Either a bear hug or a firm handshake: two common responses I get from men after a deep chat. Both are perfectly fine by me. Both communicate sincerity of spirit, man-to-man, an appreciation that we are equals before God, and that we bear a common love for one another.
I have had plenty of encounters with men recently involving raw and honest discussions about fear and sadness and the anger that overrules us as men. And every interaction is inspiring as we see honesty rise.
It’s common for humanity to want some sense of control, and it’s my experience that control is hardwired into many of us men, and we really have no idea why. The first thing I’ve discovered about myself is the importance of becoming aware of just how important control is. I hate being out of control, and if there is anything worse than feeling confused within myself, it’s when family (who have no idea what my mind is battling with) brings additional demands. It is not their fault. It never is. Yet they can occasionally bear the brunt of my being overwhelmed. Family does that in all our lives, yet we’ve been so conditioned to feel guilty and ashamed when we get it wrong.
I know so many men who experience these same things and feel quite the same way. I’m thankful that I’m not alone.
The only way to deal with the guilt and shame that comes from learned behaviour is to talk about it and to dethrone the guilt and shame; to put Jesus back on the throne, because, quite frankly, he doesn’t abide in the guilt and shame – only the enemy of God does that!
I encourage men to begin a relationship with their anger, their fear, their sadness, because it cannot hurt them and can only help them and their important others. This is to acknowledge that in life we’re often overwhelmed, and to underplay that, or to make people feel guilty for ‘not being enough’, is in itself an abuse.
Jesus dealt with guilt and shame at the cross, for all eternity, for all our lives, for every situation.
I have seen so many men begin the journey to be freed of the bondage of their guilt and shame, even to the point where they can come close to and not fear their fear, acknowledge and be sad about their sadness, and begin to see all these so-called wrong things as the very fuel for their own spiritual renovation. It is the work that God desires to do in every single one of us.
In tackling pornography addiction with very small groups of men, I have seen men emerge as better equipped human beings for everyone within their sphere of influence, not least themselves as peace, hope, and joy abide. I have seen shame lift off their shoulders, a lightness in to their faces, and a safe boldness characterise their step. Honesty empowers.
Incredible strength emerges, a power for healing, when deep shame is spoken forth in a safe forum.
I prefer to work with men, because I feel better equipped. Through the breakup of my first marriage, and in the acknowledgement of my failures as a husband first time around, God has given me much more of an appreciation that life is a journey designed to be divinely navigated; that it is only when I concede my weakness that I can draw on God’s strength; that the Lord has so much to show us, and that we need that help, daily.
So many men have learned to bottle up their sadness, their fear, their shame and guilt. So many women have, too. Men are not unique in this way, but men are much more reticent to give voice to their weakness, never realising most of the time that only the strong person can admit weakness.
We have to debunk the lie: tough men hide their feelings. Hiding what we feel will only make us weak in the worst of ways. Strength comes from being honest about what we’re facing.
Men need a forum where they can share without judgement or advice, unless they are seeking advice.
I have often thought that we need listening services in our communities, which would be places people could go, and in this case men, and simply be heard. In being listened to, they might simply experience the affirmation of nods and gestures and smiles and other body language that validates their experience. Nothing else is required. At least initially.
Much of the time people need to be heard and affirmed that they are not crazy, irrational, stupid, and the like. We all see through unique lenses. And our experience of the world, man-for-man, is equally valid.
It can only be an honour to hear another person voice their own experience and, as we listen, to try and understand what life has been like for them. As we listen like this, God ministers to us too! This kind of ministry is always a two-way street.
Imagine if someone who was deeply troubled knew they are an agent of God’s work even within their distress!
Men need to be heard and they need to be understood, and most of all men need to be encouraged to be honest, to share their burden, and allow their own experience to inform them that these very things are the keys to mental and emotional recovery and restoration.
Right at the end I want to state something really important: there is the appropriate place for momentary guilt and shame (godly sorrow) in response to our wrongdoing, but it’s only intended to bring us to the point of remorse for what we’ve done, and to motivate the righting of those wrongs. This is restorative justice. And out of this comes peace for all.