that being a man equals having a girlfriend. Although loving a woman correctly is certainly part of being a man, having a girlfriend doesn’t make one a man. I now realize how I continually asked my previous girlfriend, implicitly, to affirm me as a man. This question of manhood is something a woman is not meant to answer, and it is a prerequisite to a successful relationship that the man answers this question for himself before pursuing a woman.
Wallace demonstrates how a man should treat a woman in how he pursues Murron. He has deep conversations with her, listens to her, and gives her gifts that prove he considers her. In this, I would argue that he largely puts her concerns before his own.
Other than the way he treats his woman, Scotland’s protector exemplifies many other qualities essential to great masculinity, such as bravery and a refusal to live according to the status quo. Throughout the film, as Scotland’s greedy nobles squabble amongst themselves for the best position and attempt to negotiate their freedom with the king of England, Wallace remains resolute in his defiance of tyranny. He believes so unshakably in his purpose that he refuses to use the power and influence he possesses to advance his position, knowing that this would be to the detriment of his people. He tells the pampered nobles, “There’s a difference between us. You think the people of this country exist to provide you with position. I think your position exists to provide those people with freedom. And I go to make sure that they have it.” He asks Robert the Bruce, “What does it mean to be noble? You’re title gives you claim to the throne of our country, but men don’t follow titles; they follow courage. If you would just lead them to freedom-they’d follow you, and so would I.” He inspires his men in the famous “Braveheart speech” scene, where he casts the vision for the entire country’s need for freedom from oppression. In many ways the film’s portrayal of Wallace reminds me of the biblical portrait of Nehemiah.
Here we see man’s need for a cause to defend, or as Eldredge puts it, a battle to fight. God hard-wired us to serve and protect, and we need to seek Him and his heart for the specific causes he’s put in our lives to fight for!
I’m not saying that we need to walk around with claymores strapped across our backs or grow Scottish warrior mullets; but I do think it is immensely important that we realize our God-given warrior instinct to serve and protect others.
Of course, oftentimes we are not faced with a literal, physical battle; our battlefield is the heart and mind of humanity. We want to fight Satan and the deception he uses to enslave so many of the people around us, and bring people into the knowledge of God.
A major obstacle to fulfilling this objective is the passivity perpetuated by the overtly materialistic and nihilistic American culture we live in. I love my country, but am saddened to see how our culture prioritizes. We get so bogged down in busyness and so insulated by our individual desires we fail to reach out to others.
We need to transcend the inverted priorities the world tells us to adopt, and “abstain from sinful desires, which war against our soul.” We’re to “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us” (1 Peter 2:11-12). This applies to women as well.
Too often I think we try to conform to the pattern of the world around us and fit in, in an attempt to be “relevant.” While I personally don’t think standing in a crowd and preaching a message of hellfire and brimstone to random strangers is an effective method of evangelism, we still need to be in the world and not of it. The world around us is weary of a steady diet of entertainment and relativism; many people consistently search for a truth that will satisfy in a way none of the other societal fixes ever can. Let’s be loving and patient towards them but at the same time refuse to compromise our message. Let’s show them what true obedience to and trust in Christ looks like.
God Bless you as you strive to continually conform to Christ!