Week 25 in the year of our Lord 2020

The burden of performance, and how to escape it

9 minutes to read

In this email, we want to bring a few concepts together: nice guyism, the male burden of performance, and the missio Dei.

So, what is the male burden of performance? We came at it obliquely in the last email by talking about man’s creational vocation of dominion. Today we’ll explain it more fully.

Rollo Tomassi summarizes the idea quite well in The Rationale Male: Preventive Medicine:

Men are expected to perform. To be successful, to get the girl, to live a good life, men must do. Whether it’s riding wheelies down the street on your bicycle to get that cute girl’s attention, or getting a doctorate degree to ensure your personal success and future family’s, Men must perform. Women’s arousal, attraction, desire and love are rooted in that conditional performance. The degree to which that performance meets or exceeds expectations is certainly subjective, and the ease with which you can perform is also an issue, but perform you must.

He goes on to write:

For Men, there is no true rest from performance… Women will never have the same requisites of performance for themselves for which they expect men. Hypergamy demands a constant, subliminal reconfirmation of a man’s worthiness of her commitment to him, so there is never a parallel of experience.

Women, by design, want a man who demonstrates dominion. They want to marry up. They want a guy who is taller, stronger, richer, and of a higher social standing.

This desire is called hypergamy. It’s a feminine thing. Men don’t work like this.

Male attraction is quite different. It is largely based on a woman’s external attractiveness, and her responsiveness to his person. In other words, he wants a pretty face, curves, and respect. He isn’t concerned about her income or her social standing. Those things, while not bad in themselves, don’t make a woman more feminine, and so they don’t make her more attractive.

The upshot is that attraction isn’t androgynous. Men are attracted to the feminine. Women are attracted to the masculine. And because masculine and feminine really are different, attraction really works differently for men and women. We’ve covered this at length in our Biblical Theology of Attraction podcast.

Our broad summary there was that women are designed as sex objects, and men are designed as success objects. This is because the ordering principle of attraction is fruitful dominion. Both men and women are made to produce — and this takes the form of building a household together.

Thus, both men and women are attracted to those things associated with suitability to building a household. In a woman, this centers on her own body and the nurture that flows from it. It is therefore reasonably innate — she either has it, or she doesn’t. In a man, not so — his suitability revolves around productivity and prowess. These are things he must be taught, and things which he must work to develop.

As the saying goes, “women are; men become.” Or, put slightly differently, “women are; men must perform.”

Now, last time, we talked about why this performance feels like a burden: it is because of the curse. Being under the crushing weight of the law has natural outworkings. The futility of labor — clearing away the thorns and the thistles, knowing they’ll regrow — is a result of sin. It turns dominion from something purely joyful into something that can be a real chore. We work all the days of our lives, and then at the end, for all our labors, we return to the dirt.

But a man does not escape this burden of performance by refusing to perform, any more than he escapes sin by refusing to obey the law. God made you to perform.

Men must perform; it is part of our very nature. A man who will not perform is not escaping the burden; he is merely laying another on top of it: the burden of kicking against the goads.

Masculine duties are often summarized with three Ps: Preside, Provide, Protect. Adam was made to be a lord over creation (preside), to be fruitful (provide), and to keep the garden (protect).

You’ll notice that all three Ps are verbs. Being a man means taking action. We get things done. We are doers. It was this way from the beginning. This is God’s design for men.

No relief will be found by rebelling against our design. Work is, by nature, a source of happiness and fulfillment for men. Olympic runner Eric Liddell famously said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel his pleasure.”

Conversely, a Korean study showed that while retirement doesn’t increases rates of depression in women, it does in men. Because we are workers.

This must be embraced. The curse makes it hard — but passivity and weakness destroy men in a way toil never can.

That said, it is true that because of sin, many men feel like Sisyphus. Work is like an heavy boulder they push up a mountain, only for it to roll back down and all start over the next day. It seems like an unending pointless grind. Like the Preacher, they wonder, “For what does a man get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 2:22)

So this is the burden of performance — and it’s a weight that is all the more compacted if you operate with the underlying presuppositions of a nice guy.

As we’ve previously said, nice guyism is ultimately a people-pleasing, performance mindset. And because it is rooted in a deep fiction, that performance can never be achieved. It is a crushing burden.

The nice guy thinks that if he is approval-seeking enough, women will desire him and men will respect him. But his neediness, his external locus of control, is actually repulsive to everyone. The harder he works for the approval of others — especially women — the less he gets.

This is the burdensome life of nice guys — and make no mistake, most modern men have been conditioned to live in this way. But there is an answer. There is a way to get out from under the weight. There is a way to lighten the burden, and to make the yoke easy.

God rewards all performance done in faith.

The answer is Jesus — and this is not some cheesy line.

It is a real solution to the male burden of performance — especially for nice guys.

Because of Christ, we are no longer slaves, but sons. Paul writes:

…when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God" (Galatians 4:4-7).

This changes everything. Because we are in Christ, who fulfilled the law — who performed what we never could — we have everything he has. We no longer need the scarcity mindset of a slave; we aren’t poor!

More than that, because we are in Christ, who died to the law — who is therefore no longer under it — we are freed from ever having to work to earn God’s favor and gifts. God loves us in Christ and has already given us every possible treasure in him. He is a Father. He has promised us an inheritance, and he is pleased to reward all his children.

And even more than that, some of the treasures he has provided for us are good works! “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10).

God redeems our work, by working himself through the Lord Jesus, to create new work for us. Thus, we now should live out an abundance mindset. Again, Paul explains:

Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve." (Col 3:23-25)

All work done in faith for Christ has value. Even the menial work of a slave — or, in the modern day, tediously filing TPS reports in your corporate cubicle.

The value of this work is known by faith, not sight. It might not be realized in this life — but it is promised. God keeps his promises. And because we do this work, from the heart, for the glory of God, we are also freed from the burden of an external locus of control — centered on the approval of others.

A life set free by Jesus to live for the Father is a life set free from the weight of the curse. “My burden is easy and my yoke is light.”

This why, over and over again, we say mission first brothers. It is only by focusing on God’s mission — the missio Dei — that we can truly order our lives and find fulfillment. And the missio Dei naturally issues in your own mission.

This is something we’ll expand in future letters. Until then, stand firm and act like men — in the Lord Jesus.

Bnonn & Michael

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