You don’t have to look far in the church to find your fair share of male loners who struggle to have authentic friendships with other men. They know how to be in the same room with other men, and they know how to do things with them — but emotional transparency is off-limits.
I get it though. It’s safer to keep our distance from other guys — emotionally and physically. I mean, let’s be honest: The only men who are allowed to get emotional together without it being considered effeminate are sports players. And they only get a pass for hugging and crying with other men because they’re doing something sufficiently masculine to counterbalance the public display of affection.
On the other hand, if you do something crazy like say “I love you” to a buddy without adding the word “man” at the end, get ready to deal with suspicious glances from all the “men’s men” at church — not to mention the assumptions from progressive hipsters at the coffee shop who will insist that you need to go ahead and embrace your identity as a gay man.
So if you’re smart, straight and male, you’ll do the same thing most of us have done since we started middle school: Keep your male friendships shallow enough to assure everyone that you really care about your buddies — but not like that.
Well, it’s time to grow up. It’s time to recognize that if we’re going to be the men God called us to be, we’ve got to own who we really are inside, reveal that person to other men and be loved (yes, loved) by our male friends. I know, I know — at first blush, it sounds like I’m encouraging men to do Beth Moore Bible studies together and paint each other’s toenails. That’s not where this is going.
What I’m suggesting is that one of the most masculine things we can do is stop cowering behind a façade of strength that hides our insecurities, fears and brokenness. That is, if we want to be real men, we’ll take the risk of being the real us in front of other guys.
Who’s Afraid of His Big Bad Self?
Maybe you’re reading this article and wondering if it even applies to you. Check out the bullet points below, and ask yourself if any of it rings a bell.
You might not be comfortable being yourself with other men if one or more of these sound familiar:
- You never share fears, insecurities or failures with other men.
- Your idea of confessing sin to another brother is to simply say, “I’ve really been struggling lately.”
- You’re suspicious of another man’s sexual preferences if he’s too emotional.
- You don’t usually have deep conversations with other men unless you’ve had something to drink.
- You have one or more female confidantes to whom you express thoughts and emotions that you could never share with another man.
- You can’t say “I love you” to another guy (even a relative) without adding the words “bro,” “dude” or “man” at the end.
I’m not saying this is a definitive list, but if a lot of these bullet points ring a bell, maybe you’ve got your walls up and don’t know how to engage with other men. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad guy — you’re probably just comfortable doing what you’ve always done.
I was the same way at one point, but then God blessed me with some friends who challenged all of my assumptions of what healthy male friendship looks like.
The Liberation of Being in Authentic Friendship
At the beginning of my freshman year of college, I was a wreck. Although I wanted to love Jesus, my life was littered with insecurity, sexual permissiveness, and unforgiveness. But then I started attending a nondenominational, charismatic church where there were a lot of young men like me, and they were fearlessly sharing their emotions with God and each other.
They wept while praying for the brokenness in their families; they confessed their sins to one another and asked for prayer; and when there was conflict, they had the guts to talk it out rather than shut down.
I was caught off guard at first — based on my experience, men usually talked about football stats during church meetings, not convictions, inner struggles, and spiritual warfare. But the whole thing was so refreshing, so real; and before long, I jumped right in, put myself out there, and began to experience a newfound liberation.
I had all this emotional junk stewing inside that needed to be processed — my fears, temptations, and petty grievances — and up until that point, I had either bottled it all up or vaguely talked with female confidantes about it. But with these guys, I had a place where I could experience the freedom of transparency without having to deal with the weird sexual tension of an opposite-sex friendship.
The prayerful accountability I experienced with my new friends became a template for the way I interacted with other guys as I moved into different phases of my life. Not to say that it was easy being myself after that — it wasn’t, because there was always the risk that the real me would be rejected. But I learned to be patient and realize that just because a guy resists being real doesn’t mean he’s rejecting a friendship.
I mean, I’d say most of the men I became friends with over the years were initially resistant to transparency, but like me, they eventually found it pleasantly unsettling and began baring their own souls when they realized they could trust me. And to this day I’m not only close to a number of my friends from college, I’ve got a number of other close friends from the other stages of my life.
To Be a Real Man With Other Men
Listen, guys, I know this isn’t the norm, but it ought to be in the church, where we’re told to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) as well as “confess [our] sins to one another and pray for one another” (James 5:16). Surely obedience in this area involves something more than awkward, general requests for our friends to pray for us because we’re “struggling.”
So if you’re in a church where men are being real with each other, get off the bench and get in the game. Join a men’s small group; ask for a mentor; go on the men’s retreat; sign up for group counseling — whatever they’re doing to foster these relationships, do your part to make it work in your life.
On the other hand, if you haven’t found a safe place to be yourself with other men, then be the men’s ministry you wish you had. Here’s a suggestion for how I’ve done that when the church I was in didn’t adequately meet the need: Find two honest, Christian guys and ask them if they want to meet once a week to be real about what’s going on in their lives. When you meet, give each person 15 minutes to talk (you can suggest a topic or just open the floor) and if you interrupt, only do so with questions. Don’t give advice unless it’s asked for, and at the end, save 15 minutes to pray for one another.
Sometimes the conversations will be deep; sometimes they won’t — but the likelihood of the whole group being more honest will greatly increase if you regularly take the risk of sharing embarrassing, personal stuff that’s much easier left unsaid (for example, you could talk about your strained relationships, fear of failure or sexual temptations). And as you learn to accept each other, warts and all, it will help you recognize that God loves and accepts you, too.
It will probably be unsettling for you and your new friends at first, but it will be real, and that’s terribly refreshing, because being real is a lot more interesting than staring at each other’s masks. And furthermore, as you let yourselves genuinely care for each other, you’ll discover that one of the most masculine things you can do is use your spiritual muscle to bear the heavy weight of other men’s burdens.
Come on, brothers, take the risk: Own your true self and let others meet that person. Sure, it’s scary, but it’s a whole lot better than spending the rest of your life disconnected from the men who need authentic friendship just as much as you do.
This article originally appeared at Boundless.org.