i sat across from him as he told his story: he had gone back to his old life of porn and chat rooms on the internet. He had been caught by his wife. Again.
He shared the story dispassionately, not because he had a deep peace about the situation or because he had healing that comes from the transformational power of God, but because he was defeated.
His lack of emotion about the situation was resignation.
In the medical world, there is a term used in cardiology called “pulseless electrical activity,” or PEA.
PEA refers to a cardiac arrest in which an electrocardiogram shows a heart rhythm that should produce a pulse, but does not. The thing about PEA is that it can be hard to detect.
And so it is with the form of PEA, so to speak, that affects the hearts of men today.
The man sitting across from me, mired in passivity and resignation, was experiencing PEA. If we had hooked him up to a machine, it would show that he had a heart rhythm, but in his life there is insufficient cardiac output.
You know what this is like. It’s sort of like the lights are on but nobody’s home. We’ve all interacted with men like that this week. Some of us have been those men ourselves.
i am sympathetic. i have been known to suffer from PEA myself. It is one of the cruel realities of life in a broken world.
Sometimes spiritual battle takes the form of outright attack. Sometimes spiritual battle takes the form of obvious demonic activity. And sometimes spiritual attack is simply a war of attrition.
The Enemy grinds us and wears us down through the pain and brokenness of our world; through the disappointment of life this side of the full reality of the Kingdom; and through sheer boredom.
And so, resignation often sets in. Before long, we are experiencing PEA.
This is part and parcel of the crisis of masculinity today. It is the root of all of our addictions. It explains our rampant passivity on the one hand, and our out-of-control attempts to assert a form of strength and control on the other.
Like the man i was talking to, many men are lost inside lives that have a heart rhythm — technically — but which actually are devoid of a pulse.
Porn, like so many other options, appeals to us because it definitely quickens our pulse. But what it leaves us with is not resuscitation, but rather more pain, isolation, and — frankly — death.
The tragedy of our times is the loss of heart among men. We are, so many of us, without a real pulse.
i saw it in the man to whom i was talking, as i have seen it in countless men through the years, as i have seen it in my own life at times.
Albert Schweitzer, a theologian, philosopher, and physician said it this way:
“The tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives.”
All men can feel this happening even if they can’t articulate it. Diagnosis is very difficult. It is a subtle death. And most men don’t know what to do about it even once they can name the problem.
What if we could reverse the tragedy of life that Schweitzer describes, and actually live while we live?
Human attempts to figure out how to “suck the marrow out of life,” as the poet Henry David Thoreau once wrote, drive all our addictions. It’s what drives adventure lifestyles and thrill seeking among men. It’s what drives the porn epidemic in our world.
Those pursuits seem as though they will give us life. They seem like the answer.
But where is the substance? The “life” dissipates once the thrill is gone. And it leaves ever more quickly the more you try to find life in those experiences of simulated passion.
Adventure is great and vital to a man’s soul. Sex is also great, and it is a gift God has given us. But making those things the goal, as opposed to enjoying those things in their right relationship to a larger call on our lives as men is a trap.
So there must be a way to have a real pulse in this world; a way to be fully and truly alive as a man; and way to experience all the vibrancy we long for in a legitimate way. There must be a way to have the genuine article of engaged masculinity.
The path Jesus offers starts like this:
Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for? (Matthew 16:24-26, The Message)
The question is: will we let Him lead?
Even for us men who claim faith in Jesus, and who know the “right” answer to this question, the reality is that we struggle to follow Him. But following Him is the only way that we can live while we live.