Elements of Building Strong Male Friendships

Kent Ernsting

What are some of the elements of building strong male friendships?

Authentic. Male friendships that go the distance are authentic. Be yourself and be real. Allow the real you to emerge. Take down masks that hide your true self from others. Strong friendships grow where the roots go deep, down to the depths of our heart. Don’t allow yourself to hide behind surface comments, such as answering the question ‘How are you doing?’ with the response ‘OK,’ ‘Good,’ or ‘Fine.’ A relationship that is real includes both your strengths and weaknesses. Be open, real, vulnerable, honest and sincere. Share your struggles with your friend. Risk exposing yourself as you really are. When we risk sharing our struggles with grace-giving others, we find that they accept us regardless of our faults, and we experience the joy of acceptance. ‘Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other.’ (James 5:16)

Friendships must be cultivated; they’re not automatic. I have lost touch with former friends by neglecting to stay in touch with them. Spending time together is required. Stay in touch with each other periodically. Make the phone call to initiate getting together with your friend. Friendships require commitment and devotion to one another.

Laugh and enjoy some fun activities with your friends. Do something different with your friend such a getting together at a park and taking a walk while you talk. Enjoy a game of golf or tennis together. Go camping together. Some of my most cherished memories of high fidelity moments with my friends have occurred when we take our annual backpacking trip. This has become a much-anticipated weekend with just the guys. We get away to a remote area, explore, challenge each other and ourselves and stretch beyond our normal comfort zone. We serve each other and tell stories. Around the campfire we talk honestly about our lives, our loves, our disappointments, our failures, our hopes and dreams. There is tremendous camaraderie that is built during such weekends. It is fun to read their annual Christmas letter in which they inevitably mention the ‘Scratch and Spit’ weekend as one of the highlights of the year. ‘[There is] a time to ‘laugh, a time to’dance.’ (Ecclesiastes 3:4)

Avoid isolation. It is our natural tendency to withdraw from others and it can often become unhealthy. Solitude is fine but isolation is deadly. Why do you think that ‘solitary confinement’ is one of the worst punishments devised by men?

Friends are essential; they’re not optional. There is no substitute for a friend. A friendship provides someone to care, listen, comfort, and even reprove. ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.’ (Proverbs 27:17) We are not self-sufficient.

Encourage one another. Many of us grew up in families where affirmation was withheld. All of us need encouragement in facing life’s demands, worries and defeats. Cheer one another on, lift their spirit by exhibiting a spirit of grace. Look them in the eye and tell them what you see when they have demonstrated a character quality which you admire. Commit to praying for them by name every day of the coming week. Put an arm around them and let them know that you believe in them.

Friendships impact our lives for good or ill; they’re not neutral. If you connect with good people you become a better person. ‘He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.’ (Proverbs 13:20). If you connect with bad people, you become like them. ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’ (1 Corinthians 15:33). Choose your friends carefully, prayerfully and wisely.

Be confidential. Hold confidential information that is shared with you close to your heart. You will damage the friendship and possibly harm your friend if you share this information with others, even as a prayer concern. Trust is built on a foundation of confidence that what I share with you will stay with you.

Allow him to be himself, don’t try to change him. Give him the freedom to be himself without pressuring him to become someone else. Allow him to make mistakes, to be human, loyally maintaining the relationship regardless of his ups and downs. ‘Love is patient, love is kind’it keeps no record of wrongs.’ (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)

Protect him. Look out for things that may harm your friend, help to protect him from danger. Watch each other’s back.

Thoughts on Rest in Recovery

Bob Damrau

Say, ‘When’

A cartoon that recently got my attention depicted a client exclaiming to his counselor, ‘I’m learning how to relax, doctor—but I want to relax better and faster. I want to be on the cutting edge of relaxation!’ I smiled on the outside but a deeper sense of fatigue prompted a time of personal reflection. I was feeling overwhelmed by the demands of a major life transition. My behaviors appeared frantic, as if I was in a run-down between necessary activities and scheduled deadlines. I thought nothing was being done quite right and gave up on ever hearing the words, ‘You’re safe.’

