Christian Book Previews Home
Christian Book Previews
Book Jacket

256 pages
Oct 2006
Nelson Books

The Way of the Wild Heart: A Map for the Masculine Journey

by John Eldredge

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt


All I was trying to do was fix the sprinklers.

A fairly straight-forward plumbing job. The guy who came to drain our system and blow it out for the winter told me last fall that there was a crack in “the main valve” and I’d better replace the thing before I turned the water back on come next summer. For the past several days it has been hot – mid-nineties, unusually hot for May in Colorado – and I knew I’d better get the water going or my yard would soon rival the Gobi desert. Honestly, I looked forward to the project. I enjoy tackling outside chores for the most part, enjoy the feeling of having triumphed over some small adversity, restoring wellness to my domain. Traces of Adam, I suppose. Rule and subdue, be fruitful and all that.

I disengaged the large brass valve from the system on the side of the house, set off to the plumbing store to get a new one. “It’s a reducing valve,” the guy behind the counter told me with a touch of condescension. Okay, I’m ignorant, an untutored amateur. Nevertheless, I’m ready to go. Valve in hand, I returned home to tackle the project. A new challenge loomed before me: Soldering a piece of copper pipe to a copper fitting which carries the water from the house to the sprinklers, reduced in pressure by the valve now in my possession. It seemed simple enough. I even followed the instructions which came with the butane torch I bought. (Following instructions is usually only something I do once a project has gone to hell on a greased pole, but this was new ground for me and the valve was expensive and I didn’t want to screw the whole thing up). Sure enough, I couldn’t do it, couldn’t get the solder to melt into the joint as needed to prevent leaks.

Suddenly, I was angry.

Now, I used to get angry at the drop of a hat, sometimes violently angry as a teen, punching holes in the walls of my bedroom, kicking holes in doors. But the years have had their mellowing effect, and by the grace of God there has also been the sanctifying influence of the Spirit, and my anger surprised me. It felt disproportionate to the issue at hand. I can’t get a pipe soldered together. So? I’ve never done this before. Cut yourself some slack. But reason was not exactly ruling the moment, and in anger I stormed into the house to try and find help.

Like so many men in our culture – orphaned men who have no father around to ask how to do this or that, no other men around at all, or too much pride to ask the men that are around – I turned to the Internet, found one of those sites that explain things like how to surmount household plumbing problems, watched a little animated video on how to solder copper pipe. It felt…weird. I’m trying to play the man and fix my own sprinklers but I can’t and there’s no man here to show me how and so I’m watching a cute little video for the mechanically-challenged and feeling like about ten years old. A cartoon for a man who is really a boy. Armed with information and wobbling confidence, I go back out, give it another try. Another miss.

At the end of the first round I merely felt like an idiot. Now I feel like an idiot doomed to failure. And I’m pissed. (That’s not a swear word, I feel obligated to tell my church-bred readers and editor. And even if it was, it is an apt and honest description. A confession. So let it be. I’m pissed). A counselor and author both by trade and by intuition, I am nearly always watching my inner life with some detached part of me. Wow, that part of me says. Have a look at this. What are you so ticked about?

I’ll tell you why I’m ticked. There are two reasons. I’m ticked because there’s no one here to show me how to do this. Why do I always have to figure this stuff out on my own? I’m sure if some guy who knew what he was doing was here, he’d take one look at the project and tell me right away what I’m doing wrong, and, more importantly, how to do it right. Together, we’d tackle the problem in no time and my yard would be saved and something in my soul would feel better.

I’m also ticked because I can’t do it myself, angry that I need help. Long ago I resolved to live without needing help, vowed to figure things out on my own. It’s a terrible and common vow to us orphaned men who found themselves alone as boys and decided that there really is no one there, that men are especially unreliable, so do it yourself. I’m also angry at God, because why does it have to be so hard? I know – it’s a lot to get out of a scene about fixing my sprinklers, but it could have been a dozen other scenarios. Doing my taxes. Talking to my 16 year old son about dating. Buying a car. Buying a house. Making a career move. Any situation where I am called upon to play the man but immediately feel that nagging sense of, I don’t know how this is going to go. I’m alone in this. Its up to me to figure it out.

