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E. James Wilder: 
The Stages of a Man's Life

Growing Up

Birth

“It’s a boy!” What a good thing has happened – a boy has been born and that is just what God planned. After such a good start will he become the man that God intended him to be?

The Six Stages of Man

Six stages describe the growth of each man or woman. Each has its own demands and builds upon the earlier stages. Perhaps it will take one’s whole life to understand the importance that the first stages have for the last ones. What seems complex at first becomes a single, deep and complex rhythm of variations of the same theme – how to receive and then to give life.

Unborn – Grows a body

Infant –   The baby develops a joyful individual identity through receiving

Child –    The boy learns to take care of himself

Adult –    The man develops his “group identity” and takes care of two or more people at the same time

Parent – The father gives life without needing to receive in return.

Elder    The elder directs the growth of his community’s identity.

We will say little in this book about the unborn stage of growth. What we must notice, however, is that growing up is not automatic. Physical growth does not mean that maturity will follow. Regrettably, many men are still infants or children developmentally when they should be fathers or elders.

It is also unwise to rush development ahead of time. The stages in this book are the ideal. They cannot be achieved ahead of time but they can take much longer when a man does not complete his work or if his family and community fail to provide the help he requires at each stage. Each stage achieved at the optimal time will look like this:

Infant – birth through three

Boy – four through twelve

Man – thirteen through birth of first child

Father – first child until youngest child becomes adult

Elder – youngest child reaches thirteen until death

I have chosen these stages because they match common words used in many cultures and languages. More importantly, these are also the terms used in scripture when describing the different stages of maturity. There are cultural, scriptural and physical reasons to choose the ages for each stage.

While containing much value, growing up does nothing to increase our value as human beings. Infants are as valuable as fathers – as the parents of every newborn baby knows. Many men are ashamed of their immaturity and feel they will lose their value if they admit they are still infants and children inside. With the courage to admit where we are in our development comes the first solid starting point in life. This book is a guide for those growing up on schedule and for those who are catching up.

Becoming an Infant

It may sound strange to speak of becoming an infant, but like all stages of growth we are not very accomplished when we first begin. The infant’s task is to learn to receive what he needs and express what he feels in a way that fits him. Little boys are not born knowing what they want or feel – it must be learned.

Boys and men need to know that the foundation of life is to be able to receive what we have not earned without shame. The need to receive is with us all of our lives. We will need this skill in every later stage – as children, men, fathers and elders. We express our needs and receive without condemnation or shame.

Just as each stage of life has its job, each job has its purpose. The purpose of the first stage of development is to learn about grace. This is how we learn about our intrinsic value. The twelve years of boyhood are the time to learn how to receive grace. Grace is gifts given freely, not dependent on performance.

All of us have value, because we are created in God’s image. We have value because God has said that we do. It is not because of anything we have done.

A moment of self-examination will cause many people to discover that they feel their value comes from what they can do. If they couldn’t earn a living they would question their value. Boys who never learn how to receive grace become men who turn to achievements, fame and fortune in order to find value.

Our culture is not going to tell us who we really are. God tells us we have great value for just being made in his image, so it is only if we look at ourselves from His point of view that we realize we are valuable, even if we can’t do anything.

The need to receive is with us all of our lives. We will need this skill in every later stage of our lives—the stage of becoming a man, of becoming a father and of becoming an elder.

There is no way to talk about a boy and his needs or feelings without discussing his relationship to the two most important figures in his life, his mother and father. The next two chapters will discuss a boy and his mother and a boy and his father, whether the boy’s parents were physically present to him or not.

 

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