This downward pattern of thought is a vulnerable place for anyone, but it is especially dangerous to an individual with compulsive tendencies. The temptation to give in to a quick fix presented itself as my way to escape from feeling out of control. It would have been easy to act out and medicate the seeming negativity, but I have learned to better manage situations like this in order to prevent that kind of relapse. I brought to mind a quote from Rollo May, who said, ‘It is an old and ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way.’

Then I remembered the Lord Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew’s gospel, ‘Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ Did you know that Christ spoke this during a time of increased opposition to His ministry? That acted as the reality check I needed to identify the problem, break free from the insane thoughts, and find rest within the bounds of a healthier perspective.

The earthly lifestyle of our Savior is the prime example of living a balanced life. A colleague once said, ‘Jesus–the only person ever to be charged with saving the world—never got in a hurry.’ Just prior to preaching in Galilee, cleansing a leper, and healing a paralytic, the Lord ‘went out and departed to a solitary place’ (Mark 1:35). When the disciples finally located Him they said, ‘Everyone is looking for you’ (Mark 1:37). There were urgent matters to be addressed for sure, but He knew the limits of life in the flesh.

People teetering on the edge of burnout usually spend too much time and emotional energy caring for others and too little for themselves. That happens when we attempt to outwork and under-rest everyone we know, including God. I often wonder if Jesus would be hired by a lot of churches if His work habits were well known. My favorite movie is ‘Regarding Henry.’ Harrison Ford plays a powerful and arrogant lawyer whose life is drastically altered when he walks into the middle of an armed robbery and is shot in the head. His injuries leave this character with some long term cognitive deficits. Returning to his office, Henry’s secretary offers him a cup of coffee and cheerfully says; ‘Say when,’ as she pours the milk. The camera pans from the coffee cup to Henry and back again, without a word from him. When the secretary realized her disabled boss would not respond, she finished pouring the milk, handed Henry the cup and cordially said, ‘When you’ve had enough, you need to say ‘when.” Later in the movie, Henry is fed up with his old lifestyle of sex, lies and greed, and decides to change. As he walks by his secretary he exclaims, ‘I’ve had enough, so I’m saying ‘when.” I was that character—always on, ready and in control. It wasn’t until I experienced a traumatic illness that landed me in the hospital for an entire month that I began to come to terms with the fact that control is God’s realm and I needed to cast aside my plan and take on His yolk. That’s how I learned to say when.

Getting caught up in the fast pace of life is a certainty. A lack of rest can lower a person’s resistance to the place of despair. Any plan for recovery must include an appropriate amount of R & R, and Jesus, Himself, promises to give it. He simply requires that we come to Him. There, in His presence, is where I heard, ‘You’re safe.’

Need help finding harmony and balance in your life? Join us at our next New Life Weekend.

A Heart of Discontent

David Wever

In my devotional time of late, I have been studying the life of David. I have done this study before and have been looking forward to further insights about this man after God’s own heart. But, I have been struck more by another man in the story, Saul: a man with a heart of discontent.

Saul has often been studied and taught about as a ‘leader gone bad’ example. I think I often times have felt more like Saul than David if I honestly look at my heart. Saul had so much going for him. Saul was the first king of Israel and had a reign of forty-two years. But early in his reign, something went terribly wrong. We see the weakness of Saul’s heart come into focus. In I Samuel 13, shortly after Saul took office as king, he found himself in a quandary. He was going into battle with the Philistines and Saul had agreed to wait for the Lord’s prophet, Samuel, to arrive to anoint the army for battle and to sacrifice the burnt offering prior to battle. Seems simple enough, wait for the Lord’s man to arrive before beginning the task at hand. And it seems logical enough from Saul’s perspective that when the guy doesn’t show up for a meeting on time you go on ahead without him with the task at hand. Besides, Saul was king and in charge.