I do know this – I know that I am not alone in feeling alone. Most of the guys I’ve ever met feel like this at some point.

My story does not end there. I had to drop the project and get to work, leaving torch and pipe on my porch out of the merciful rain – merciful because it might buy me twenty-four hours before the death of my yard, so that I can get this figured out. I had an important phone call coming at 4pm so I set my watch’s alarm in order not to miss the appointed time. I made the call, but failed to notice that my alarm did not go off. That took place at 4am the next morning (I hadn’t noticed the little “am” next to the 4:00 when I set the thing). I’d gone to bed with no resolution inwardly or otherwise, and bang – I am yanked out of a deep sleep at 4 am to face it, and all my uncertainties. Wham – just as suddenly I am hit with this thought: Get it right.

It is perhaps the defining vow or compelling force of my adult life. You are alone in this world and you’d better watch it ‘cause there isn’t any room for error, so get it right. The detached observer in me says, Wow – this is huge. You just hit the mother lode. I mean, geez – this has defined your entire life and you’ve never even put it into words. And now here it is and you know what this is tied to, don’t you? Lying there in the dark of my bedroom, Stasi sleeping soundly beside me, the broken sprinkler system lying in misery just outside the window by my head, I know what this is about.

Its about fatherless-ness.

Unfinished Men

A boy becomes a man through the active intervention of his father, and the company of men. It cannot happen any other way. To become a man – and to know that he has become a man – a boy must have a guide, a mentor, a father who will show him how to fix a bike and cast a fishing rod and call a girl and land the job and all the many things a boy will encounter in his journey to become a man.

Masculinity is bestowed. A boy learns who is he and what he’s got from a man, or the company of men. He cannot learn it any other place. He cannot learn it from other boys, and he cannot learn it from the world of women. The plan from the beginning of time was that his father would lay the foundation for a young boy’s heart, and pass on to him that essential knowledge and confidence in his strength. Dad would be the first man in his life, and forever the most important man…Masculinity is an essence that is hard to articulate but that a boy naturally craves as he craves food and water. It is something passed between men. “The traditional way of raising sons,” notes Robert Bly, “which lasted for thousands and thousands of years, amounted to fathers and sons living in close—murderously close—proximity, while the father taught the son a trade: perhaps farming or carpentry or blacksmithing or tailoring.” My father taught me to fish. We would spend long days together, out in a boat on a lake, trying to catch fish. I will never, ever forget his delight in me when I’d hook one. But the fish were never really the important thing. It was the delight, the contact, the masculine presence gladly bestowing itself on me. “Atta boy, Tiger! Bring him in! That’s it . . . well done!” Listen to men when they talk warmly of their fathers and you’ll hear the same. “My father taught me to fix tractors . . . to throw a curveball . . . to hunt quail.” And despite the details what is mostly passed along is the masculine blessing. (Wild at Heart)

That foundation is essential, for life will test you, my brothers. Like a ship at sea, you will be tested, and the storms will reveal the weak places in you as a man. They already have. How else do you account for the anger you feel, the fear, the vulnerability to certain temptations? Why can’t you marry the girl? Having married here, why can’t you handle her emotions? Why haven’t you found your life’s mission? You know what I speak of. And so we take one of two basic approaches to life: We stay in what we can handle, and steer clear of everything else. We attack where we feel we can or we must – as at work – and we hold back where we feel sure to fail, as in the deep waters of relating to our wife or our children, and in our spirituality.

What we have now is a world of uninitiated men. Partial men. Boys, mostly, walking around in men’s bodies, with men’s jobs and families, finances and responsibilities. The foundation was never completed, if it was begun at all. So we are Unfinished Men. And therefore unable to truly live as men in whatever situations life throws at us. And unable to pass on to our sons and daughters what they need to become whole and holy men and women themselves.

