Faith, Hope, Love and Joy. My friend Danielle gifted four different necklaces, a single word on each, binding her and her closest friends together. The gift reinforced a spiritual sisterhood, a Tribe of four women who regularly shared a glass of wine, their struggles, a much needed hug, support and advice. This bond strengthens as they help each other through the daily trials and tribulations of relationships, loss, careers, parenthood and more.
This group of very smart, creative and successful women wear these special necklaces at all times – to remind them that, no matter what is going on in their lives, that each had a “sister” that would always be there for the other – the Tribe.
Comparing Dani’s sisterhood Tribe with the men’s groups I am blessed to have in my life, the differences were stark.
Recently I had lunch with one of our Bible study founders. He admitted that despite it being five years since he launched and continues to lead the gathering, how hard it was for him to share openly and freely with the group. And this was not just an issue for him, as most participants join regularly and listen intensely, but don’t really open up the way the girls do. Even though we meet twice a week, most of us don’t share our worries, troubles, losses, trials and lessons learned.
As our lunch arrived at the table , I reached out my hands to our Bible study founder as part of my pre-meal prayer. He pulled back reactively from the touch of a fellow brother, and commented how “this is different”. The same thing happens when you go to give him a hug. His initial, knee jerk reaction is not one of closeness and caring, but one of perceived vulnerability and unease. And this is indicative of the challenge most men face in brotherhood.
Raised by a strong Navy vet, our Bible study leader recounts how men just didn’t hug and certainly didn’t hold hands “where he was from”. Discussing the challenges, he spoke about how he was never taught by his Dad how to share his feelings, or how to swallow his pride and admit that he might not have all the answers. He recalled his favorite quote from his father – “You don’t ask for help, but if anyone asks you for help, you better be sure to be there and deliver”. Honorable, to help others, but what if you were the one who really needed help? What if you were grieving, lost and struggling and really needed support…Do you just go into your own world and deal with it on your own?
So many of us grew up just like my Bible study leader. Shaped by fathers who were of the greatest generation, post-war hardened to endure much, and raised to be tough. They were taught to “suck it up buttercup”, to “shake it off” when you fall down, and certainly never to hug it out, or shed tears over a situation.
As a result, we learned early on that men just didn’t share their feelings or problems. We were taught to be noble and help others wherever and whenever you could, but when it came to our own situation and feelings, we were taught to keep it in and solve our challenges all on our own. As were our fathers to an even greater level, we were built from capital punishment and words of criticism versus hugs and words of encouragement. And most of all, our Dads taught us that despite how hard anything might hurt, that big boys don’t cry.
I can remember when I had a bad bicycling accident, flying over the handlebars of my ten speed onto my elbow. I hobbled home and inside, sitting on a chair in the dining room, my arm felt like it was bent ninety degrees, but it was clearly straight-out and mis-aligned. I knew it was broken right away, and cried screaming for a trip to the hospital to get care and to stop the pain. My Dad said to “stop all the drama and crying”, and for my Mom to “put some ice on it”, it’ll all be OK.
And then, it started to bleed, as the broken humerus bone poked through – now a clear compound fracture. And even then, it took several, “suck it ups” before we went to the Emergency Room, perhaps just to stop the blood from ruining the house. His lack of sensitivity, it wasn’t because he was cruel, it was just how he was Brooklyn-raised.
Comparing notes with my friends, this was not an uncommon experience about the men who raised us. As a result, many of us were shaped to be Lone Wolves for most of our lives – in friendship, in business and often in faith as well.
So of course, it’s hard to share feelings with other men and be transparent and vulnerable. It’s hard to accept that hand-held prayer or much needed hug. And for me, surrendering and seeking help from God to answer my questions and solve my problems remains a challenge. When we were taught over and over how we needed to be strong, not bother anyone else and solve our own challenges, is this any wonder?
Yet the wolves that hunt as a pack are so much more effective than the Lone Wolf, able to bring down much larger prey, and to fend off other threats in harmony. Indeed, the benefits would be great in brotherhood, but almost unnatural for many of us.
