Last night, I was invited along with a group of other men to honor a young man on his 12th birthday. It was a rite of passage. After a dinner of the young man’s choice – BBQ hamburgers – we went outside and sat around an open fire pit. Each of us was asked to write out answers to the following two questions; “To me, to be a man means…” and, “To be a man after God’s heart looks like…” We each took turns reading our answers out loud and speaking words of personal affirmation over the young man. After we were finished, the father handed his son several gifts. One gift was a new Bible. The evening ended with smores.
Everything that took place last night was very special from the gourmet BBQ hamburgers to the final goodbye. What I enjoyed the most was watching the face of the young man while words of affirmation were showered over him. I saw his soul filled with love and his spirit receiving marching orders as he moves from boyhood into young manhood.
Most cultures have rites of passage. We seem to have forgotten the importance of these moments and let them come and go without the formal recognition that should be attached to their significance. Perhaps we should expand our understanding of these rites of passage and create a ceremony when they appear on our calendars. What would happen if we did this once a child was born and then again at age 12 or when our kids go off to college or the day a couple gets married, or someone assumes a new career and then finally enters retirement? Every new stage of life requires affirmation for the ones we love offering words of promise and hope as they step into the unfamiliar and unexplored territory of a new season of life.
Before the fireside evening took place we were asked to write a longer more detailed personal affirmation and life-instruction for the young man. His father is creating a bound book containing all our words that will become an affirming compass to help guide the young man into his future. I wish you could have seen his face throughout the evening. As the fire crackled and words of affirmation were spoken, I saw the emerging strength of manly character begin to rise to the surface. The look in the young man’s eyes changed. He saw something. He got a glimpse of the kind of man God wanted him to become. He could see that image because words of affirmation were spoken over him. Affirmation is a powerful thing to behold.