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Do You Have A Mission?

“Do you have a mission?” He startled me with his point-blank question.

I had just entered the room. As part of my work with Passage to Manhood I had come to the school this young man in Point Arena to tell stories.

Not children’s stories, but ancient stories filled with mystery, dilemma, and wisdom. Stories designed to provoke young men into thinking deeply about the journey upon which they are about to embark, the journey of maturing into the men they will become. Stories designed to allow mentors such as myself to open up discussion, to learn from the young men and to share what I have already learned. The type of stories that let them know that others have gone before them; that someday it will be their turn to be the helpers, witnesses and guides as the next generation unfolds to its own destiny.

I took the question very seriously even though I did not immediately know at what level it was meant. Perhaps there was some video game he had been playing that involved a mission. Perhaps he was the clown of the group who tests the newcomer to see how he responds. So I carefully inquired what he meant and he said, ”You know, a mission”.

“Do you mean in life?” I asked.

“Yes.” He answered quickly, with a light in his eyes, as if I had lit a fire in his mind.

“I believe I do.”

My answer hung in the air. For a few moments he just silently looked at me. I wondered if he was going to ask me what that mission was and I was not entirely sure what I would say if he did, so I just held his gaze. Without further inquiry, he gave me a look of satisfaction and took his seat.

But that exchange continued to resonate for a long time.

“Do you have a mission?”

What prompts a young man to make that inquiry of a man he has never met before? It was a beautiful question and one that he needs to answer for himself in order to grow into his own identity, clarity, and sense of self. I was profoundly moved by the wisdom that was revealed in our brief exchange.

Young men are looking for clues and guidance about how to proceed along the passage to manhood. Our society has reduced the role of elders to the point that they often take their cues from peers or males only a few years older than themselves. These males may (or may not) be excellent role models but they have not yet been seasoned by the storms of life and tempered by the flames of difficult circumstance where every man will eventually find himself.

“Do you have a mission?”

Yes. And it changes over time. You start out thinking that you can change the world and you end up finding out that the world can be a stubbornly intransigent place. There is profound strength in youth and it must be nurtured and honored. But then there is the deeper strength that comes with the experience of loss. There is a deeper resilience in a man once he learns to grieve his circumstances, his own failings, his own faults; grieve his betrayals both committed against him and his own against others. Humility comes but it takes time and it is different than humiliation. There is a grand design but it is not easily revealed and anyone that tells you that it will be is not a helpful person.

“Do you have a mission?”

It must be said that we cannot help a young man find his mission if we do not have some sense of our own. It does not have to be absolutely certain within ourselves, but there needs to be some core solidity that we can fall back that guides us in troubled times. Mentors are elders who have survived difficulty. They come out on the other side of the trouble with wisdom and joy that cannot be taken away by the eventual frailty of the body or the prevailing winds of a shallow culture.

There are some truths that are nearly universal. Young men get to a certain age and they know they are about to step into a larger world. To move forward into that adventure is hard-wired into their circuitry. They will leave the nest and embark on some great adventure so that they can learn about themselves and the world. There are stories throughout the ages that speak to this universal passage.

“Do you have a mission?”

Do we ask that of young men today? Not often enough. In our hyper-competitive corporate driven society we prepare our young people to fit roles that are mostly pre-ordained. We rarely allow them to unfold from the inside out because all too often we have not done that ourselves. We are currently medicating a record number of our children. We are coming up with new psychological diagnoses while we wring our hands and wonder what is wrong with our young men. Our society offers them video game fantasies that take the place of real risk and real reward. I believe that much of the angst we see in young men today is simply derived from the fact that their spirits are at odds with their circumstance.

I think that young man was testing me, and likely without knowing he was doing it. Adolescent boys test because they are hard-wired to seek authenticity. Like a surging river the longing for greater life carries them along the same paths that the ancient stories tell us men have been traveling for eons. Defined societal roles and rigid fundamentalist thinking may eventually prevail for some, but these rules often contradict the natural impulses of soul that define our psychological transitions throughout life. Young men call all of us to remember our quest and to recall what our reason for being here is. If we fail them in this, if we can not look in the mirror and answer the ”mission” question, we will be ineffective in our attempts to help them find their own way.

“Do you have a mission?”

What he was really asking was ”Do you have passion? Do you have a zest for being alive? Are you willing to meet life on its own terms and accept the joy, sorrow, and challenges that it brings?” May we all be able to hold the gaze of our young people as they directly and indirectly ask us that question in a thousand different ways.

One Comment

  1. Diane Pool August 14, 2019

    Thoughtful and sensitively written. It provokes many responses, intellectual and emotional, but the most prominent is this:

    Akin to the longing for declassifying and segregating people according to their age, skin color, culturally-defined role, or spiritual belief, I ache for the time when we see each other–FIRST–as simply human beings; no longer defining ourselves by gender, most especially.

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