As my friend Jon Thurman says as part of his Ministry of Availability practice: “Most men spend their life’s energy on who they’re not, living in fear of being found out. Not of having done some egregious wrong, but by incongruence: that the guy they see each day in the mirror is not the same guy they represent themselves to be to others. It’s like being chased by a lie you can’t outrun, or worse yet running in a race with no finish line. Is it any wonder why men live such exhausting lives?”
The Need for Brothers
Unlike the sisterhood tribe, as I journeyed through the grieving process, I felt alone, and although I had friends who were absolutely there for me, we just didn’t talk about the issues I was facing in loss and in grief. Having not experienced loss themselves, they often had a hard time knowing what to bring up and what to say. Certainly the conversations were helpful, just knowing someone was there, but alone I still felt. I was all too trained to rely on myself alone.
I knew this wasn’t productive, so some four years after Judy’s passing, when I met another widower, introduced by a friend who indicated he was struggling and could use some help, I was more than ready to share my experiences, and also address my own postponed grieving.
From this one coffee meetup, we gathered a few other young widowers from our town that we knew and now gather once a month, to share casually. The purpose of the gathering not structured for venting or sharing, but just getting together in our “knowing”. Knowing that we all have experienced similar loss, struggling to honor our late wives, raise our children to adulthood, rebuild our lives and find new purpose in the 2.0 versions of ourselves.
As we gathered for our fourth meetup, what was originally generating apprehension, at least for me about what we were going to talk about (or not talk about), we really looked forward with anticipation to the gathering. Awkward greetings, prayer and sharing in prior meetings gave way to comfortable exchanges, deeper dialogue, and comforting embraces in this latest meeting.
Although we didn’t have necklaces for each member like the sisterhood tribe, and none of us would volunteer to go through the experiences that made us eligible for this group, we all felt reassured and empowered at being a part of this gathering.
And so at the high top, in our eclectic local gastropub, we shared about trips with our daughters, tributes to our late wives through Mothers Day and beyond, and how we are slowly healing and creating our lives beyond.
As Iron Sharpens Iron?
When many speak of how men should be helping each other as a tribe, many turn to Proverbs 27:17 for guidance, which states “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (NLV).
I always accepted this verse at face value, but digging deeper you quickly realize that iron rubbed against other iron really doesn’t provide sharpening, just a lot of sweat and heat from the friction. And this, just like your meetings with various groups of men, doesn’t provide the sharpening that many of us seek from these interactions, unless there are some key elements leveraged..
Typically, to sharpen iron, you leverage sharpening stones, a harder substance with varying levels of grit – Rougher to provide the initial shape, and then more refined stones, eventually with diamond dust, to create a finely honed and sharp cutting edge.
If iron is to be used to sharpen iron, one piece of iron can work its magic if it is rougher than the other, so that there isn’t just a casual interaction but intense friction. Beyond the texture differences, the right pressure needs to be applied to produce the desired shape and then the right angle must be leveraged to not just take away large swaths of the metal, but focus the edge into a blade.
This is true of your interactions with other men as well. You need to have one of the men who is “rougher”, able to apply the right amount of pressure and able to do so at the correct angle. This means relying on a brother who elevates beyond the superficial sports and weather talk or accepting the “everything is great” response, to prompt that deeper connection, ask the tough questions, and jump into the uncomfortable conversation you need to have in order to understand the pain and shape your healing.
So it makes sense that transcending this upbringing, to create and leverage a brotherhood, is exactly how we can overcome these great challenges. And beyond our brothers, in God we can ultimately rely on His unconditional love and support, so that we don’t have to “suck it up” and “dust it off”, dealing with everyone and everything on our own.
Source: How Love Conquers Stress, According To Science: https://sus.org/love-stress/
The Power of Brotherhood
Will I be accepted
Fear of rejection, anxious
Gathering with my brothers
Pride and ego reign
Can I be truthful in my sharing
Transparent and vulnerable
Or will I get hurt
Beyond the news and scores
Share my pain and sorrow
Raised to always help others
You don’t ask for help yourself
Taught to keep it in, to myself
Handle it all on my own
Dust if off, Suck it up
In this gathering I realize
There are others with shared experiences
Of suffering and loss
Of spiritual reliance
Of rebuilding and renewal
Of iron and strength I can rely on
To lift me from the mud
To guide my path, straight
To sharpen, cut through focus
To raise me, into the light
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