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Locking Arms

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I have been doing a lot of thinking about the nature of men’s relationships with each other. One of the more vivid examples I know of that illustrates the way men interact is found in Bill Perkins’ book When Good Men Are Tempted. I will include an excerpt from the book:

In his best-selling book Don’t Stand Too Close To A Naked Man, [Tim] Allen tells about an experience he had while in jail. The event occurred right after he was placed in a holding cell with ten other guys. The first thing he noticed about the cell was that the toilet was in the middle of the room. He probably noticed that because he had some business he needed to take care of. He said he looked at the can, then at the ceiling, then at the can, then at the ten guys in the cell. He wanted to leave. But the door was closed and locked.

He made up his mind that he would not use that can. No way! How could he take a dump with ten other guys watching? Finally, he wrote, “Digestion being as it is, things must emerge. I ambled tentatively to the can. I turned away and started back to my seat, but knew it was no good. I was committed. I sat down and suddenly all the men began moving toward me. I panicked.

“I didn’t have to. This still blows my mind.

“What they did was form a horseshoe around me with their backs in my direction.” Why had they done that? Allen said, “Because they’re men, too. It was a big revelation. These aren’t just losers like me, but they’re men. They do this so you can have some privacy and no one can see in from the outside.”

That last statement is profound because it describes what every man needs. We need friends who understand our fears and offer us protection, men who will stand guard around us during our times of vulnerability and shame.

It’s too bad Allen had to go to jail to discover the willingness of men to shelter each other, to stand guard for each other. Because most men aren’t forced into such close relationships, they never find that out. As I’ve talked with men, I’ve discovered most of them feel that their struggles…are personal. They’re private. They’re shameful. Like a trip to the can – it’s not the sort of thing they want other men to see.

It was several months ago that I first read this quote and it has often been on my mind since then. I absolutely agree with the author’s conclusion that men feel that their struggles, whether with lust or finances or marriage or anything else are shameful and deeply personal. From the time we are children men are taught to suppress the expression of pain, fear and helplessness. We are taught that such expression of vulnerability is weakness. Most of us would rather use a toilet in front of other men than confide in them our sin and struggles.

There is nothing feminine or emasculating in confiding our struggles to other men. There is nothing wrong with expressing fear and helplessness to other men. We do not need to do it with hugs and tears and sobbing, nor do we need to use the words “intimacy” or “feelings.” We can express love without using the word “love” and can maintain our pride, our dignity, but still allow ourselves to be transparent before others.

I am thankful to have friends in whom I can confide and who are willing to confide in me. I am grateful that God has allowed me to have friends with whom I can talk openly and honestly and who will “lock arms” with me when I need them to. Though it often isn’t easy to share with them, it is always rewarding.


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