You want a social life, with friends.
A passionate love life and as well
To work hard every day. What’s true
Is of these three you may have two.
A poem by Kenneth Koch quoted in America Land of Loners by Daniel Akst
Are Americans and straight American men in particular more lonely than ever? That is the premise of Akst. Akst is saying that if we go outside of our families, many of us have very few people with whom we can talk about the deeper heart issues.
I have lived very little in America over the past twenty-five years but when I have–many middle aged men seem to have few close friends–maybe one in a lot of cases or even none. Akst cites John Cacioppo who says the problem is that the friendships we have “are more harried and less meaningful.” Few would argue that I think!
Akst talks about the “problem” of man dates–how wrong is that!
I tend to agree with Akst that men need a friend outside of our wives. He writes,
“Your BFF nowadays—at least until the divorce—is supposed to be your spouse, a plausible idea in this age of assortative mating, except that
spouses and friends fill different needs, and cultivating some close extramarital friendships might even take some of the pressure off at home. Yet the married men I know seem overwhelmingly dependent on their wives for emotional connection, even as their wives take pleasure in friends to whom they don’t happen to be wed
Again, it seems that his observation is correct–about many men being dependent on their wives. I learned last year about the problems that occur a lack of differentiation exists in families and since then have noticed this quite often. I suspect it is a misunderstanding of the “one flesh” idea but maybe is also a result of dependent men. What, never me darling?
If Akst is correct “Friendships, after all, entail mutual regard, respect for others, a certain amount of agreeableness, and a willingness to rise above the ties of kinship in order to knit society into a web of trust and reciprocation.” Respect is a biggie for a lot of men (myself intended) and a lack of or a fear that we may encounter a lack of respect may keep men from forming deeper friendships. No wonder that we have so much anger and depression–we don’t want to talk about it–see my post on Terrence Real’s book, I don’t want to talk about it.
What to do about this problem? Begin to be part of the solution. Refuse to withdraw from the outside world to our tv sets. Engage with other men. Yes, it will cost us but the reward will be great. I am grateful for men in my life who pursue a friendship with me. May I do the same with others.
What is going on with young men today? Do we lack heroes? In a blog post from Stephen Zelnick, he talks about the weak performance of men and boys in education. My favorite sentence: Without the restraint of shame, the encouragement of honor, and the inspiration of noble purpose, none of us can lead fulfilling and happy lives.
Men lack inspiring ideals that help organize and focus their energies
Men seem prematurely weary, defeated by obstacles they haven’t met yet, bored and restless and merely going through the motions.
Men seem not much motivated by anything other than greed.
No politician aspires to courage, or risks moral conviction
Girls enter as victims suffering from a lack of suitable life partners
I am seeing more aggressive young women and fewer aggressive young men in my classes
Young men are more uncertain about sex and marriage than ever. Women have been coached to take the lead and to think they need men “about as much as fish need bicycles.” They no longer seem to seek male protection and support.
Men have been robbed of their edge and purpose
Historically, men have been ennobled as protectors and have justified their hard work and sacrifice as heads of families and protectors of their communities. Without that aspiration, young males can aspire to be earners and consumers and lonely foragers in the sexual forest, but that is not the same thing as being men.
If these things are even halfway true, what should the church be doing to reverse these trends? What can I be doing? Investing in relationships with young men as a mentor and friend is the first thought that comes to my mind. Other suggestions or comments? Who is your hero?
I have tried to be honest about my journey with depression over the past few years. But, as I have written in other places, beneath a lot (but certainly not all) depression lies anger. And being honest about my own anger has not been nearly as easy to admit and discuss with people. Not that I should be talking about it with everybody.
Indeed my personal journey with depression (sounds kind of strange–like depression has been my friend) has often been intertwined with anger. By being willing to talk about my own struggles with depression, others have been willing to admit their own depression and talk about it a little. It gives me no joy that there are so many men out there fighting the dark cloud but it is encouraging to know that this battle is not one anyone needs to fight alone. And it does bring me joy when my friends begin to get help to climb out of the despairing pit.
I suppose that normally anger seems to come before depression. And according to David Benner, anger comes out of an experience of pain or an experience of loss. So, the real challenge is for men to talk not just about our depression and anger but also about our pain and losses. And that is where it gets tough doesn’t it?
