Richard Rohr makes this observation, which for him expresses the essence of the male spiritual journey. “A young man who cannot cry is a savage, and an old man who cannot laugh is a fool.” Rohr in his work with men has found that a man who cannot feel human suffering when he is young, will normally not be able to smile with contentment when he is old. One has to only go to a nursing home to see that evidence of this truth. Both of my parents were in two different nursing homes in Northern Michigan. I remember well those old, cranky Finnish men, who didn’t get along with anyone. Then there were the old men who everybody loved to be around.
I went away from those experiences, praying that when I got old I would be fun to be with. When I was a young father I will never forget the words of Methodist writer, Charlie Shedd, asking, “When you are old will you be fun to be with.” What you see at the nursing home is the product of of life lived either with an open heart or a closed heart. That is what Rohr is trying point out. A young man who has not descended into his pain, will not have a heart that is sensitive to the pain of others. He will be a self-enclosed man; a savage. But when a young man descends into his heart and makes peace with his pain, a space is created within to welcome others. He will not have to take himself to seriously
When the young man is older, he will have cleared enough emotional and spiritual space within that he will be able to welcome whatever comes his way. In the words of Rohr he will learn that “everything belongs.” I, to some small degree, understand what Rohr is getting at with his comment. I can testify to a greater freedom in my life as I grow older, a freedom that has brought a joy that I never knew as a young man. I always wondered about the joy that Jesus said we were able to have as his followers. This joy has produced a lightness about life, that has allowed me to have more laughter in my life, including not taking myself so seriously.
I confess that I have a long ways to go in being a truly joyful person. But I have experienced in some small measure what Rohr is talking about. Proverbs 15 13 tells us that, “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.” My heart has become happier as I have been able to clean my inner house of the bad and the ugly. The memory of past hurt and pain will never leave. They are part of my story. But as I have been able to “befriend” my darkness, life is lived with a lightness that can absorb the bumps and blows of life.
So men, I recommend and encourage you to do your inner house cleaning. Allow yourself to descend into your heart, and with the help of the Lord clear out a space, so that you can respond with grace to what comes your way. I am convinced that one of the greatest witnesses of our day, among Christian men, is that a “joyful exile.” This is a description that James Houston give to a follower of Jesus in our day.