In many cultures around the world, boys go through a ceremony or ritual. This is often a proving time. A time for them to demonstrate that they can take on the responsibilities of manhood. It's a setting apart. These boys begin the ceremony as a child and exit a man.
Here in the U.S. we have no such custom. We don't have special events that call boys to be young men. I think partly because of this, we see men in their twenties and even thirties clinging to the fun of boyhood, playing video games, living with Mom and Dad, shirking responsibility.
With a house full of five boys and one girl, we wanted something different for our young men. Traditionally, the age of 13 is the beginning of manhood. In the west, we've pushed that age to 18 or beyond. Society says the teen years are for experimentation, for boundary crossing, and for much indulgence. But as Josh and I anticipated the teen years, we knew we wanted to expect something different from our children than the norm.
We decided to have a ceremony to usher our oldest into manhood at the age of 13. Oh, we don't expect that he'll have it all together at such a young age. We're not kicking him out of the house or forcing him to work so he can contribute toward rent and food. Instead, we created a time for men to speak into his life, encourage him in his gifts and abilities, and push him toward great things.
On a Saturday evening shortly after our son's birthday, we invited several men to a special location. We utilized a friend's house set in a quiet, beautiful location. These men included grandfathers, elders in the church, and respected friends. All were grown men, except for our one 13 year old. All aspects of the evening were kept secret from our son until the actual time of the gathering. It was quite fun to watch his nervous excitement knowing that something special was about to happen.
We arranged a nice dinner of our teen's favorite foods. The attendees all arrived dressed in suits and ties. It was an evening clearly meant for something special. Each man was given the opportunity to share about what makes a good man. Each was able to speak directly to our 13 year old. Some shared about the leadership qualities they see in him, others told stories from their own youth. Josh talked about the legacy of our family, showing the family crest, and passing on the mantle of manhood to our son.
And then the best part. These men all gathered around our son, laid hands on him, and prayed for him. They petitioned the God of all the universe to lead, protect, and grow our son. Several men were invited from out of state and those wrote special letters containing their own words of wisdom and prayer. Those are a keepsake that our son will have to look back on to see how the prayers of these men shaped his early years of manhood.
The last aspect of the ceremony came a little late for the ceremony. We purchased a piece of armor for our son. Since he is the oldest, he received a helmet like the Romans would have worn. It is our hope to give each of our children one piece of armor as they reach their teens. Part of what we are training our children for is to be warriors in the Kingdom of God. No, not warriors with swords and shields. But warriors in a spiritual battle. Warriors who recognize that the greatest weapon is prayer; who are fitted with the spiritual armor talked of in Ephesians 6:10-20. Armor that includes the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, the shield of faith, the shoes of the gospel of peace, and the sword of the Spirit. These pieces of armor are symbolic of what is needed for our children to stand firm in their faith nomatter what may come.
It has been five months since my son's entrance into manhood. I see in him a young man eager to do great things and longing to make a difference. I love to hear his ambitions and witness his determination as he works toward those goals. He is not a typical teen. He is a young man.
(For those concerned that our daughter is missing out ... she'll also have a ceremony of some sort and receive a piece of armor. Although her ceremony is likely to be slightly different and will be attended by the important women in her life.)