I’ve always had friends growing up. The neighborhood friends were a group of typical kids in the 70s-80s playing made-up games outside until the streetlights came on or until a voice screamed a name, and the owner of said name had to hightail it home. Within those neighborhood friends, there were 2 guys whom I considered my “best friends.” We each had a club, and all three of us were the only members in each other’s clubs. Yeh, I can’t understand how that made sense to us either. Throughout highschool, friends changed, and I think I had a best friend, but I don’t remember having that one best buddy like I observed other people did. I was an athlete, and pretty popular, but I was a Christian guy, so I didn’t do the weekend hang-out party scene popular in the late 80s. On to college, and I met the woman I was to marry, so she was my “best friend.”
When you become a widower at a young age, people are so supportive, they offer to do things, send you gift cards, say hi in church, and ask you how you’re doing. But looking back, I noticed that no one got close. I had a fellow widower with whom I had breakfast for a few months, and then we stopped. Guys who weren’t widowers didn’t have a clue what to say or do.
Today, I have no idea where the widower with whom I had breakfast is. I periodically see only one of my childhood friend's occasional social media posts.
I remarried and started to make adult friends in the same church I grew up in. I would say I had several good friends, maybe one or two close friends. When you become divorced, well, talk about Christians not knowing what to say. When I moved, I believe one person reached out to me more than once. A second guy reached out once. I’m thankful for that. But all those guys I thought were good friends, close friends? Crickets.
After several years of being on my own, I’m proud to announce, I ain’t got no friends.
Well, that isn’t entirely true. I now have a close, confidential inner circle of two.
What’s the deal? I may be an introvert, but that just means I need rest and alone time to recharge. I like having friends. I had a community around me when I was a widower- friends, church, and family. When I was divorced, I had my family around me. But I didn’t have a relationship with anyone in those communities that I would call close friendships. In other words, there was no one who had relational equity with me, and I with them, that would result in an iron sharpens iron relationship.
You should have been in a small group, you say. I was. I led some too. I’ve almost always been in a small group. I was in them even though I gradually began to realize a sad feeling I originally felt guilty for feeling over the years.
It’s fun, but it’s so fake.
There’s something not quite right about the message that “you must bear your soul in the guise of being authentic or you’re a poor participant” just never made sense to me. In his video series on community, Paul Tripp captures these feelings and identifies the drum beat in my head that’s been present for a couple of years now: "you can’t manufacture community.”
Me, myself, and I?
So, I’m not very good at community. I see right through manufactured community. Do I really need community? I would listen with envy when I would hear an old guy talk about his group of guys that have been getting together for decades and who know it all about each other. Why would I envy that?
Here’s what the world has to say. In a nutshell: all you need is yourself to rely on and being alone is really, really damaging to your health. Yeh, thank God for Biblical counseling.
In fact, here’s a quote from a 2014 article in Psychology Today, “There is so much to be gained from learning to rely upon - and more importantly, to trust - your own inner voice as the best source for your own guidance.” (emphasis mine) So if you don’t need to rely on anyone but yourself, there is no advantage to community. I suppose this could be true as one living their life outside of the Christian life. After all, who could you trust more than yourself in that life, why not just live a life of self-reliance and forget community?
Sicker, Dumber, and Dead
Without community comes loneliness and loneliness makes you sicker, dumber, and will kill you- either by disease or suicide.
“Chronic perceived isolation (i.e., loneliness) is characterized by impairments in attention, cognition, affect, and behavior that take a toll on morbidity and mortality through their impact on genetic, neural, and hormonal mechanisms that evolved as part and parcel of what it means to be human.” Ann Behav Med. 2010 Oct; 40(2): 10.1007/s12160-010-9210-8.
“According to a meta-analysis co-authored by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, lack of social connection heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having alcohol use disorder. She’s also found that loneliness and social isolation are twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity (Perspectives on Psychological Science , Vol. 10, No. 2, 2015).”
