You hear it in the stories of middle-aged women who talk of husbands who decided they weren’t in love any more, and bolted like a colt for their freedom. Husbands who succumb to the charms of a younger woman. Husbands who retreat into the same cocoon of self-absorption and irresponsibility that we see in so many adolescents.
In other words, these men are caught between manhood and adolescence. They look like men, but act like teenage boys.
In some cases, they live as responsible husbands and fathers for many years, but then they fall back into adolescent behavior.
Sometimes the temptation to act like a teenager is temporary—we are all naturally selfish and want our own way. And sometimes the temptation is more serious, and men make foolish, irresponsible choices that mark the rest of their lives.
Fortunately for my friend Dan, he had a friend who stepped into his life and helped keep him from stepping down from manhood when he was 40.
Reconnecting with an old flame
Now before you hear the story and pass judgment on my friend, let me tell you Dan is a man’s man. A family man. Venerable. Virtuous. If you met him, you’d like him. But despite an impeccable track record, Dan almost stepped back down and lost it all.
He was going through a season in his life when everything was difficult—he felt pressure at the church where he was the pastor, and he felt the unrelenting pressure of being a good husband and father.
It all seemed so innocent. He missed his twentieth high school reunion in Oregon, and soon after that he received a note from an old girlfriend who had dumped him just before the prom in high school. She said she missed seeing him at the reunion. He was the one person she was hoping to reconnect with after all these years.
Dan wrote back and said he would love to reconnect as well. Perhaps they could get together the next time he returned for a visit?
So the next time he was in Oregon, he set up a lunch meeting for him and his wife, Kathie, to meet with this woman. Notice that Dan included Kathie; he wasn’t a total fool … at least not yet.
When Dan’s old flame walked through the doors of the restaurant, he thought to himself, She is better looking now than she was at 17! Almost involuntarily he said to Kathie, “Wow, would you look at that?” which got him a sharp elbow in the ribcage.
They had a nice lunch. At one point Kathie left the table for a few minutes, and instantly the conversation turned more intimate until she returned. When lunch was over they said their goodbyes and Dan thought, Well, that was that.
After Dan returned home, he received another note from the woman, saying she had hoped they could have spent more time together, just the two of them. She had some things she really wanted to talk about, and she wanted some “closure” in their relationship. He wrote back and said he would be speaking at a conference (one of our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways, if you can believe it—Dan is one of our top speakers) in Portland that fall.
In her reply she said that, by “coincidence,” she’d be in Portland that very weekend on business, so maybe they could get together. They set a dinner date.
But Dan didn’t tell Kathie about it.
Now Dan is a geologist by training, a very smart man. And he did what men have been doing for centuries: He rationalized his actions. He even thought he could use the rendezvous to tell his old girlfriend about his faith in Christ!
Hard words from a “sparring partner”
But in his gut he knew it was wrong, and for several months he felt increasingly guilty. Every time he opened the Bible, no matter what passage he tried to study, all he could hear was God telling him, “You idiot!” Here he was, a pastor at a growing church, the leader of a beautiful family of a wife and three children, a man who spoke around the country on how to have a good marriage, and he was about to put himself in a situation where he could throw it all away in a single compromise.
The only thing that saved Dan from certain shipwreck was an accountability partner, a man he met for breakfast every week to talk about their lives and to challenge each other to walk in obedience to Christ. Dan called him his “sparring partner.”
To Dan’s credit, at one of their breakfasts he finally told his friend about what was going on. After listening the sparring partner said, “You are an idiot!”
Then he took out his cell phone and said, “You’re going to call this woman right now and cancel that date.” Dan did exactly that. He told the woman he was happily married and that it was not appropriate for him to continue any sort of relationship or communication with her. He apologized for his improper attitude toward her and asked for forgiveness.
When Dan hung up, a truckload of pressure fell off of his shoulders. Then that true and faithful friend said the one thing that Dan didn’t want to hear—the one thing that would fully prevent him from falling back toward adolescence. “Next, you need to tell Kathie all about this. And if you don’t tell her by Friday, I’m going to tell her.”
Dan did tell Kathie the whole story (which is one reason I am able to share it with you). Kathie’s response was what every man needs from his wife when he admits a weakness or temptation. She said she was disappointed that he didn’t trust her earlier with the story. She admitted that she knew that this woman had deeper intentions than just talking about old times (our wives know those things, men) but she also said that she admired him.
Kathie knew that Dan was struggling, but just knowing that his sparring partner was committed to help surface and conquer those struggles gave her security in their marriage relationship. She was proud to be married to someone who was man enough to be accountable to others, to have a sparring partner.
The power of temptation
Dan almost took the bait. That’s what temptation is, you know. It is a “lure” toward sin. Satan is a master angler who knows exactly where your weaknesses are. He is an expert at presenting you with bait that is designed perfectly for you.
Temptation isn’t sin; it’s when we swallow it and act on it that it becomes sin and can destroy our lives.
You may not think it takes much courage to face your temptations, but it does. Accountability is a proactive step toward never underestimating the power of temptation. Manhood requires us to resolutely “flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). We have to put the lure of adolescence behind us, face upward, and step up.
Temptation never ceases as we grow older. One friend approached me after listening to me speak on this topic and admitted, “I’m 60 years old and over the past couple of weeks I’ve found myself standing on the adolescent step! I can’t believe I’m 60 and still struggling with these issues.”
We are all just one very slippery step away from stepping down and making a foolish choice.
You can listen to Dennis Rainey talk more about stepping up to manhood on FamilyLife Today.
Adapted by permission from Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood, by Dennis Rainey, 2011, FamilyLife Publishing.