At the same time there are these boys and young men and men our own age around us who are all very much in need – desperate need – of someone to show them the way. What does it mean to be a man? Am I a man? What should I do in this or that situation? These boys are growing up into uncertain men because the core questions of their souls have gone unanswered, or answered badly. They grow into men who act, but their actions are not rooted in a genuine strength, wisdom and kindness. There is no one there to show them the way.

Masculine initiation is a journey, a process, a quest really, a story that unfolds over time. It can be a very beautiful and powerful event to experience a blessing or a ritual, to hear words spoken to us in a ceremony of some sort. Those moments can be turning points in our lives. But they are only moments, and moments, as you well know, pass quickly and are swallowed in the river of time. We need more than a moment, an event. We need a process, a journey, an epic story of many experiences woven together, building upon one another in a progression. And, we need a Guide for that quest.

I moved to Colorado in August of 1991. There were many reasons involved in the move from Los Angeles – a job, a shot at grad school, an escape from the seemingly endless asphalt-smog-and-strip-mall suffocation of L.A. – but beneath them all was a stronger desire to get to the mountains and the wide open spaces, get within reach of wildness. I couldn’t have articulated it at the time, but my soul was yearning to take up the masculine journey that felt aborted in my early teens. And with that, I wanted to become a fly fisherman.

My dad and I fished together when I was young, and those are among my most treasured memories of him. He taught me first to fish with a worm on a bobber, and then to cast a spinning rod. He was not a fly fisherman, but I wanted to be. Around the age of twenty five, I bought myself a rod and reel and began to try and teach myself – a pattern by which I have learned most of what I’ve learned in my life. We often speak of a man who’s done this successfully as a “self-made man.” The appellation is usually spoken with some sense of admiration, but really it should be said in the same tones we might use of the dearly departed, or of a man who recently lost an arm – with sadness and regret. What the term really means is “an orphaned man who figured how to master some part of life on his own.”

Back to fly fishing. When we got to Colorado I learned of a section of the South Platte river known for its reputation as a fly fisherman’s dream. “The miracle mile” was past its heyday, but still a place that the best fly fisherman headed for, and so I went. It’s a beautiful stretch of river that flows through open ranchland between two reservoirs. The banks are open and spacious, without willows or trees – a forgiving place for a novice to learn to cast. I spent the good part of a morning in the river, seeing trout all around me but unable to catch one. Every time I looked upriver there was this guy, rod bent double, laughing and whooping as he brought yet another giant rainbow to his net. At first, I envied him. Then I began to hate him. Finally, I chose humility and simply wanted to watch him for awhile, try and learn what he was doing.

I stood at a respectful distance up the bank, not wanting to imply that I was an encroacher on his beloved spot, and sat down to watch. He was aware of me, and after casting maybe two or three times and hooking yet another fish, he turned and said, “C’mon down.” I forget his name, but he told me he was a fly fishing guide by profession, and on his days off this is where he liked most to fish. He asked me how I was doing and I said, “Not good.” “Lemme see your rig.” I handed him my rod. “Oh…well, first off, your leader isn’t long enough.” Before I could apologize for being a fishing idiot, he had taken out a pair of clippers and nipped my leader off completely. He then tied a new leader on with such speed and grace I was speechless. “What flies you been usin’?” “These,” I said sheepishly, knowing already they were the wrong flies only because I figured everything I was doing was wrong.

Graciously he made no comment on my flies, only said, “Here – this time of year you want to use these,” pulling a few small midges off his vest and handing them to me. He tied one on my tippet, and then began to show me how to fish his treasured spot. “C’mon over here, right next to me.” If a fly fisherman is right handed, the instructor typically stands close on his left so as not to take the forward cast in the ear or the back of his head. “Now – most folks use one strike indicator when they’re nymphing (I felt good that at least I knew that – had read it in a book). But that won’t help you much. You’ve got to know you’re getting a dead drift.” Success in fly fishing rests upon many nuances, but chief among them is your ability to present your fly naturally to the fish, which means that it drifts down with the current in the same fashion as the real food they see every day – without any tugging or pulling motion contrary to the speed and direction of the current. “The secret is to use two, even three. Like this.”

