If I haven’t been to the gym in a long time, I dread going back. I know that every part of my body will hurt after that first day. I’m supremely uncomfortable, and nothing within me wants to return to the gym because I know it’ll hurt even more. After the first, second, third, and fourth days, my muscles scream at me to stop. But, if I stay the course and get comfortable with being uncomfortable, my muscles eventually stop hurting and grow stronger. They’ll start to operate the way they were designed to operate. In time, I’ll even become energized by my workouts to the point that, if I miss a workout, I’ll feel lousy. The habit becomes such an integral part of my life that I can’t do without it. The process literally begins to produce life-altering energy that transforms my daily existence. As in our physical lives, so too in our spiritual lives. Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable With the men I counsel, I always tell them, “Get comfortable being uncomfortable. When you truly decide to die so that your family will live, God will take you seriously. Consequently, you’ll begin to see just how selfish you really are! Every time you turn around, you’ll bump into yourself. Your selfishness will shine bright. And your sacrifice will be uncomfortable. It might even hurt.” These men—all tough guys familiar with the pain of a good workout—get frustrated by this and start complaining: “Is this what life is really all about? Is this going to be my life: being miserable forever and never really living?” Willfully choosing to lay down your preferences, your ego, and your stature—especially if you’ve always been a me-first tough guy—will make you very uncomfortable. But choosing to die to self is the most transforming tradeoff you can ever make. However, it’s a decision you have to make on a daily basis—just like going to the gym. The Tough Guy Has to Die When I chose to start dying to myself and putting my family first, it was extremely uncomfortable. I didn’t want to keep going. It was killing me on the inside. Would I receive anything from my sacrifices, or was I going to be miserable for the rest of my life? My thoughts sounded just like the men I counseled. Then, words God had spoken to me many years before finally made sense to me. On a regular afternoon drive home from the office, I heard God speak these words in my spirit: “The more you die, the more your family lives.” My response was less awestruck and more, well, confused. “Uh, what’s that, God? I have to die so my family lives? What’s the precedent for that? Are you sure that’s you talking, God?” I knew it was him, but I chose doubt because I didn’t want to have to act upon what he’d just revealed to me. I also knew he wasn’t talking about physical death, but rather putting to death my insecurity, my selfishness, and my control. And I knew I was supposed to love my wife and children like Jesus loved the church: sacrificially (Ephesians 5:25). But I was afraid to die to self because I knew it would be uncomfortable. It might even hurt. It would require more of me than I wanted to give. Maybe even all of me. Then something strange happened. As I practiced dying to self, I began to look forward to serving my wife and my children. Suddenly, I was operating on a totally different level. I began to receive energy and life from putting them first. I realized: This is soul-level exercise. I need this because God made me like this. This is how I shed the tough-guy image and truly become a strong man of God. That’s when I started living as the man God had always intended me to be. Of course, I still fail. Of course, I can still be selfish. But then God—or missing a workout—reminds me: “The more you die, the more your family lives.” Men, put your tough-guy act to rest. Become a strong man in Christ. You’ll need all the strength he can give you to endure the pain of sacrifice—but the cost is worth the price. Look at your family and tell me differently.
David Vestal (www.davidvestal.org) is the author of the forthcoming book Tough Guys vs. Strong Men. He is also president and CEO of Next Level Solutions, specializing in executive, marriage, and family coaching. David and his wife, Dana, have three grown children and a chocolate lab named Maverick.