I Have Called You Friends (Nov-Dec 1997)

By Matt Dabbs

by Rick Atchley
November – December, 1997

There are may popular myths about “real men.” According to one recent book, real men don’t eat quiche; real men don’t floss; real men don’t buy flight insurance; real men don’t play Frisbee; and real men don’t call for a fair catch. But perhaps the most damaging myth, perpetuated by the Hollywood stereotypes of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and the Marlboro man, is that real men can exist just fine without significant relationships. The myth says: Real men do not need other people.

For years males have been told that being a man meant one was independent, isolated, disconnected. We are told that rugged individualism made America great, but the truth is what we are told is culturally created fiction. America was made great by men working together, not apart. In other words, if it weren’t for Tonto, the Lone Ranger would have been the late masked man.

People who need people are not the luckiest people in the world; they are the only people in the world. Why? Because that is how we were fashioned by our Maker. “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). While these famous words from Scripture set the stage for the creation of woman, they also make a primary ontological statement about the nature of man – that he, whether he wants to admit it or not, was designed to be a relational being. “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:10). Scripture declares that the man who goes it alone without friends is an object of pity. God created men to live in community.

Jesus is our example of what it means to be a man in community. He was a real man who lived in the company of real men. While occasionally seeking time to be alone with his Father, Jesus always came back to the company of his friends. It was in community that he preached, prayed, ministered, and even died. Yet most men – even Christian men – seem to live their lives with a relationship deficit. What men call close friends, women would call casual acquaintances. Alan Loy McGinnis says in The Friendship Factor that America’s leading psychologists and therapists estimate only ten percent of all men ever have any real friends. In Man in the Mirror Pat Morley writes, “I think most men could recruit six pallbearers, but hardly anyone has a friend he can call at 2:00 a.m.” Some might respond, “But my wife is my best friend.” Certainly our wives should be our most intimate companions, but saying, “my wife is my best friend” could be another way of saying, “I don’t have any significant relationships with other men.” Yet I think most men crave the kind of bond with other men that Jesus exhibited so openly. Deep down we all want friends who will help us up if we fall. So why don’t we have them?

Part of the problem is that the socialization of men in our culture hinders the development of male community. Men are taught to erect barriers that help produce what some today are calling “the friendless American male.” One of these barriers is an aversion to showing emotion. One cannot develop real friendships without going past the fact level to the feeling level in communication. But most men don’t even have a large “feeling vocabulary” because of the myth of manliness perpetuated today. Do you remember, for example, when Edmund Muskie cried during an important primary contest after perceiving that his wife had been unfairly attacked? He was immediately dismissed by the public as being “too weak” to hold the nation’s highest office. So men learn to appear strong by stuffing their emotions deep inside them. But if manliness means being stoical, what are we going to do with the SOn of God? Jesus was not afraid to let his emotions out in the open, yet have you ever known a man with more courage? Somehow I think we would all like Jesus for a friend.

Another factor that hinders male friendships is a tendency to value others for utilitarian purposes. While women tend to be more relationally focused, men tend to be more task- or goal-oriented. Consequently, male relationships typically center around activities, while female relationships tend to revolve around sharing. Men find it hard to accept that they need the fellowship of other men. Women can simply say, “Let’s have lunch; I’ve been missing you.” But men, when asked by a friend to have lunch, feel compelled to say, “What’s up?” In other words, men feel they must manufacture non-emotional reasons for getting together. So while women build real friendships, men settle for “buddies I do things with.”

Another obstacle men must overcome in relationships is inadequate role models. How many men have actually seen close male-to-male friendships? Ineed, we have actually been socialized to be suspicious of male relationships that seem too close. After all, you never saw the Duke with a sidekick. And so most men follow the only path they know, unconsciously patterning themselves after John Wayne more than Jesus Christ.

Men erect another barrier between themselves through their constant temptation to engage in competition. Have you ever noticed how boys can turn almost any matter into a contest? They don’t change much when they grow up. It seems men are wired to operate on the “I win, you lose” model, and there is nothing worse to a man than to be perceived as a loser. So men are constantly evaluating themselves on the basis of how they are doing in the eyes of other men. Men will compare anything: bank accounts, job titles, houses, wives, kids, bodies, even scars! Some men have even been known to compete in the “who’s the greatest disciple?” contest (see Luke 9:46). But it’s hard to build relationships with someone you are always trying to beat. The iron is that by playing the game everyone winds up losing.

Certainly the need to appear strong is another barrier in male friendships. Men do not like to admit weaknesses. Asking for help is considered “unmanly.” That’s why men do not like to stop and ask for directions when they are lost. It’s also why husbands more than wives are hesitant to go for counseling when their marriage needs help. But the price of friendship is personal vulnerability – letting someone know that their help is appreciated if you fall down. Men must learn to accept with extended hands instead of giving the stiff arm. Is that a sign of weakness? Just the opposite! To offer and accept unconditional love is an act of utmost bravery. At least that is what the strongest man who ever lived taught. Check out his thoughts on the matter: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. No one has greater love than the one who lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:12-17).

If Jesus is the truth – and he is! – then what he has to say about men and relationships exposes the popular ideas today for the myths they really are. The truth is this: real men pour their lives into others! Jesus says a real man is not a loner; he is a lover. So the way to measure a real man is by his investments … in people. Are you that kind of man?

A number of years ago I recognized that I was not a real man by Jesus’ terms. I did not have significant relationships outside of my family where I was deeply investing myself. I kept my emotional distance from others, and made sure that I covered up any appearance of weakness with a nice facade of “Christian strength.” I knew I needed to seek the kind of community with others – especially other men – that Jesus enjoyed. I began to ask God to help me become a man after Jesus’ model, and God has been faithful to teach me what that means. In particular, God has given me for the last 10 years a group of men to meet with weekly for confession, support, encouragement, and accountability. I have never been so willing to be “weak” in my life as I am willing to be with these brothers. And the interesting result is a stronger walk with God than I have ever had.

Let me ask you three questions that a real man needs to face:

1. Who are you sacrificing something for? Jesus says no love is stronger than that which lays down its own needs to meet a friend’s needs. You cannot build friends on the “I win, you lose” model. A friend says, “I will lay down my life to move you forward.” So, who are you making a major investment in for their own good? In other words, are you really anybody’s friend, or just everybody’s buddy?

2. Who are you opening up to? Jesus says that the difference between servants and friends is that you are willing to share significant revelations with friends. You build community through vulnerable truth-telling. Now that intimidates many men. Competitive individuals never reveal themselves because it might be used against them. But God did not create men to live in hiding. Real men seek arenas where masks are not worn and contests are not held – arenas where hurts can be revealed, struggles can be admitted, and sins can be confessed. Are you strong enough to be that honest?

3. Who are you walking with to do something bigger than yourself? Jesus says that men were meant to bear lasting fruit, and that call does not come to rugged individuals, but to men in the context of community. In other words, the kind of friendships God wants us to have must exist for an end greater than self. Men are not to be used for personal agendas. Men are to be used by God as they work together for his agenda. He knows we can do things together that we could never do alone.

Be honest now – when you read those questions, were you able to put faces with them? Can you quickly identify the people into whom you are pouring yourself? Are you a buddy, or a friend? A real man is not afraid to face the truth. And he’s not afraid to make a change.

I sought my God, but my God I could not see.
I sought my soul, but my soul eluded me.
I sought my brother, and I found all three.
Wineskins Magazine

Rick Atchley

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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