After about ten minutes of coaching, he stepped out of the water to watch me – just as a father watches a son he’s just taught to hit a baseball steps back to let the boy take a few swings all by himself. I hooked a trout, and landed it. He came back into the water to show me how to release it. “I usually kiss mine on the forehead. Superstition.” He laid one on the brow of the large rainbow and released it into the cold water. “Have fun,” he said, and without looking back he went down river about to the spot where I’d been fishing earlier and began to catch fish there, one after another. I caught fish, too. And while that made me happy, there was a deeper satisfaction in my soul as I stood in the river, fishing well. Some primal need had just been touched and touched good. As I drove home I knew the gift had been from God, that he had fathered me through this man.


We aren’t meant to figure life out on our own. God wants to father us. The truth is, he has been fathering you for a long time – you just haven’t had the eyes to see it. God will father us, if we’ll accept a re-orientation of our life and situation. First, we allow that we are unfinished men, partial men, mostly boy inside, and we need initiation still. In many, many ways. Second, we turn from our independence and the ways we either charge at life or shrink from it; this may be one of the most basic and the most crucial ways a man repents. We accept a different approach to life than the one we’ve been living.

I’ll admit, it doesn’t come easily. A sort of fundamental mistrust is something we learn through the course of our days, built upon that core mistrust in God we inherited from Adam. Making the switch will feel awkward. As Gerald may says, the more we’ve become accustomed to seeking life apart from God, the more “abnormal and stressful” it seems “to look for God directly.” Especially as a Father, fathering us. But it is worth it. It is worth it. Then we allow ourselves to be fathered, accepting that this new way of living will take some getting used to and taking the posture that we’ll do whatever it takes to get used to it.

What I am suggesting is that we re-frame the way we look at our life as men. And the way we look at our relationship with God. From there, I want to also help you to re-frame the way you relate to other men, and especially you fathers who are wondering how to raise boys. The re-framing begins when we see that a man’s life is a process of initiation into true masculinity. It is a series of stages we soak in and progress through. And as for God, I believe that what he is primarily up to at any point in a boy or man’s life is initiating him. So much of what we misinterpret as hassles or trials or screw-ups on our part are in fact God taking us though something to initiate us.

The Stages

If I were to sketch out for you the masculine journey in broad strokes, I believe this is how it unfolds, or better, how it was meant to unfold: Boyhood to Cowboy Ranger to Warrior to Lover to King to Sage. All in the course of about 80 years or so, give or take a decade or two.

Now, let me be quick to add that one cannot pin an exact age to each stage. They overlap, and there are aspects of each stage in every other. Watch a boy for an afternoon (a very good idea, if it’s been some time since you were a boy) and you’ll see the warrior, the cowboy, the king. Yet, he is a boy, and it is as a boy he must live during those years. Great damage is done if we ask a boy to become a king too soon, as is the case when a father abandons his family, walking out the door with the parting words, “You’re the man of the house now.” A cruel thing to do, and an even more cruel thing to say, for the boy has not yet become a man, not yet learned the lessons of boyhood and then young manhood. He has not yet been a Warrior, nor Lover, and he is in no way ready to become a King.

When we ask this of him, it is a wound equal to a curse, for in a moment he is robbed of his boyhood, and asked to leap over stages of masculine maturity no man can leap over. No, there is a path that must be taken. There is a Way. Not a formula. A Way. Each stage has its lessons to be learned, and each stage can be wounded, cut short, leaving the growing man with an undeveloped soul. Then we wonder why he folds suddenly, when he is forty-five, like a tree we find toppled in the yard after a night of strong winds. We go over to have a look and find that its roots hadn’t sunk down deep into the earth, or perhaps that it was rotten on the inside, weakened by disease or drought. Such are the insides of Unfinished Men.

