March 4, 2010
Men & Christian Friendship: It Won't Just Happen on its Own
by Shawn McEvoy, Crosswalk.com Senior Editor
A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.
proverbs 17:17, NLT
I own many books, but the ones I reference often I keep above my desk at work. One of these is a 1983 edition of David W. Smith's The Friendless American Male. It's a title that, sadly, has only grown more accurate in the last 27 years, its content more applicable. Men, especially us hard-working, married-with-children types, are lacking in close biblical friendships. The reasons are varied and several, and it's not my intent in the space of this devotional to present or solve them all. Suffice to say that most men I talk with vouch for the lack of friends in their life, even if they speak of different reasons for the condition.
It's something I worry about, something I marvel at when I consider some of the differences between myself and my own father. Back when my father was climbing the ladder in the Tucson Real Estate industry and had children aged 6 and 4 like I do now, his weekends were all his own. Tennis in the morning on both Saturday and Sunday. Soaking up sun at the pool or doing yardwork in the afternoons. Watching sports or working in the evenings. A quarterly fishing trip with his buddies. Several of these activities involved his friends and acquaintances. Now, it's important to point out that he didn't know the Lord at this time in his life, but also important to note that, to the best of my recollection, we weren't starved for his attention or affection. It still seemed like we were close, and had plenty of time together. So, I use him as an example only as an indication of what I think men were expected (allowed?) to do and be in the 1970s.
At some point things changed, and yes, in most ways, for the better. Men began leaving their work at work. Being conscious about setting aside time for family activities. Reserving weekends for playing with their kids and going to soccer games rather than hitting the tennis court or the golf links or the lake. Furthermore, technology, instead of saving us time, only seemed to create more ways in which we could spend it working. Where my father routinely met his buddies for a beverage after work, it's all I can do to rush home, swallow some food, and not leave my wife and kids feeling neglected before I log on for another couple hours of work and then an exhausted collapse into bed. Meeting another dude for a beer or coffee? Seriously, I don't want to laugh, but when? Even if I had a hole in my schedule, what makes me think the person I might invite (even if I knew someone well enough to want to spend time with him) would have time and desire, too? I've been heavily involved in our Adult Bible Fellowship class at church for over five years now, and I can count on one hand the times I've done something outside of church with any of the men in that group.
So, something is definitely missing. Somewhere, we went too far. I remember being single and having the privilege to work with some very close friends in our college admissions office, both of whom were newly-married. Getting them to do anything outside work was just about impossible. One of them wouldn't even go see a movie with me - one that I was offering to pay for - on the night his wife was busy studying for her nursing final exams. The other wouldn't even ask his wife whether he could put off lawn mowing for one more day to attend a minor league baseball game with a mutual friend who was in town for one night. What was going on?
Sure, I was tempted to blame their wives for not letting their husbands out to play, but even if there was truth to that notion, it wasn't the issue. The issue was, and is, that men simply are not bonding much these days... that the Bible speaks about friendship and male leadership and iron sharpening iron... and we are either purposefully choosing or unwittingly failing to make bonding and sharpening a priority.
So how do we purposefully choose?
For me, the solution lies partly in my favorite time of every year, mid-March. That's when I and 13 of my friends from college and camp get together for a long weekend of fishing, good food, fantasy baseball drafting, and most importantly, fellowship. We call it "Draftmas" because it's very much like a holiday for us, and it centers around our fantasy baseball draft and league as a device to draw us all together, give us common footing. But to a man, most would tell you that the baseball is not the point. So what is?
Back to Smith's book; on page 52 he writes: "Close friendships don't just happen. They result from the application of priciples recorded throughout the Word of God." He contrasts the kindness and affection that David and Jonathan shared with the "lack of sympathy" and "overt emotional harrassment and condemnation" Job experienced with his pals Zophar, Eliphaz, and Bildad. The difference, Smith says, can be found throughout the Bible in these six principles of male friendship:
- Formation of a covenant
- Social involvement
Just as Amos 3:3 says, "Do two men walk together unless they have made an appointment?", so do we display an intentional commitment to this activity as central to who we are as men, to who we want to be the rest of the year for our families and each other. While having close friends who don't live near me (but whom I'm always in contact with) does, admittedly, sometimes hinder me making new friends locally, it also serves to remind me how making new friends is possible and necessary. And I can see Smith's principles at work in this treasured group: God is indeed at the center of each of our lives; we've formed an agreement to meet together and communicate together around something we all enjoy, and are faithful to that agreement, to God, and to each other. We all fill roles, and are active socially and economically with each other, lending a hand in often amazing ways when needs arise; we speak freely and candidly, and we respect the various issues everyone brings to the table.
This year more than any other year in the past, those issues are big ones. Joblessness. Crises of faith. Being overwhelmed. Economic hardship. Remarriage. Career decisions. Waiting on God. Loneliness. Autism. Health. I'm really wondering how different this gathering is going to be from past ones. With so many of us suffering so many trials of life right now, some might think this sure sounds like a downer of a man-cation. I don't think it will be. In fact, I can't wait to get out of town to really bounce ideas and prayers off my friends, really seek out ways we can help each other, while at the same time destroying them by catching more fish and outbidding them for Albert Pujols.
It's an amazing dynamic, one I could not live without. One of our group recently told me, "You know this is only going to get harder to keep up the older we get." I disagreed. I know that myself and several others are only finding it easier. For one thing, our wives have finally seen the difference in their men when they spend this time with each other. Mine practically pushes me out the door even though the event is usually over her birthday weekend. It's not a perfect answer to what I'm missing and seeing so many other men miss in their lives, but it's a start, and even, I realize now, a model.
Intersecting Faith & Life: What common interest can you center a group of Christian men around? It should be an excuse, a starting point, a conversational diving board. While things like sports, fishing, golfing, and other stereotypical male things are good, bear in mind that no one man enjoys all of these activities or subjects, and often, it's a sore spot with them, one that might be the very thing that, deep down, has them feeling like not as much of a "man." Wives, you can help "wake up" your listless man by hooking him up with his friends (not YOUR friends' husbands on a grown-up play-date, mind you), letting him reconnect with those who share his memories and activities he used to enjoy. Several healthy couples I know set aside one weekend every year for each person to spend a same-sex getaway with close friends, while also not feeling threatened by the idea of an evening here, an afternoon there causing any damage to the relationship. If anything, it'll make your marriage healthier, and bring back some things to talk about and pray for.