Friendship: The Bond of Brothers
Modern American men, including many Christian men, have gotten stranded somewhere short of healthy, life-giving friendships with other guys. How can detached men build friendships and enjoy a richer, deeper life? Here are practical ways you can develop lifelong friendships and help other brothers discover the life-giving presence of Jesus and His friends.
By Wes Yoder
Nearly 18 years before my father died, he confessed sins that nearly destroyed him when he was younger. Like a typical guy, he kept them well hidden. Then, barely able to speak, in the presence of his family, our aging father showed us what a real man does when he finds courage to tell the truth about himself. I have never seen a man in deeper sorrow.
Growing up in a kind yet stern home, I, too, learned to hide my sins. Long after I was free enough to talk about them with others, I cringed at the thought of Dad finding out. A year after his confession, we were riding together in his little blue pickup truck on his tool-sharpening route. It was the end of the day, the end of my hiding, and our new beginning.
“Since you had the courage to confess your sins to us, would it be OK, Dad, if I confessed mine to you?” I asked.
I had long ago been forgiven by God, and so was he, so what we needed that day was not forgiveness. Instead, we needed honesty to say we had failed, and compassion to transform our sorrow into never-ending father-son friendship.
Modern American men, including many Christian men, seem to have gotten stranded somewhere short of healthy, life-giving friendships with other guys. Why? What are we hiding? What did Jesus show us and tell us about this slippery topic that seems easier for women, yet so very difficult for men? How can detached men build friendships and enjoy a richer, deeper life?
How’s the Weather at That Game?
The limits many guys set for themselves for conversation and friendship often go no further than shallow chatter about work, weather, and sports. You can talk all day about these topics and never once say a thing about yourself. It’s safe until it’s not!
“How’s it going, John?”
“How’s your job? You still doin’ sales?”
“Yep. Not bad. Hanging in there.”
“Can you believe this weather?”
“Yeah, it’s really nice. Can’t believe how hot it’s been. One of the worst summers ever.”
“You going to the game today?”
And so it goes. Shallow. Mindless. A slow and torturous death-march for men. Please spare me! Does anyone really care how my golf game is coming along or, except for the momentary thrill of the win, what teams won their games on Monday night? Did you ever wonder why the last conquest for many American men seems to be someone else’s game down at the coliseum? Why do young sports heroes dominate so much of the talk all around us? How can we keep our playfulness, yet leave our game addictions behind?
Danger: Isolation Will Shorten Your Life!
Perhaps we should ask ourselves this: Why did Jesus have so many friends? Why do we, and so many of our leaders, have so few? Jesus came to “un-shrink” our world, to infuse our shrunken existence with His astonishing life. Did you know that, according to some studies, a lack of friends can actually shorten a man’s life as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and is more harmful than obesity and lack of physical exercise?1 If you’re one of the brothers who can’t name more than a few guys you trust — men with whom you can share your joys and deep sorrows — please stick with me for a few moments.
When the Greeks came wanting to see Jesus, to examine for themselves whether He was one of the gods come down to earth, He ignored their tourist attraction mindset and remarked that unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone (John 12:24). This seems to sum up where many of us get stuck. We’d like to see this amazing fellow from heaven, but we don’t have a clue what it means to be friends with Him. We don’t want to be the seed that falls to the ground and dies. We don’t want to do anything that looks like failure, so we act as though we don’t fall down and pretend we don’t fail. We’re afraid expressing too much passion about anything, especially about Jesus, will be viewed by our peers as less than manly. So we direct our need to express our deep soul-thirst into enthusiasm for yet another ball game. We don’t want to follow Jesus into the hard places that require our bitterness and unforgiveness to die, and so we remain alone.
What’s a man to do with that? Where’s the friend who can help me look past myself and see why the other guy might have hurt me? What if I perceived the pain behind the conflict and had compassion for my enemy in his sorrow, which looks so much like fear, competitiveness, and self-sufficiency?
No Man Can Escape the Sorrows of Life
A friend who betrayed me in business came to me nine years later to ask whether it had taken longer to get out of the debt he stuck me with or to get over my anger toward him. I told him the Lord provided a new client that helped me retire the debt in 18 months but that it took me nearly three years to forgive him. I asked him to forgive me for holding a grudge against him so long. Years after the betrayal, we again see each other as friends, do all we can to help each other succeed in our separate businesses, and pray for each other.
Perhaps you, too, are stuck on the end of your own sword because of all your disappointment and hurt — the sword that says you must protect yourself because no one else will. But is it realistic to believe no one other than you cares — not even God? Betrayal can create a sense of isolation and loneliness, but those emotions belie the truth.
Jesus told His disciples that they had not chosen Him, but He had chosen them. The obvious truth is that He had chosen them for himself, but He had also chosen them for each other. Yet one of them was a betrayer. How comforting that Jesus did not always choose perfect, wise, wealthy, or powerful people to be His friends. Instead, He chose guys like you and me. When you confront the truth about yourself, you will discover, (as I have) that not only have you been betrayed by those you trusted, but you have also betrayed those who trusted you. Ouch!
And here we have the very foundation of Christian friendship: truth about who we are. Such truth brings us face-to-face with ourselves so we can present our faces — who we really are, as C.S. Lewis wrote — to each other. Jesus made this principle exceedingly clear when He said true God worshippers “must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Do you realize what an amazing definition of friendship this is? How can we be the friends God intended if our friendships are not grounded in the Spirit and in truth? In fact, as Christians, why do anything that is not rooted in the Spirit and in truth?
But many guys just don’t know where or how to start. Isolation has become a way of life (or half-life). Shallow conversations with brothers rule the day — and also our hearts.
Friendship Requests the Honor of Your Presence
What follows are practical ways you can develop lifelong friendships and help other brothers discover the life-giving presence of Jesus and His friends.