To begin with, there is Boyhood, a time of wonder and exploration. A time of tree forts and comic books, pollywogs and popsicles. Snakes and snails and puppy dog tails, as the old nursery rhyme had it. Above all else, it is the time of being the Beloved Son, the apple of your father’s eye. A time of affirmation. For though I maintain my premise laid out in Wild at Heart – that every man shares the same core Question, and that Question runs something like “Do I have what it takes?” – I believe that Question is far more urgent to the Cowboy Ranger stage. Beneath that question and a man’s search for validation lies a deeper need – to know that you are delighted in, that you are the beloved son. It is our need for primary love.

The Cowboy Ranger stage comes next, around the period of adolescence (thirteen seems to be the year of transition, as we’ve found it) and it runs into the late teens to early twenties. It is the time of learning the lessons of the field, a time of great adventures and testing, and also a time for hard work. The young man learns to hunt or throw a curveball or break a horse. He gets his first car and with it an open horizon. He takes off into the woods alone, or with a few buddies, travels to Europe, joins the Coast Guard or becomes a smokejumper. A time of daring, and danger, a time of testing and learning that he does, indeed, have what it takes.

Sometime in his late teens there emerges the young Warrior, and this phase lasts well into his thirties. Again, the stages overlap, and there is some aspect of them in every phase of a man’s life. Whether six or sixty, a man will always be a warrior, for bears the image of a warrior God (Exodus 15:3). But there is also a time in a man’s life when one of the stages is prominent. The Warrior gets a cause, and hopefully, a king. He heads off to law school or the mission field. He encounters evil face to face, and learns to defeat it. The young warrior learns the rigors of discipline – especially that inner discipline and resolution of spirit you see in Jesus, who “set his face like a flint” and could not be deterred from his mission. He might join the Marines, or he might become a math teacher in the inner city, battling for the hearts of young people. That he gets a mission is crucial, and that he learns to battle the kingdom of darkness even more crucial. Passivity and masculinity are mutually exclusive, fundamentally at odds with one another. To be a man he must live with courage, take action, must go into battle.

This is typically the time when he also becomes a Lover, though it would be best for him and for her if he lived as a Warrior for sometime first. As I described in Wild at Heart, too many young men do not get their Question answered as a young cowboy, and as an uncertain warrior they have no mission to their life. They end up taking all that to the woman, hoping in her to find validation and a reason for living (a desperately fruitless search, as many men now understand). A Lover comes to offer his strength to a woman, not to get it from her. But the time of the Lover is not foremost about the woman. It is the time when a young man discovers the Way of the Heart – that poetry and passion are far more closer to the Truth than are mere reason and proposition. He awakens to beauty, to life. He discovers music and literature; like the young David, he becomes a romantic and it takes his spiritual life to a whole new level. Service for God is overshadowed by intimacy with God.

Then – and only then – is he ready to become a King, ready to rule a kingdom. The crisis of leadership in our churches, businesses and governments is largely due to this one dilemma: Men have been given power, but they are ill-equipped to handle it. The time of ruling is a great test of character, for the king will be sorely tested to use his influence in humility, for the benefit of others. What we call the mid-life crisis is often a man coming into a little money and influence, and using it to go back and recover what he missed as the beloved son (he buys himself toys) or the Cowboy ranger (he goes off on adventures). He is an undeveloped, uninitiated man. A true king comes into authority and he knows that he rules for the benefit of others. He might be made president of a company or commander over a division; he might become a senior pastor or a high school basketball coach. This is the time of ruling over a kingdom. Hopefully, he draws around him a company of young warriors, for he is now a father to younger men.

Finally, we have the Sage, the grey-haired father with a wealth of knowledge and experience, whose mission now is to counsel others. His kingdom may shrink – the kids have left the house, so he might move into something smaller, he steps down from his role as president, his income may shift to savings and investments made while he was King. But his influence ought to increase. This is not the time to pack off to Phoenix or Ft Lauderdale – the kingdom needs him now as elder at the gates. He might in fact be an elder in his church, or he might serve on the board of education. His time is spent mentoring younger men, especially kings, as Merlin mentored Arthur, as Paul mentors Timothy. At a time in life when most men feel their time has passed, this could be the period of his greatest contribution.

