Maybe I’m overly preoccupied with the idea, but with any kind of Christian men’s ministry or group, I always want it to point people in a particular direction. The main purpose of any men’s ministry should be the starting ground for conversations and connections. Not the general surface level kind, but the kind that encourages a hard honesty about life. An honesty that men sometimes struggle with because of what they’ve been told about what it means to be a man.
I wanted men to know admitting weakness doesn’t mean you’re weak. It doesn’t mean you’re less of a man. It’s just being honest with life sometimes.
I’m not a counselor, and I don’t want to be one. I’m not trying to fix people or get them, “back on track.” It’s about sitting with them when life gets derailed. The best way the happens is in local ministries. In the churches we attend, so men can turn towards their local lives and reach out to friends in their community, and be honest about the difficult seasons in their lives.
Many years ago, I attended a local chapter of Celebrate Recovery. The most impactful aspect of that program for me, was when we’d gather in a group and talk about our struggles with no pretense. We were free to admit our sins and struggles with just one caveat. No one was fixing anyone at that moment. This was just about honesty in the journey. I remember back then being bothered by that. Christians have a habit of turning people into projects. Iron Sharpens Iron and all that. We need to slap a law on that to get them to stop doing it, whatever it is. I was just as guilty of that as the next guy.
But, I get it now.
Sometimes it’s just about listening. Sometimes it’s about being in the moment with that person, hearing them and maybe putting an arm around them. My Pastor did that for me when we first met, and he reminded me through various conversations over the years of one more very important detail. Something that stuck with me and made me rethink a lot of how I saw theology and God.
He said, “You are forgiven…’
It made me wonder if men sharpening men, as proverbs say, is less about behavior modification and more about reminding you of your sanctification found in Christ.
I started to consider absolution as a sharpening stone that smoothes out the jagged edges of our messed up lives.
If I could say one thing to you after a session of honest admission and reflection in a Celebrate Recovery, I would remind you that God has paid for this too. You are forgiven. God’s Grace covers every square inch of it.
Jesus once told the rich young ruler to give up all his possessions to follow him. He’d eventually walk away sad. It went deeper than actual possessions though, it’s what he held onto in his heart. His worth was tied to it. To give up anything publicly is an extremely vulnerable act, and he wasn’t prepared for that. Most of us aren’t. That’s why faith in Christ looks more like a journey through a rocky obstacle course in a desert heat, rather than a gentle amble over a paved road on a crisp fall day.
Could you really give up your possessions right now? What if it was something, not so clear cut?
What if it was deeper than coveting a thing? What if it was coveting a concept or idea? Or how about holding onto thoughts?
Let me tell you something I have trouble letting go of…
I have never felt fully free of it. But at the cross, I know I am. Still, I hold onto it sometimes with a white knuckle grip because some part of me finds a worth fulfilled in that guilt. Holding onto some well-deserved feeling of aching remorse for my actions, and somehow cycling it into validation for feeling bad all the time. That’s my burden. That’s what I struggle to let go of more than anything else.
We all have different things that are hard to let go. We all have a little bit of that rich young ruler in us. Unlike that young man, we wrestle with the things we sometimes hold onto as more precious. We have trouble letting them go, but we at least acknowledge that struggle. Christ is with us in our struggle, acknowledging that, while on earth and in his humanity, he let go of all of it for our benefit.
As much as we struggle, I think we learn to let go, when we release it to others. I’m not talking about some kind of supernatural new age spiritual law of letting go. It’s much simpler than that.
Having honest and open conversations with friends takes away some of the build up inside of you. The build up of:
No one could possibly understand what I’m going through.
People will never look at me normal again if I share this.
This will make me less of a man.
I can’t cry. I can’t show emotions. That’s not what guys do.
I feel like a complete failure. I am a complete failure.
Being able to honestly share your struggles, even the hard ones that are packed away pretty deeply, with someone who can remind you of God’s love and forgiveness, and better still, say “me too”, helps take away the power of those feelings that were stuck in darkness for so long. Speaking them out loud, brings them into the light and the light dispels the darkness of how alone you felt, and reminds you that you no longer need to be.
I recently wrote about grace, and how important it is to be able to allow grace reign in your life, especially in the rough times. I also wrote about the law and how our inability to keep it can build up in us until it shows us how grace covers the mess it leaves behind. Most recently, I gave you my thoughts about the need to reach out to others before you (or they) reach that desperate hopelessness that somehow reconciles the possibility of ending a life as the only option left.
To get beyond that hopelessness requires relationships. It requires two people or more, willing to sit down and commiserate a little, and maybe even laugh when able, and most of all remind themselves, life doesn’t have to be lived alone. That’s bigger than all the barriers you might put up.
A few years ago, I took a road trip to Michigan for a theology conference. The conferences are always excellent, and I never fail to learn something good. To be honest though, the best parts are not when I sit in those chairs as a passive recipient, listening to whichever great speaker is up there. The best parts are the in-betweens, the deeper conversations over a meal, or a beer. That’s when the sharpening really occurs for me.
While at this Michigan conference I was able to get together twice with my friend Don. We didn’t solve all the problems in our lives, I’m not even going to tell you we even felt better as a result. But, we were able to sit there and be honest to some degree. The second time, it included a mutual friend, Mike. The hope is that we all parted knowing life is not meant to be lived alone. That we can confess our struggles to one another. That we can find glimmers of hope within it.
Though typically a pessimistic leaning kind of guy, these moments for me, are my opportunity to be optimistic, to be hopeful. The best parts of my trip to Michigan were those two nights, and other moments like them when I got to share meals and conversations with some of my other friends, like Kathy and Brian.
This is all I want. This is much of what I need, interposed within all of the theology I learn, and all of the truth I find out about grace and mercy, within all the sharpening that is found in the words of absolution, and the proclamation of forgiveness.
Find friends, find family. Find someone to reach out to. To walk alongside on a road, or share a meal with. Find someone to be honest with. Dispel some of that darkness bottled up inside you, with the grace found in relationships.
That’s my hope. To see men give out grace to other men, and receive it in return.
Yes, even for you too.
I want you to find it.
Because you need it… Just like I do.