Why Being Told To “Be Better” Will Never Make You Better

We are a world infatuated with “better.” One football team is better than another in how they move the ball down the field. An Olympic swimmer is better than she was last year. This brand of phone is better because it is waterproof, syncs with your other platforms, or can take better pictures.


We are told to be better parents, better employees, better dads, better caretakers of the planet.

I was perusing CNN the other day and stumbled upon a sidebar link that said “Michelle Obama’s advice for men.” It caught my attention. The first lady has been in the news quite frequently over her term for her agenda to improve the lives of kids and families. Better relationships, better school lunches for children.

And so I clicked on the link and listened to what she had to say.

Oprah asked Michelle, “What can men do leaving here?” to which Michelle responds “Be better. Be better fathers…be a good man in the world.”

My post today is not about Michelle and her worldview, the type of person she is, or if you agree or disagree with her and the President’s policies on…whatever.

As I listened to this brief snippet of an interview, I would say that I agree with the overarching message. Men being more engaged as fathers, loving their kids, and more involved on the home front. At face value, I would not disagree.

But how am I to be better?

What struck me as I finished watching the video was that I was left with more questions from her interview than when she began. Howhow am I supposed to be better? Yes, she gave some qualifiers to her statements that being better means loving your daughters and being engaged with them. But again my question is “how?”

How do I change if I want to reach this state of being better?

Again, this is not a post about Michelle Obama. I will not use my platform to tear down other people. I am simply pointing out what was said. 

“Be better.”

My issue (among many) as a guy is not that I am lacking knowledge about what habits or character traits need to change in my life. As I deal with many young men and older, I am typically not confronted with a guy who has no clue that change needs to occur in his life.

Much of the time the issue is that they do not know how. And being a guy, I know this: I like living independently and trying to solve a problem by myself. I struggle with living interdependently, bringing good and godly guys into my mess.

To tell me to “be better” without the means of how to change is like telling a struggling Olympic runner to be better. “How?” they ask? “Well, just run faster.”

Too much of this philosophy pervades our landscape and it is stagnating us as men. That is why without a “mirror” to see our reality  and a catalyst for change, I leave feeling good about the fact that I just want to be better.

In other words, my “change” simply hangs on mere desire and not actual transformation.

So what do we do? Here are a few practical next steps.

1. You have to have a standard

If there is no standard, than my “being better” could look very different than your “being better.” Most if not all struggling guys who I deal with who want to be better are not reading TRUTH. They get discouraged, time in the Word begins to falter, and they then generate their own whirlpool of despair.

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. (Psalm 119:9)

2. You have to look in the mirror

Merely having a standard without seeing where you are at does nothing. We have to see where we are versus where God desires us. It is called sanctification.

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. (James 1:23-24)

3. You have to live in dependence, not independence

Yep – I am a guy and I get it. I can fix it myself. I do not need anyone to help me. Or I am too embarrassed to admit my failure. Been there…and unfortunately done that. 

But unless I come to the realization that I am utterly and absolutely dependent on God to change my heart, there is no “be better.” The Holy Spirit is the catalyst for change. That does not mean that I sit around and disengage, but unless the Gospel saturates my heart and He does the work, there is no lasting change. Only more performance. Frustration. Disappointment. Depression.

…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:13 ESV)

There is nothing new that I have shared here. I am the first to admit that. But if I listen to the message of that video, I am simply left more frustrated, because no matter how much better I want to be, lasting change does not come simply because I want it. “Be better” will not cut it.

Guys, we need Jesus. He can take care of the “be better” and change your heart to desire the better. It doesn’t get better than that.



2 thoughts on “Why Being Told To “Be Better” Will Never Make You Better

  1. Wonderful article! My program works with young families. It is often a challenge to get the fathers involved. Based upon the strength-based approach, though, the dads should not strive to be better, but the best – their own best. All people have something they are strong at. That is what we should help them build up and expand. That boost in self-confidence helps the entire family.

    Thanks for your great message!

  2. Thanks for reading my post, Emily, and thanks so much for commenting as well! Yes, often times it is easier to be content with “be better” without actually assessing if change has happened. I taught at the college level for 11 years and I learned that without the standard in the classroom and the right assessment, no change would happen. Seems like we have evolved into a nation of “be better’s” without the actual motivation to see if we are really changing. Merely wanting to be better seems to be good enough.

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