What got me going on this topic is an article that my dear wife sent me, an article by Anthony Bradley in World Magazine titled, “Do Men Hurt?” Bradley writes,
Sadly, for many men, pain is often dismissed, ignored, or confused with sin. Many men do sinful things not out of a rebellious spirit but to self-medicate real pain. We all find ways to deal with pain, and sometimes it opens the door for sin.
Reminds me of a post I made about a book I real last year by Terrence Real,
I don’t want to talk about it,
One reason so many men face depression is that they do not face or deal well with the pain in their lives–often leading to addictive behavior to cover up the pain.
Pretty sensitive areas to discuss in a small group, eh? The problem is that for too many of us, there is no safe place, not even the church! Not that I am down on the church–don’t misunderstand me. Its just that the church seems to rarely be the place it could be. For more on that, read Larry Crabb’s excellent book, The Safest Place on Earth. Here is more from Bradley on this topic.
Many churches do not provide safe space for men to confess being in need of healing (Luke 4, Isaiah 61) due to the hands many men have been dealt, sins committed against them in the past or present, their own addictions, confusions, passivity, anger, and so on. As a result, we have churches full of unhealed and wounded men who often medicate their pain in secret or take it out on their wives, children, friends, and co-workers. The dysfunctional cycle of self-medication creates even more generational sin and pain.
Anyway, I am finding this post to be a healthy challenge for me to think about my own openness–how much am I willing to share about my pain with others? What am I hiding? And, how am I doing in creating safe places for men who need to talk about their pain? I know it means that I have to think about ME less, make myself more available to build relationships of trust. Likely, it means that less may very well be more in the long run. And as Bradley exhorts in his article, all of us need to remember that it is only relationship with the Triune God that can bring the healing that we need.
Want to end this post on a positive note and so here is a vision that Bradley gives worth praying towards. Again, the link to his entire article.
I look forward to the day in ministry contexts where I hear stories of men growing up in churches who were able to get help early because it was a normal way the church loved their men.
In reading IMonks posting of April 26, he provided a couple of links from previous posts he had made about anger. Very interesting and they deserve a link. In one from April 29, 2006 called, Anger: What Can I Do?, he challenges us to consider Paul’s exhortations in Colossians 3:5-13 in relationship to anger. Spencer writes in response to this passage, “The majority of the rational, willing acts of changed behavior are within the choices of all of us who have the capacity to comprehend the language of scripture.” My initial reaction was to ask where is the Spirit of God that leads us to repentance? Paul is telling us to make choices here to “put off” and “put on” as he does in a similar way in Eph and ? I don’t want to diminish the power of our choices to bring about change but at the same time, I don’t want to depend upon my power to make those choices and to live the life of the Spirit. I suppose this is where “divine-human cooperation” comes in which Gary Thomas wrote about so well in his book, The Beautful Fight–very attractive to me what he writes–perhaps that is why I made so many posts about his book.
I so like what IMonk says next in his post on anger.
“These choices are made in the context of seeing ourselves in Christ. Paul addresses anger as one of those things that should be renounced in the old life, and replaced with the virtues of the Spirit. These are choices made in the community of Christian disciples, seeking to help one another along the path of life in Christ. These are changes saturated in worship, prayer and honest relationships. We are pursuing all the implications of belonging to Jesus Christ in a new world on the other side of his resurrection. This is a community project, a spiritual project, a Biblical project.”
1) Anger is often one of the “icebergs” of the human personality. We have to find what is under the surface, and not just deal with the last blow-up.
2) Every Christian man needs to be in an accountability relationship/group where his life story can become part of how other men help him see his own behavior.
3) Truthful, responsible restitution is important.
4) Anger often dwells in patterns; often in trigger behaviors that cause us to react far beyond the rational.
5) Many of us are quite aware of why we are angry, but we can’t be honest about it.
6) As I said, consultation with a doctor or counselor is a wise choice.
There are a lot of guys out there with anger issues–from my observation, we are often reluctant to share what our anger looks like inside our family with other men and if we do, the other guys mumble something about relating to the “anger” thing but how often are we willing to walk together with one another. In my own case, it took me a loooooong time to see that I was angry and then once I realized my anger, it has been a longer journey addressing the underlying causes. I could not have done that without others and am now able to see more easily my own anger. However, at the moment, I find myself quite isolated and wonder if there is anyone in my life right now that knows me well enough to see when I get angry (besides my wife), much less who will speak to me about it. How sad and how wrong.