If you know yourself, you know every other man in the room. Remember that! You are not 100 percent familiar with his unique set of circumstances, but you know him. So get to know yourself, or rather, admit to yourself exactly who you are. The inner voices of your silent life lie to you. They tell you you’re alone, that you’re the only guy who feels this way, and that you should be filled with guilt and shame. Wrong! Every man in the room has the same stuff, the same sin, and the same hopes and desires at the very core. We’d like our life to matter, and we’re desperate to be loved and not alone, rejected, or misunderstood. Acknowledge who you actually are, and destroy the secret within you by finding another brother who will listen and share his own story. These are the first steps toward freedom and deep friendships.
If you’re stuck in the shallows or continue to have clumsy conversations with other men, develop and keep some good questions handy for pushing past those awkward encounters.
“Jack, I’ve known you a long time, but I’ve never heard you talk about your dad. What was he like?”
Or, “What’s the most surprising thing that has ever happened in your life?”
Don’t be a professional “interviewer,” but do learn how to ask good questions, and be willing to share your story, too. Don’t try this unless you actually care about your brother. Remember, you’re showing up in the Spirit and in truth.
Write down the names of the six men who will carry your coffin. I know, that’s a little morbid, right? Or is it? Will these brothers carry you because they know you and love you, or because they feel sorry for your wife? Next to their names, write down three or four things you appreciate and respect about them. Then ask yourself whether they know how much you appreciate them. Invite them to dinner around your table and plan a night where you all share your stories — and where you let them know why they mean so much to you.
Have a dinner every four to six weeks for several guys with whom you want to build deeper friendships. Keep talk about sports, work, and weather to a minimum. Don’t make the primary focus of your group confession of sin, but if a brother confesses sin when you are together, don’t hang him out to dry. Confess yours, and pray for the healing you both need. Watch God do some amazing things in those sacred moments. Our Dinner and Conversation group has met almost monthly for nearly nine years.
What should you do if one of your friends wants to invite a brother you don’t know or don’t care to be with? Let him come. You’ll be amazed to discover you can become friends with almost any man who is willing to be honest about his life.
Some churches really “get it” about men. Sadly, some do not. Ask the other guys you know where they are finding rich and meaningful life together. Get off the couch, and go join them! Take along your newfound commitment to living in the Spirit and in truth. (I know I’ve mentioned this three times already, but it’s that important.)
Think about others. Once you start building this core of friends around your dinner table, seriously consider spending a week working together at an orphanage in Haiti or some other needy place. Or start with the needs in your nearby inner city. You will be amazed at the depth of community that comes, not just from conversation, but when you get down in the dirt of this world to help others. Take a night to serve the men at your local rescue mission, and when you do, talk with the brothers there. Their needs and yours are very similar. Everyone needs a friend. Everyone needs friendship with Jesus and His friends.
Watch for the points of need and places of sorrow in the lives of the men around you. Don’t be afraid to be a friend to them. Ask what you can do to lighten their load or bear some of their burdens. Look for practical ways you can help. My friend, B.J., went to Alcoholics Anonymous with a buddy almost every day for 15 months straight until his friend was clean and free of his addiction. Friendship can get messy and costly, but the rewards always exceed the investment.
Above all, don’t be afraid. Pray for each other, and do not be discouraged. Realize the awareness of your need for deeper friendship is the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. I can assure you the Holy Spirit is doing this not only in you but also in the hearts of men all across this nation and around the world. I am thrilled to see this hunger and thirst for spiritual friendship that is rooted and grounded in the presence of Jesus, who is with us and refuses to make of us His first orphans.
Take a fresh, new look at Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. What did He do with men? What did He declare as His purpose for us? His words, “I came that they may have life, and have it to the full” is one of the most encouraging truths I know (John 10:10). I am dismayed at how long it has taken me to discover the depth of the life Jesus intends for us to have inside relationships. Yet I’m thankful for beauty found in true friendship.
I have been taught the Scriptures since birth. I have desired to walk with God through each and every circumstance of life. I know the truth, and the truth sets me free. But when disappointments, betrayal, and deep, deep sorrow come like a storm in my life, I know I can’t go it alone. It’s not financial help or religious theory I need then. It’s the presence of a brother who understands the depth of my sorrow and can help me forgive and trust that “my anchor holds within the veil,” as hymn writer Edward Mote wrote. What I need most when the world goes dark is a friend who won’t run away.
Restoring Our Humanity
I believe with all my heart that healthy manhood involves a life of shared sorrows. A loving, knowing, and caring community of men displaces deadly isolation. In such an atmosphere, Jesus — “a man of suffering … familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53:5) — forges strong bonds from brokenness. This community no longer hides its face from Christ, nor does it shrink from brothers, wives, children, or neighbors. In tough times, we hold tight to one another and find the joy for which our souls yearn.
Brothers, we can’t do this thing called life alone. We were never meant to live in isolation. Find the courage to take a few steps toward your brothers. The first time I invited a group of men to my table I was scared to death. Looking back, it was hilarious. I grilled some steaks, threw some potatoes in the oven, and my wife made a salad before she went to visit friends.
I introduced the evening by saying I was tired of living in the shallow world of men, tired of having conversations with brothers that meant little to any of us. I told them I had one question each of us would answer and see where the conversation led, but that in any event, we would end in two hours with some Scripture and a prayer. That is exactly what we did. The amazing thing was no one left for another 75 minutes, and everyone asked whether we could please meet again. That was nearly nine years ago.
God’s purposes for men are to provide life and restoration. He gives us His life through friendship with himself (John 15:15) and in community with others.
1. Laura Blue, “Recipe for Longevity: No Smoking, Lots of Friends,” TIME 28 (July 2010)