But Samuel was not any ordinary guy and this was not any ordinary task or arrangement. In Saul’s haste, fear, and discontent he decided to take matters into his own hands, and he disobeyed the Lord’s command. When Samuel arrives on the scene he asks Saul in verse 11, ‘What have you done?’ Saul’s response resembles his fear and his thinking, ‘When I saw that the men were scattering and you did not show at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favor. So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering” (I Samuel 13:11-12). Samuel replies, ‘You acted foolishly. You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you” (v.13).

Saul felt compelled to take things into his own hands. What drives a man to make a decision like that? Why didn’t he remember his commitment and the Lord’s command? What came over him? I think I know because I have been like Saul. I have jumped into the deep end before looking.

Saul’s example brings up some painful memories in my own heart. Memories of times that I have made quick decisions out of discontent. Looking back over my recovery I have had to ask myself some tough questions. How many times have I in my discontent made a quick or rash decision? How many times have I, out of fear that my wife won’t see my needs, moved towards pleasing myself and breaking covenant with her? What is it about that discontent that causes me to take things into my own hands and not wait patiently for the process or for the Lord to come to me?

I wanted so badly to be like David, a man after God’s own heart but I first had to look at the Saul inside of me. Discontent often consists of two ingredients: impatience and self-centeredness. We see it with Saul’s decision to not wait for Samuel out of his concern for how his army would see him and his need to be in control and in charge. For me as an addict those two things were two key ingredients that led to my immediate gratification of what I desired most. Now I don’t know if Saul was a sex addict but he seems to have had some of the same underlying features that I have seen in my own discontented and shame filled heart at times. No matter what condition of the heart Saul struggled with, sex or otherwise, his discontentment led to some pretty impatient or immediate decisions to gratify his heart. A discontented heart is often soothed through immediate gratification.

Immediate gratification has been something my heart has known well. If emotional intimacy was too overwhelming or if anger raged in my heart or if fear gripped my soul, soothing those ills through sexual acting out brought immediate relief.

I wonder if Saul felt trapped. I can imagine him saying in that moment when he saw his troops running away, ‘I’ve got to do something. This is too much. I’ve got to be seen and in control. Why doesn’t God answer me?’ Do you ever feel like Saul? Trapped and feeling like there is no Samuel on the way or no help just around the corner. Or maybe you have often felt like you have waited long enough. Like Saul, time to go ahead and sacrifice the burnt offering. The pain and discomfort is too much. You might hear yourself saying something like, ‘Why must I continue to always take the high road? Or why doesn’t she let up on me and see me for what I have been doing for her and our life together?’ Out of our discontent we have chosen too often the path of least resistance. I don’t believe we do this just because we are rebellious or bent on destructing our lives. I believe we do it out of moving towards what we have trained ourselves for years to do in those situations.

The answer to this dilemma lies in the waiting. We have got to learn to wait. Wait. Man, have I at times hated that word. To wait meant I was not necessarily going to be in control of the outcome. To wait meant that I was not always going to get a quick end to my situation. To wait meant I would have to trust. Trust. What if Saul would have waited, trusted, and obeyed? What if I had waited so many times before choosing to gratify myself in sexual sin? What I have found is that when I wait I grow a little less likely to make haste out of my discontent. When I wait, a little more of that tendency to immediately gratify myself diminishes. When I wait, I grow a little bit more in resting and taking refuge in the promises of the Lord rather than retreating to the doom of my shame and contempt of my sin.

 ‘I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1). Written by Saul’s successor to the throne. The man after God’s own heart seemed to know something about waiting. My dear brothers, when you feel the weight of discontent on your heart, wait and take refuge in the Lord. He will hear your cry and turn to you.

Lord, help me to wait for you. Take away my discontent and replace it with Your peace. I trust You will hear my cry and turn to me. Hold me as I wait. I love You and trust You. In Jesus name, Amen.