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.