For a little over a decade, I have witnessed the growth of an incredible movement of men’s spirituality and men’s leadership sweep across the United States and beyond. That Man is You! men’s program started with humble beginnings at my local parish in Houston, TX. Today over 25,000 men gather each week in their local communities. It’s absolutely beautiful. I have been blessed to see that God is working wonders in the hearts of these men and in turn, in their families. As a husband and a father of three girls, developing male leadership is not only my job but my life. Every single day I turn to St. Joseph, a man who was fully given to God.
Lesson: Give Yourself Fully to God
Through this experience, the #1 lesson I could pass along to husbands and fathers is simple: ALL of your leadership, the entire foundation of your vocation as a husband and a father begins and ends with your personal union with God. In other words, your ability to lead your family well begins with a personal relationship with God. It’s not enough to try to practice one virtue or possess one trait that will help you figure it all out. If God is not our source and our foundation, our leadership will inevitably come crumbing down. Let me explain. The demands of being an authentic Christian man for your spouse and children are impossible to manage on your own. To be meek, yet strong; to be a humble servant, yet a leader; to listen, yet teach; to be merciful, yet just; to die to yourself, yet be fully alive; to be a source of love and joy to your family everyday in the midst of a fallen world is unattainable on your own. We can’t give what we don’t have. We are bankrupt without God.
As men, our constant temptation is to only focus on what I can DO. What can I DO today to be a better man, a better husband, a better father? This is the American mindset. Doing, doing, doing, practical, practical, practical. It’s a wonderful thing to be a man of action and to get things done. Praise God! Trust me, I love the practical, and I spend lots of my life giving practical spiritual tips! But there is something much deeper. There is a deeper question, a deeper contemplation. What can I BE? What can I be for the Lord? What does the Lord want of me? How can the Lord accomplish HIS will through me? Am I fully given to the Lord?
The Lord can accomplish marvels through men who abandon themselves completely to his will! Abandonment, properly understood, includes a full and total gift of self. It requires heroic humility, deep interior faith, unshakable confidence and radical obedience. The irony is that in abandonment, we find perfect fulfillment of our greatest desires. When we lose ourselves, we find ourselves.
As men, we often feel a duty to “man the ship”, so to speak. We naturally lead, guide and protect. The responsibility is at times overwhelming. We can regularly feel as if so many people depend on us to steer them with all the right answers. Because we oftentimes bear the obligation to be the compass for other people, abandonment can sound unpractical and unachievable.
Ironically, Saint Therese insisted, “It is abandonment alone which guides me. I have no other compass” (Manuscrits Autobiographiques, 207). As her spirituality matured, St. Therese found that she was no longer driven by her own desires. The two competing compasses of her past had been reduced to one: doing the will of God. In our lives, jobs and families, there is only one person who should be steering the ship, and we should follow his every order. When God finds souls like St. Therese, he is free to accomplish whatever he wills through them. Pause for a moment to consider: what would life be like if you surrendered everything, and I mean everything, to the Lord?
We cannot know for certain, but I believe that St. Joseph possessed heroic virtues and sanctity long before he knew of his historic vocation. Joseph had long before united his own will to the will of God. Therefore, God knew there was an open vessel to carry out his most beautiful plan for the salvation of souls.
When we abandon our lives to the will of God, no matter what happens, we experience a profound inner peace. St. Joseph’s very life was a testament to this reality. Reflect on the events surrounding the birth of Christ and his infancy. The Holy Family fled on a donkey to a town called Bethlehem and could not find a room to sleep. I don’t know many women who would be thrilled to be nine months pregnant, about to go into labor and be forced to sleep outside. Imagine telling your bride, “Don’t worry, dear! We can lay down our newborn in this feeding trough after the birth.”
Things did not get any easier after the birth. King Herod was infuriated that he had been tricked by the wise men and decided that the only way to ensure his reign continued would be to have all the males under the age of two killed (Matthew 2:16). The infamous Massacre of the Innocents is hard to imagine even 2,000 years later. Joseph fled Israel and had his wife and child on the run once again. In obedience, they went to Egypt, where they waited for further instruction from the angel of the Lord. After Herod’s death, he took his family back to Israel, but then was forced to withdraw to the district of Galilee and finally to the small, obscure town of Nazareth. God’s plans for Joseph didn’t always make sense, but as long as the Lord was at the helm, Joseph knew he was on the right track. Nobody could have given Joseph practical advice to fulfill his mission. He had to have a deep relationship with God, deep enough to hear God’s voice guiding him.
Through Joseph’s journey, a profound peace was born from the fruit of trust, obedience and abandonment to the will of God. The peace in the hearts of Mary and Joseph did not remain internal and invisible but became physical and tangible. The Peace of God was born and laid in swaddling clothes in that manger. Both angels and animals were present before the one who was both God and man. The spiritual and the physical became incarnate in the Christ-child. There was a cosmic harmony the Earth had not yet experienced until that silent night. Peace was present in the midst of what the rest of the world would call chaos. That is what Joseph and the Holy Family experienced. St. Paul described it as peace “which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
God had a plan, and his will was accomplished. To see it through, he chose a man after his own heart. He chose a man who was fully given. Peace, Love, Mercy, and Salvation entered the world through abandonment.
A Good Action You Can Take Today:
Christ proclaimed to the disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). Do you trust in the goodness of God enough to lay your life down in abandonment to his will? What is holding you back? Fear of suffering? Fear of failure? Fear you will miss out on all the fun? Do not worry if you are weak, for God promises, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). “Confidence is perfected in worry, humility is perfected in the movements of pride, light is perfected in darkness” (Father Jean d’Elbee, I Believe in Love).
It comes down to believing and trusting in the goodness of God and then having the humility to believe that he loves you. He longs to fulfill his plans for your life. As surely as he did for St. Joseph, he longs to bring peace into your life and the life of your family.
Heavenly Father – ease the doubts, fears, and distractions that cloud my mind and my heart. Help me to take another step in my spiritual life by laying all that I have and all that I am at your feet. Jesus, I trust in you!
St. Joseph – make me a man after God’s own heart. Amen.
Mark Hartfiel is Vice President of Paradisus Dei, Developers of the That Man is You! men’s program, and Author of The School of Nazareth, a 30-day journey with St. Joseph.