Now, let me say again that these stages are all present at any period in a man’s life, and they all come together to make a whole and holy man. The boy is very much a king of a little kingdom – his bedroom, the tree house, the fort he has built secretly in the basement or woods. And the man, though now a king in a far more serious manner, must never lose the wonder of the boy, that condition we call “young at heart.” For by maturity we do not mean rigidity, calcification of the heart. As MacDonald said, “The boy should enclose and keep, as his life, the child at the heart of him, and never let it go…the child is not meant to die, but to be for ever fresh-born.”

Having said this, it does seem to me that each of the stages – archetypes, they might be called – do have a season where they come into their own, where they seem to dominate and for good reason. So, I will speak of them in both respects.

Biblical Imagery of the Stages

David might be the quintessential biblical archetype for the masculine journey. His life as a man is apparently worth giving special attention to, since God devotes ** chapters of his book to David’s life, whereas most of the other guys are lucky to get a paragraph or two. When we meet David he is in the cowboy stage, a teenager living out in the fields watching over the family flocks. I thought to call this stage the Shepherd stage, but the word has been so badly hijacked by religious imagery it now conveys the opposite of the life it actually was. Our images of shepherds have been framed by Christmastime, through the charming little figurines found on coffee table crèche displays or, closer to my point, the neighborhood kids in a bathrobe, with a towel on their head, playing the role in the local pageant. They are cute. Actual shepherds are far more rugged.

On the eve of his passage from cowboy ranger to warrior, David stands in the camp of the army of Israel, before his king, who is trying to dissuade the teenager from single-handed combat against an infamous mercenary, Goliath. David says, “your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it, and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it” (1 Sam 17:34-35). That was his shepherd stage, and we might say he learned his lessons rather well. Was David ever the Beloved Son? Its difficult to tell. We have no record of his boyhood per say, though we do have two other pieces of information that might fill in to some degree. He was the youngest of eight boys, and that can be good and that can be bad. Typically, the youngest is the apple of his Father’s eye – as Joseph was, and Benjamin. But when you read the Psalms, there can be no doubt that David knew he was a Beloved Son of God; his poems are filled with the kind of heat-felt assurances of God’s love and favor that only a Beloved Son can express.

As for the Warrior, can there be any doubt that David sets the bar for this stage? “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (1 Sam 18:7). He was a lover, to be sure – though our thoughts probably jump to the affair with Bathsheba. But it is from David we learn that the lover stage is not firstly about women at all – it is about the life of the heart, the life of beauty and passion and a deep romance with God, all of which can be seen in his poetry. And of course, David was a King.

You see the stages also in the life of Jesus. Surely, he is the Beloved Son, both of his parents and of God. The brief account we have of his childhood contains the story where Jesus has disappeared from the caravan his family was traveling with as they left the feast of ** in Jerusalem. What is remarkable is that it took Mary and Joseph two days to notice the boy was missing – demonstrating either gross parental neglect (a theory unsupported by the rest we know about the family) or remarkable security and assurance in the boy. And of course, much more to the point of our own journey here in this book, we have the pronouncement by God the Father over Jesus as he rises from the waters of the Jordan, “This is my Beloved Son.” The confidence Jesus has in his father’s love, their bold and unquestioned intimacy are the hallmark of his life. This man knows his Father adores him.

I would place the Cowboy Ranger years of Jesus in the carpenter’s shop, hours upon hours at Joseph’s side, learning woodcraft from his father and all the lessons lumber and hand tools have to teach a young man. A wonderful way for a teen to spend those years. Apparently he is comfortable in the wilderness as well, for he often goes there during his ministry years to be restored, to be with God his father.

He enters the Warrior phase as he enters his ministry, a three-year period marked by intense warfare, climaxing when he vanquishes the Evil One, secures our ransom from the dungeons of darkness, wrestles the keys of hell and death from his Enemy. Over the course of those years we also see a passionate Lover wooing and winning the heart of his Bride. (And it might be good to remember that the Song of Songs was authored by the Spirit of God, who is without doubt the greatest Lover of all time). And of course, he is King, Lord now of heaven and earth, and a returning Warrior King who will bring final victory to his people and usher in the golden era of his realm.