“Loneliness can also make us sick, contributing to heart disease, depression, suicide, and cognitive decline.” Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University. American Psychological Association. Speaking of Psychology: Living in a lonely world. Episode 74
Our bodies do not thrive when alone. Maybe it’s true that God created us for community. Maybe it’s true that without community we can’t thrive. Maybe our humanness was designed by God to require community to thrive physically and spiritually. Maybe God doesn’t talk about “one anothering” and “bearing burdens” so we simply tolerate each other until heaven, maybe it’s really how we are to thrive in the here and now.
But what do I believe about community? I mean, this could be a critical point in my calling to help men.
There are a lot of articles and posts on men and loneliness. Loneliness is suggested to be a large factor in male suicide, the success rate of which stands at 80%. J. Wayne Miraflor writes, in the Christian Post, that “Men are having an increasingly difficult time creating and maintaining close friendships.” He goes on to quote another article, this one by Daniel Cox, “Thirty years ago, a majority of men (55%) reported having at least six close friends. Today, that number has been cut in half. Slightly more than one in four (27%) men have six or more close friends today. Fifteen percent of men have no close friendships at all, a fivefold increase since 1990.” (https://www.christianpost.com/voices/male-loneliness-the-new-epidemic.html)
He goes on to offer seven excellent and Biblical tips on how men can make friends, suggesting that perhaps one reason for the above-mentioned decline is the lack of know-how. While this is probably the case to some extent, I think there is something else.
I work all day, I invest in my wife, I invest in my kids, I watch football at my brother’s house, I would love to actually do my hobby, I go to church, I serve in a ministry, I’m in a small group, and I have even been to a men’s retreat. What’s in it for me to make it worth my effort and time- I mean besides the significant health and longevity benefits? What’s in it for men to live in community and to have close friends?
I really haven’t heard it said better than Paul Tripp’s video series on relationships (lesson 4). He is discussing Hebrews 10:19-31 but specifically verses 24 and 25. He submits that these verses do not have as their sole meaning church or small group attendance as is often proclaimed, but rather it’s a call to “intentionally intrusive, Christ-centered, grace-driven, redemptive relationships.”
What's in it for me?
So, what’s in it for men, what’s in it for me? A mission, a quest, a calling to intentionally intrusive, Christ-centered, grace-driven, redemptive relationships so that we don’t forget who we are and live lives that advance God’s Kingdom. That’s the Why. That’s the mission. That’s the call.
What’s my problem? Why I ain’t got no friends? Wrong question. Why am I not headlong into this calling?
Historically, I wasn’t convinced that the opportunities to be in community were authentic. I can smell manufactured community, and I choke on the stench. Turning inwardly, I have had fear. At various times I have felt the fear of being rejected, fear of other men’s opinions, and fear of looking stupid. And in some respects, having thoughts of “imposter syndrome.” In other words, not being a good enough Christian through my trials, like “those other people who write books about how to wilderness well.”
If I were to sift through past narratives and current thoughts, what keeps me from being fully involved in communities? I haven’t found the right men. Truthfully, it isn’t from a lack of trying. If I were to use myself as the barometer, men don’t believe in the authenticity of manufactured community, they don’t know how to be in community, and they simply don’t believe there is a return on their investment.
My Personal Conclusion
What does this mean for me personally and as I endeavor to help men be better men?
I’m committing to:
-teaching men the return on investment of being in an authentic community and the cost of not
-teaching men how to authentically be in a community
-identifying and creating authentic community where I can
-be more effective and more productive: live in the knowledge of 2 Peter 1:3-9 as described by this quote by Paul Tripp, “these are the gifts Christ has given you (vs5), they’ve already been given, don’t hope for them, step forth and live in what you’ve already been given, we all suffer from forgetting who we are and quit living in what we’ve been given and thus become ineffective and unproductive.”
-continually improve as a Biblical counselor; being Biblical, personal, and practical ensuring the men I work with, nor myself will not suffer from Identity Amnesia. (Paul Tripp video lesson #4)
When life has beat you to the mat, more than once, you’re bloodied, and you’re hanging on to faith by your fingernails; that’s the time when you have the most inaccurate view of yourself. These are the crucial moments where the community of men with whom you have relational currency can gently, humbly, and patiently move you into the proper view of who you are and whose you are so you will again be effective and productive within God’s work.
(The Paul Tripp video series on community is part of the Association of Biblical Counselors' certification curriculum.)