by Mike Murphy
In my role as a pastor, people would often come to me for advice. Among them were women who had experienced divorce but now had met someone they were falling in love with. But there was something about the guy that just didn’t feel right. I’d ask questions to help get that ‘gut feeling’ out in the open. One of the questions was simple but always revealing. I’d ask, “Would you mind telling me about his men friends?” The answers were often interesting.
The one answer that always scared me was, “He doesn’t have any friends.”
Then as kindly as I could I’d explore the many layers of that answer. “How could that be?” I’d ask. Rarely did I get a satisfying explanation. And then I’d look her in the eye and say, “If I were you, I’d think twice about getting married to this guy.”
The ability to develop and maintain same gender friendships is no small thing. And if a man has a history of broken or non- existent friendships with other men, something is wrong.
I’ve learned that guys need other guys to speak into their lives. Those guys need to be good men willing to risk going beyond ‘stupid guy banter’ (which I love) to ask the deeper questions of life. Men need guys in their life who will break through the standard guy answer of ‘fine’ or ‘it’s all good’ when asked how things are going. Real men need other real men to help both sharpen and soften them.
“Do I have what it takes? How do I measure up?” are the questions guys ask all the time. My wife certainly speaks into those issues in life giving ways but I still need men in my life. Good men who will speak honestly and lovingly into my heart, mind and soul are my lifeline. They remind me of my value and my giftedness.
When guys don’t think they have what it takes and no one around to validate and hear them them they will do all manner of stupid, scary, and unhealthy things to prove that they are indeed a man. You know those kind of men I bet.
Now, many churches have men’s ministries. Some are great. Many aren’t. Some actually allow men to hide behind a cloak of religiosity. All too often when a man is going through something that’s hard, he doesn’t say anything because he doesn’t want to be told to pray harder or read scripture more. He’s not looking for a ‘proof text’ answer. Nope. He’s looking for a non-judgmental life upon life response. If he can’t find it he just goes into silent mode. And the silence rips him apart.
I once asked a small group leader in a church how they were helping one of their regular members go through his divorce. The leader didn’t know anything about it. The man hadn’t shared anything about it. He had been in the small group for almost a decade. That speaks volumes doesn’t it?
In all honesty I became expert at running away from authentic man on relationships of any sort. And then my marriage unraveled. One night I was on my way to have dinner with a friend. On my drive over to the restaurant I heard God nudge me to tell my friend the truth. I said, “No.” God nudged me harder. I said, “No” harder. He nudged again. I said, “No” again. It was a long ride. By the time I got to the restaurant table God’s nudge turned into my ‘yes.’ And when Ron asked how I was doing I told him. We talked for over two hours. Before we parted he looked me in the eyes and said, “You’re not going to go through this alone.”
I wasn’t alone. I was in the company of other men. That saved my life.
I’m blessed. I’ve remarried. It’s a strong marriage. I have female friends who speak into my life in redemptive ways. And I have my guys. Men who have given me permission to speak into their lives. More importantly they’re willing to probe mine. It’s the way friendship is meant to work.
Mike Murphy is a semi-retired pastor who lives in Sarasota, Florida with his wife Anita Lustrea. Mike is a writer, spiritual director, retreat leader and speaker. He speaks and writes in a variety of Christian dialects including evangelical, mainline, and Roman Catholic. And he cares a lot about justice issues. You can reach Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org or become a Facebook friend (if you can figure out which Mike Murphy he is) and read his every Friday posts he calls Rumblings.
Note from Michelle: Click here for a link to link to Mike’s Facebook page. Friend him! I commend his Friday Rumblings posts to you, as his observations about life, faith, culture and more are excellent food for thought and conversation.
Thanks for the post, Mike, and good to have you here. I think you gave that woman good advice. When my daughters were teens, I told them also to notice if young men treated them differently (i.e. less respectfully) around their guy friends. I’ve also told the girls to look at the friends of the men they consider as potential partners. Good men will choose friends who are “iron” and will sharpen them.