Other Images of the Stages

Now that you have an outline for the Stages of the masculine journey, you will see them throughout all the great stories.

Take the movie The Prince of Egypt, based on the life of Moses, as our first example. When the story begins he is a beloved son – spoiled, no doubt, and in great need of passage into the ranger stage – but Beloved Son nevertheless. His parents saw something special in the babe, and risked their lives to save his. Moses is adopted into Pharaoh’s house, raised there in the life of privilege. He is hurled into the cowboy ranger phase in the wilderness, as a shepherd (a rugged and demanding life, full of danger and adventure). Then, upon the call of God to free his people, he becomes a warrior and then the King and Sage of the people as they make their sojourn to the Promised Land.

Consider also JRR Tolkien’s trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Each of the main characters is an archetype for a stage. The hobbits – especially Frodo – are a picture of the Beloved Son. Strider is the paramount Ranger. Then he becomes the great Warrior Aragorn, who becomes King. Gandalf is a sage. Looking closer, you can also see a boy’s journey into manhood through the lives of the hobbits, whose journey-story it is. When we meet the hobbits they are living in the stage of the Beloved Son – curly hair, good hearted, mischievous – their Shire world a safe place where they are free to explore. When they take to the road, they enter the cowboy ranger stage. Yes, they have a mission, but they do not fully appreciate the gravity of it. At first it is a joy to be on the road, camping out, seeing new sights, experiencing life beyond a feather pillow. Aragorn takes them “into the wild,” where they begin to be toughened, sleeping on the ground, enduring weather, danger, long treks. They become warriors, learn to battle, go to war.

The stages also form the story line for the movie The Lion King. The opening scene announces the arrival of the Beloved Son, the lion cub Simba. He is the only son of the lion king Mufasa, and clearly the apple of his father’s eye. But his youth is cut short by a sudden loss of innocence – as happens with so many boys – and he is hurled into the cowboy stage, taking to the road. However, he has no Aragorn to guide him, and his time in this stage is corrupted by staying in it too long, and only living for today. This happens to many fatherless young men, who live in adventure for adventure’s sake, snow boarding, surfing, refusing to grow up. He enters the lover stage when ** finds him in the forest, and they enjoy a sort of Eden-like idyll. But he is an aimless lover, as so many young men are who have not first passed through the warrior stage, and ** grows impatient with him, as so many young women grow impatient with the young men they love but who show no signs of getting on with their life.

Fortunately for Simba and for the realm, he is at this juncture found by a Sage – the old baboon Rafiki – who takes him back to the Father, and with that return comes his true identity and call. He returns to a father-centered world. It is time for Simba to complete his journey into manhood, as Warrior and King. He goes back to face his enemy, triumphs over the evil one, assumes the throne and ushers in a new golden age for the kingdom.

Taking up the Quest

We don’t know much about stages of development in our instant culture. We have someone else make our coffee for us. We no longer have to wait to have our photos developed – not even an hour – for now we have digital cameras that deliver back to us the image, instantly. We don’t have to wait to get in touch with someone – we can email them, page them, call them on our cell phone this moment. We don’t need to wait for our leather jackets to age to get that rugged look – they come that way now, pre-faded, as do our jeans and shirts. Character that can be bought and worn immediately.

But God is a God of process. If you want a oak tree, he has you start with an acorn. If you want a Bible, well, he delivers that over the course of about ** hundred years. If you want a man, you must begin with the boy. God ordained the stages of masculine development. They are woven into the fabric of our being, just as the laws of nature are woven into the fabric of the earth. In fact, those who lived closer to the earth respected and embraced the stages for centuries upon centuries. Only recently have we lost touch with them. In exchange for triple vente nonfat sugar free vanilla lattes. And as I said, what we have now is a world of unfinished men, uninitiated men.

So it would be best for us – and for those that have to live with us, who look to us – to re-discover the stages and honor them, live within them, raise our sons through them. Which brings us back to our predicament: We are unfinished men. We know very little about initiating boys into manhood. And we haven’t anyone to show us the way, really.