Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Going deeper

I’m sitting here contemplating what to write and as I do I am bombarded with text messages from a guy talking about men’s group and worship team practice and so on. This is funny to me because as I recognize the pattern of communication it adds only to the notion that we are not as connected of a society as we would like to believe. The guy that is texting me is a really great and I know his name and the names of his wife and kids, plus I know a few minor details about him, like what he does for work and where he lives. But after that, he is like so many others in my life; he is distant.

Recently, I have divulged my desire for deeper relationships, stronger friendships and stronger bonds with a few guys around me. I have shared the struggles involved in finding anything like that to fill a void in my life. My belief is that we are made craving a deep, devotional kind of yearning for relationship that can only be found by crying out to God on a regular basis. However, beyond our relationship with our heavenly father, there is still a need for relationship here on earth. We are called to be in relationship with each other as we seek to disciple those who are new to the faith and love everyone we come in contact with. But the New Testament provides us with a few key examples of a deeper kind of relationship that we seem to forget about.

The first, and most obvious, is the relationship between Jesus and his disciples. For 3 years, Jesus poured into 12 ordinary men. The bonds that were formed took place over time and were not instantaneous. But the bonds became so strong that most of these men would go on to write in detailed depth about their experiences, conversions and personal impact of having spent that time with their Lord and Savior. Jesus was devoted to his disciples and they were devoted to him. Yes, Jesus was the teacher, and yes, his disciples were his students, but these were not your average student/teacher relationships. The relationships that were formed were in essence those of a brotherly nature. Jesus, acting as the older brother, instructed the 12 on how things should be. Those must have been interesting times, to be sure.

Having someone in your life to act as an older or younger brother is ideal, and can certainly include a blood relation as opposed to someone in your church or small group. This same example can be seen later in the Bible as well with Paul and Timothy, who exemplified not only a brotherly love but also that of a father and son dynamic. Paul and Silas were another good match-up, providing us a glimpse of a strong bond between two men who were similar in age. These examples are perfect in understanding the dynamics and growth patterns of relationships as they relate to our own lives, but how do we get there?

The key is time. I cannot have coffee with someone once or twice and suddenly expect to know everything about them and think we are going to carry on deep and meaningful conversations. It’s not to say it hasn’t happened, but the chances are slim. The 3 examples listed above all illustrate a simple truth when it comes to building lasting relationships, and that is that these things take time. And not just a few hours here and there, but nearly every day, nearly every hour, there is a consistency of conversation, interaction and intimacy that takes place. It has to be more than the occasional lunch meeting or the once a week get together to watch a sporting event. And if I hadn’t experienced this so recently, I wouldn’t be stating these things as anything more than suggestions. However, every time I have attempted to forge a bond, it either works because enough time was invested, or it fails because of the opposite. And these bonds can and will fall away as well, based on the investment of time. If time is taken away from the relationship, it withers and dies.

As I think about the time involved, I am also aware of the personal commitment that must take place. Part of that comes down to your comfort level as well, but consciously, a person must commit themselves to a relationship, regardless of the level of that relationship. Personally, I have found that my commitment is internalized but my actions speak for themselves, as I place myself in regular contact with another person. Early on in life, we make connections with people who we call friends. Those friendships are typically forged in a classroom or on a sports field and occasionally in a youth group. However, at some point we make a conscious decision to stay connected with someone through friendship, otherwise we simply walk away because we no longer accept the commitment.

As life goes on we either choose to make the time for those commitments or we don’t. It is not possible to have a close friend who you never talk to. Close friends communicate regularly and carry on conversations that go beyond things like the weather. I find that women are more successful in maintaining relationships than men and I also find that a lot of men yearn for friendships that go beyond the pale, but lack any understanding on how to go about finding one. Even in my case, I have reached out locally for the last couple of years but have yet to find any sort of deeper connection. What’s interesting to me is that even when I talk to a guy who says he wants to be able to connect and have broader conversations that go past the water cooler, he lacks the follow through and commitment it takes to maintain it.

I have talked to many a guy recently who all seem to agree that men are simply not wired for regular day to day connectivity with other guys. Apparently we lack the gene that women have, in order to talk to each other about more than our jobs. Personally I call hogwash on that idea and suggest that our society has created a stereotype and too many men fall victim to believing it’s true. We have added just enough activities in our lives to keep us so busy that we have little time for anything outside of that narrow list. We have been raised to believe that men are tough, and strong, and don’t show emotion, but the truth is that the toughest, strongest men are the ones who show emotion and then use that emotion to lead others. One of our greatest strengths we have is our hearts, provided we use them for good.

It’s true that any good and close relationship is going to require finding commonalities and being willing to respectively discuss the things that are not common. Part of any good relationship is being able to share viewpoints from differing angles, this is just a small thing and yet it is a beautiful one. But having deep conversations with someone doesn’t usually happen right away so typically, guys aren’t willing to invest the time necessary to make that connection. Instead, we keep things at arms reach, never really getting to know the other guys around us very well. We keep quiet in groups unless there is farting and burping, and then we’re in. Otherwise, conversation is kept to easy topics, like sports and cars. Depending on the area you live in, you might openly talk about food or beer, and while those topics can lead to getting to know someone, usually simple facts are exchanged, not issues that plague us when we’re alone.

Guys need a way to connect at a simple level but one that allows for consistent and honest dialogue. A way to talk openly about things like our fathers, our kids, our spouses, our jobs, our faith or lack thereof, etc. There are so many things that guys would share if they felt there was a good place to do so, but instead our society chooses to dehumanize and emasculate men to a point where all that is expected is an adult who does his chores and stays out of trouble. So men keep everything bottled up and then our society has the audacity to ask why men lose it and do so many of the stupid things they do. Women have the audacity to ask why men never act their age and seem so immature.

Guys need to connect with other guys, it’s a simple precept when put into action, but guys are afraid to do so for fear of being shunned by their counterparts and being looked at oddly by their spouses. Men should not be made to feel less than, for taking the time to get to know other men around them and then having another strong male counterpart to bounce things off of. There is no question that steel sharpens steel and when two guys have a chance to help hold each other accountable, they both become sharper. When guys support and encourage other guys, they become stronger leaders and contributors in their homes and everywhere else. And this only happens when we get to know each other on more than just the surface. It’s going to take going deeper.

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