How can rites of passage help your son become a man?
What happened to rites of passage?
Wearing gloves filled with fire ants. Running across the backs of a herd of cattle. Jumping from a 100 foot tower with nothing but a vine tied around your ankle.
What do these terrifying feats have in common? Well, they are all ceremonial rites of passage for different cultures around the world.
Why in the world would any boy want to participate in these death-defying stunts? To prove he is a man, of course.
Rites of passage into manhood have been a part of many cultures throughout the centuries. But sadly, our modern western culture has lost sight of these rites of passage into manhood and as a result, our boys often enter adulthood feeling lost and not really knowing whether they have what it takes to be a man.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we make our boys wear the fire ant gloves. But I do think we as parents can be more intentional about giving our sons a clearer pathway to manhood.
What is a man?
What does it mean to be a man, and how does a boy know when he’s made the transition into manhood?
We’ve talked about this topic in the past on Redeeming the Chaos.
Episode 20 – How Boys Become Men
Episode 24 – What is a Real Man?
Episode 30 – How to Guide Your Son on his journey to manhood
Episode 31 – How to Plan Manhood Ceremonies
If you’re reading this blog post, I’m guessing you are a mom or dad of boys, or you have boys in your life in some capacity.
We know that boys and girls are different.
But our culture is very confused about that right now. Our culture wants us to believe that gender is merely a social construct, forced upon us by our parents and our society.
But the Bible says in Genesis 1:27 “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
God created boys and girls to be different. Not just physically, but socially, mentally, and emotionally. Since God created our boys uniquely in his image, they have a unique ability to reflect certain aspects of the character of God.
- Boys, in general, are more active and less social than girls.
- They communicate with their fists more than their words.
- Learn by doing
- drawn to anything that has to do with weapons and battles and danger. Just hand a two year old a stick and see what he does with it!
Because our society is so unclear about the differences between men and women, our boys have no clear pathway to becoming a man in our culture.
A Pathway to Manhood
As parents, it’s our responsibility to train and equip our boys to understand what it means to be a godly man in our society, and give them a pathway to get there.
One way to guide are boys into manhood is to plan rites of passage and manhood ceremonies.
A rite of passage is a special ceremony, ritual or activity that signifies a boy has passed from childhood to adulthood. In a sense, the child is proving their worthiness to become a man in that society.
Many ancient civilizations and even current cultures around the world have rites of passage for children entering adulthood.
- In Brazil, boys are initiated into manhood by wearing gloves filled with fire ants to prove their courage.
- In Ethiopia, boys must run across the backs of a herd of cattle in order to prove they are ready to become a man.
- In the Jewish community, boys celebrate Bar Mitzvahs to signify their entry into manhood.
- In the Inuit community, boys around the age of 12 are taken out into the woods with their fathers, to learn how to hunt and survive in harsh wilderness conditions.
- The Vanuatu people of the South Pacific dive head first off a 100 foot pile of sticks, with nothing but a vine tied around their ankle.
- In the Wingfeather Saga books, janner is taken out into the wilderness when he turns 13, and he has to find his way back home.
Don’t like any of those ideas for your son? Well, let’s come up with our own rites of passage then!
Celebrating manhood ceremonies and rites of passage is a way we can provide a pathway for our boys to grow into godly young men.
The idea of celebrating manhood ceremonies and rites of passage is not an idea that I came up with. I got the idea from a book I read several years ago called, Raising a Modern Day Knight by Robert Lewis. But I’ve taken some of the concepts from this book and customized them for our own family.
Rites of passage can occur all throughout childhood, and they will look different for each family. Your family can decide at what age you want to include different activities. But you should plan at least one bigger ceremony around the time your son turns 13 or enters puberty. This is a significant milestone in his life and a special celebration at this transition can really set the stage for his teen years.
I’ll give you an overview of what we do in our family at different stages, and then I will talk more in depth about what we do for the transition into manhood at age 13, since our oldest son recently celebrated this milestone.
Our “becoming a man” traditions actually start in 1st grade.
The first of our rites of passage took place at the beginning of first grade, when we gave each of our children their first real Bible. I took each of the boys out on a special date and presented them with the new Bible. I told them: “Now that you are learning how to read on your own, it’s important for you to learn how to read the Bible as well.”
