The lack of healthy male relationships is a subject not easily discussed in our culture. If you were to google “loneliness” you would find loneliness among men, especially today, to be a public health crisis. Men tend to live in isolation, while women overall more readily connect with other women. This leaves men alone to suffer in their shame, not knowing how to deal with whatever inner pain there may be.
One counselor who works with men gave the following five reasons why loneliness among men is a worsening epidemic that is “literally killing” men: 1) Men fear appearing weak, 2) Men don’t talk about their feelings, 3) Many aren’t comfortable being vulnerable, 4) Hypermasculine assertiveness, and 5) Few bonding opportunities. I want to address this last point.
In the church, men get mixed messages about what a man is supposed to be. Jesus can be portrayed along a continuum from being super-sensitive and caring to being like the warrior portrayed in Revelation 19. In the age of “toxic masculinity,” men in the church have learned to hide behind their protective emotional shields, afraid to express whatever confusion, sadness, anger, or loneliness there may be. Men have been emotionally wounded by the gender wars and don’t know how to process their pain. The festering wounds spill over into dysfunctional relationships with those who are closest to them, especially within the family.
Some “churched” men have “forfeited their souls” to the feminist rant for a new masculine. They have been shamed into being emasculated men, unable to express any genuine masculine strength – often for fear of being called a bigot. Men are caught in the double bind of being shamed for being a man, while being told they have not been responsible in addressing male patriarchy.
Men need intergenerational male communities of brothers and fathers where soul talk among men is normal conversation. Here, men can be heard as they risk telling their stories of navigating life through the good, the bad, and the ugly. “Celebrate Recovery” (look it up on Google) gives good guidance: “Realize I’m not God; I admit that I am powerless to control my tendency to do the wrong thing and my life is unmanageable.”
Men can learn to “fight for each other’s hearts.” A good watchword would be Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else guard your heart, for it affects everything you do.” Alastair Roberts makes this observation regarding gatherings of men: “Male groups tend to broad and shallow: larger numbers of persons, but typically less intimate and closely bonded… Male groups have a greater tendency to socialize and bond around agency, ritual, action and competition… We principally bond through sharing ideas, activities, arguments, and obsessions, not through sharing feelings, personal narrative or secrets.”
While the church needs to provide opportunities for men to grow spiritually through activities together, there is a real need to provide space for men to process their journey with other men. It will take time and practice to move beyond “agency, ritual, action, and competition.” In the days to come, men will need to find and have brothers who stay with them in the battle.
If you are a man who is caught in the dark web of loneliness, you may feel like a lost sheep. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, knows your need. Tell him your honest need and ask him to direct you to a group. The big step is to reach out and make yourself available to a group of men. He knows your need and will provide the opportunity. But you will need to be vulnerable.