We all face a terrible dilemma as men, and what we do with it sets the course of our lives. Let me explain.

When I begin a class with men, I often start with a question: “What is a real man?” Hands go up and answers come quickly: a real man is strong, courageous, brave, unselfish, he stands up for others, he speaks the truth, he sacrifices for his wife, he provides for his family, he loves God, etc. I start writing on the board as fast as I can, soon filling it with words and phrases like these. I have repeated this exercise with men of all ages, from teens to elders; amazingly, the answers are all about the same. At some level, whether from stories, movies, conversations, or some deep subconscious pool of moral intuition, we all know what a real man is.

Yet so many talks, books, and resources for men seem to assume that we don’t know and then seek to inform us, again assuming that this knowledge will transform us into real men. Let me be the first to say that it is helpful to be reminded of these things, as both an inspiration and a motivation. But that’s not our problem; that’s not our dilemma.

Here’s our real dilemma: we all know what a real man is, yet we don’t feel like one.

After conversations with countless men of all ages, I know this to be true. We are divided to the core. In our heads we know what we should be, but in our hearts, we don’t feel it. To add to the misery, we don’t even know how to get there. So we do what all men learn to do at some point—we fake it.

This is exactly the place I found myself as a husband, father, minister, and teacher. Outside I looked like the man who had it all together. Inside I felt alone, afraid, and ashamed. How was I going to feel like a man? How was I going to handle this dilemma and close the divide?

The way I handled it for years was more knowledge, more truths. I read countless pages of theology and took reams of notes on the Bible. I say this not out of conceit, but out of sadness. All the reading and knowledge only made the divide worse. Eventually my life fell apart, both as a pastor in a failing church plant and as a husband in a struggling marriage.

In the depths of despair I cried out, and Jesus answered by teaching me something startling. The answer to my divided self was not another answer; it was an invitation to take a journey. It was not another truth from the Bible; it was a call to enter the story of the Bible.

What did all this mean? Many things, but here was a crucial step: I had to quit faking it. I had to come clean before other men about everything I had hidden, including my self-absorption, my addiction to fame, my abandonment as a boy, and my wounds as a young man. This step was not about knowing more truth; it was about being known.

As I look back now, it seems so obvious to me, but at the time, it felt terrifying. I had to peel off all the masks (including my ministerial mask!) and then fight through layers of shame. Scripture admonishes us to confess our sins to each other so that we can be healed (James 5:16). I don’t just know this truth anymore; I have felt it.

The irony of this crucial step is worth noting. In order to feel strong as men, we must admit weakness. The Apostle Paul clearly pointed out the same path: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (II Cor. 12:9). Experiencing the strength and courage of becoming a real man comes from this counterintuitive step.

Of course, there is much more to the journey of feeling like a real man. Jesus will take us on an inner quest to release the bound and imprisoned places in our hearts. Then he will send us on an outer quest to do something unique for His Kingdom.

But this step is crucial—we have to quit faking it. It’s a huge step for all of us, one that will require more bravery and courage than we thought we ever had. But here’s the good news: the journey to become a real, authentic man is open to all of us. Jesus will meet us where we are and call us out to follow Him, and as we follow, we will find ourselves becoming like Him, the first real man to appear in history.

Bill Delvaux is a graduate of Duke University and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has served as a pastor and a high school Bible teacher. Presently, he leads Landmark Journey Ministries as a speaker, small group coach, and author of Divided: When the Head and Heart Don’t Agree and Landmarks: Turning Points on Your Journey Toward God. Bill and his wife have two grown daughters and reside in Franklin, TN. Follow Bill on Twitter @BillDelvaux.

BONUS: View video for Bill's new book, Divided.