We talk about our family values and how we want to put those values into practice. We work on memorizing corresponding Bible verses that go along with each value.
5 Family Values:
- Be kind – Ephesians 4:32
- Show honor – Romans 12:10
- Obey – Colossians 3:20
- Do your best – Colossians 3:23
- Be honest – Colossians 3:9
The second of our rites of passage takes place after 4th grade. In our school district, elementary schools go up to 4th grade. So, when our kids are leaving elementary school and entering into the intermediate school, we have another special event. For this milestone, Dad takes each boy on a special date to do a ropes course together.
Dad also introduces our code of conduct for Ressler men. They talk about what is means to be a strong, courageous man. The idea of a “code of conduct” was from the book Raising A Modern Day Knight. We came up with a code of conduct unique to our family.
A strong, courageous man:
- Does the right thing – A real man has integrity. He has self control and is able to master his emotions.
- Works hard – A real man always does his best and has a strong work ethic.
- Shows honor – A real man treats others with respect and dignity.
- Loves Jesus – A real man has unwavering faith and love for the Lord.
- Leads his family – A real man loves his wife and children. He provides for them and models Christ’s love for them.
My husband also starts reading a book about biblical sexuality with our boys at this age. There are lots of resources available, but one of the ones we like and have used is called “The Talk” by Luke Gilkerson. “Seven Lesson to introduce your child to biblical sexuality.”
The next of our rites of passage is when our sons turn thirteen. This is the age that we decided to hold a bigger, more official manhood ceremony. Our oldest son just recently turned 13 and we had the privilege of holding a manhood ceremony for him.
Manhood ceremonies will look different for each family, But in general, manhood ceremonies should include the following things:
- A physical challenge, a spiritual challenge, a mental challenge
- A celebration with close family and friends
- A time of encouragement / challenge
- A significant, meaningful gift
- New responsibilities and privileges
Physical challenge: My husband and I took our son on a two-day trip to go white water rafting and biking. He’s not a super athletic kid, so there were parts of the trip that were a challenge for him. But we were able to encourage him to keep going, and remind him that he is able to do hard things.
Mental challenge: During the trip, we started reading the second book in The Talk series I mentioned earlier. It’s called, “Changes” – seven biblical lessons to make sense of puberty.
Spiritual Challenge: We started memorizing a scripture passage with our son – Ephesians 6 – putting on the armor of God.
Celebration: all the grandparents came over for a party; in addition to the typical birthday elements of cake and presents, we also had a special slideshow in honor of my son.
Challenge / Encouragement: Each of the adults at the party were given a template to fill out before coming. They each wrote down something they admired about my son, a Bible verse they wanted to challenge him with, and a prayer.
Significant gift: We gave our son a sword, engraved with the words: “Strong and Courageous.” based on Joshua 1:9.
New Responsibility: We also gave him a new NLT student study Bible. We told him: “Now that you are a teenager, we want your relationship with God to become personal to you. We want you to take on the responsibility of reading the Bible for yourself, not just relying on others to teach you.”
** We will plan additional rites of passage as our boys continue to grow… probably at age 16, at high school graduation, college graduation or first job, and marriage. **
The Five Year Bible Plan
We started using a resource I created called the Five Year Bible Plan.
The Five Year Bible Plan is a chronological Bible reading plan designed for teen boys. Your boys will read one chapter of the Bible each day, for five days a week. At this pace, he will read through the entire Bible in about 5 years.
The goal is for your son to read through the entire Bible before graduating from high school. (There are many adults who have never read through the entire Bible!)
The Five Year Bible Plan also includes space for journal entries. But they’re super short. The idea is for your son to write down ONE thing. Only one… from the Bible chapter he just read. He might write down the main idea of the passage, or one thing he learned about God’s character. It might be a question he has or something that challenged him.
It’s not meant to take up a lot of time. But as he progresses through his teen years, he’ll be able to look back through his journal to see a record of what he has been learning about God.
Right now, only the first year is available, but the other years will be coming soon.
The Five Year Bible Plan is currently available as a FREE download on my website. It likely will not always be free… I’d love to make it available for you to purchase in print down the road. But for now, you can download a free copy at www.FiveYearBiblePlan.com.