Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Dilemma of the Lonely Christian Man

Before I start this post, I will say two things. One, I've posted on this before. Secondly, when I did post on this idea, I had one lady write me that this is not just the Christian Man's Dilemma but also the Christian woman's as well. I respect that. But I do have tunnel vision and I can only express things within my own experience. I am sure that may women experience the same.

I must also add, as I share a personal perspective, I'm certainly not saying there is a reason to feel sorry for me . . . as if I'm unique . . . but I talk about this issue because I do predict that it is a common experience.

I also don’t mean to imply that this is a unique experience for CHRISTIAN men. I think it is a dilemma of all men (and women). Part of the fall of Adam is not only a separation and isolation from God . . . but also from each other.

A woman would be best suited for describing how this dilemma works for them. But speaking from the masculine perspective, I think that many men are . . . in an odd way . . . very comfortable with this isolation. As men, we are often taught to build high walls around ourselves (to hide our insecurity) as a young child.

I do think that I’ve always had some passion for digging deeper, relating deeper than the average guy and I think that is just part of my personality. However, I also think there is an especially difficult part of this dilemma for the Christian male. The reason is, the Christian male knows that things could be better. (I believe that we Christians have a God-given utopian dream, of what could have been here on earth without the Fall and what will be here on earth after redemption. This is sort of a Hebrews 11 phenomenon).

Another reason that I think that men (all men) are especial vulnerable to this feeling of loneliness is that some of us have tasted a world without loneness. I know that when I was in high school I had some great friends. The same was true in college. Then in graduate school I was also involved with a close-knit Christian ministry. Even non-Christian men have tasted it. Maybe it was among brother in a fraternity.

Since graduate school, I had one other experience where I was not lonely. That was during the years I lived in Marquette, Michigan. I think the reason then was two-fold. One, I was in the Air Force for my first 3 ½ years. The military is much like the college setting . . . very conducive for developing friendships. Also I led a family Bible study for 5 years with the same couples. I was not allowed to take it to the level of honesty that I wanted, because we were all Evangelicals and had to keep up a “spiritual fa├žade,” but we did get close. However, since then . . . there has been isolation.

I think the reason that this issue has become acute for me again was from recent events . . . and my jealousy of my wife’s social contacts. One event was when one friend died a few weeks ago.

The jealousy of my wife comes from the fact that she has many good friends. These women come over and immediately start asking Denise how “she feels” or “thinks” about such and such. If we are out of town (like we were two weeks ago) within hours of our return, the phone starts to ring. It’s her friends calling and asking about the trip. I can never remember a man calling me about anything in the six years we have lived here. I have called several, including one last Sunday, asking if I could help him split wood. I stopped by the house of another two nights ago when I was out on my bike. He had just gotten out of the hospital and I wanted to see how he was doing.

So the first thing that prompted this loneliness self-pity party this time was the phone ringing last night. When the phone rings, it is always for Denise. When I’m on the phone it is usually the hospital calling to dump a major problem on me . . . at 2 AM. Or, like last night, it is me doing some type of unpleasant business. I had to call the firewood guy who Denise paid but never delivered our wood as promised.

I was also jealous of Denise because she is going to Kenya this summer for three weeks with our daughter. She mentioned last night that her boss suggested that she take and entire month off and go to Kenya.

I started to think, and again I know it is self-pity and the sin of jealously, that I have worked full time for 27 years. Full time for me means about 50 hours per week on average. Denise did not work outside the home for 16 years, and now she works part time (about 20 hours a week when she is not teaching). The 16 years she stayed at home were not easy for her. She was caring for, and doing a great job btw, our 5 children.

But, I’ve never taken more than two weeks off in a row and those two weeks are usually centered on providing a vacation for my family. I can’t take more time because I am chained to my job. We have to have my income. Denise worries a lot about our bills . . . and she has the right to, because she is the one who pays them. But if I took a month off, or worked 3 days a week, it would be a huge problem. At least I do have a job.

The way this relates to loneliness, is that one reason that I am lonely is that I don’t have any time for anything else but work, gym, home fix-it chores and rest. I’m jealous of Denise when she is going out with her friends at night, getting together during the day. She’s had many lives outside the home. She was very involved with martial arts for about 5-6 years. Now she is involve with triathlons.

The next item of jealously is the fact that she works with a hundred women. Several are her good friends. They talk about life at work every day so even when she’s at work, she has a huge amount of socialization.

I work in a medical office. The two doctors I work with are somewhat antisocial. They would never speak to me if I did not speak to them. They have no desire to socialize outside of work. The women in our front office are much better about socialization, but I certainly don’t think it would be healthy to have women as my best friends.

I remember my first experience with loneliness came right after college. I moved to inner city Louisville, Kentucky to be involved with the Navigators. The Nav staff there (in his fifties at the time) live an hour away in a suburb. There were no other single men in the ministry . . . actually there really wasn’t any ministry that I saw anywhere. But I became very, very lonely . . . and depressed.

I remember going to a park in Louisville and sitting on a bench. The fall maple leaves were yellow and orange and the wind was cold blowing in off the Ohio Rriver. I sat and cried my eyes out telling God how lonely I was and begging him for help.

I decided to bring it with the Nav staff guy at our next, once a week, 1 hour (precisely) discipleship meeting. He was not a very personable guy anyway so I was scared to say anything that didn’t give the image that I was perfect. But finally I did.

“Hal . . . I’m very lonely right now and I don’t know what I can do about it.”

He cleared his throat. “Then you’re in sin.”

I never brought it up again. His answer to any problem was the same, “You’re in sin.”

But now, 27 years later, I have tried to build relationships with other men but it never seems to work and maybe it is my fault. I’ll pick up on this theme in the following posts.


Justin said...

MJ, I don't know how you can so consistently and accurately describe my experiences and emotional baggage. But you do. I have often thought loneliness is the fundamental basis of sin in humanity.

Like you said, thus far in my life, I have been given one and only one answer: "It's my own fault.".

MJ said...

I guess because we are made of the same stuff (not just you and me but people in general) and live in the same real world.

pennyyak said...

I know many men whose sole close relationships in life are their families. I have (seldom, but sometimes) wondered if that's the way they like it. My father was, and oldest brother is, that way. The more outwardly social parts of their lives were when they were young.

Wish I knew the answer, but I don't. Surely we are made to be social and to befriend one another - but as you say, in the "real world"?

I really hate to be utterly bereft of knowledge and helpless in the face of someone else's adversity. Yeah, I could think of some glib things to say, but I'll refrain. Always tempts me to say the easy (and probably dead wrong) thing.

MJ said...

I think you're right about the family thing. I know that closes friend is my wife. My second, is my 16 year old son. I do think than many men settle for this.

Anonymous said...

On top of the sheer corruption we have taken into ourselves, this Godless idealism is furthering the divide between peoples. I'm a male in my late 20's and the thing that peeves me is the ability that women have in dealing with their emotions via socializing. When I try to talk about my pains, the emotions hijack my eloquence and nothing is helped. I'm alone, thrice rejected by women I loved and thought God brought to me... right now I'm just embracing it and all the torment that it brings cos I don't have the strength to care anymore. I find it strange how everyone for the most part is enthralled with the notion of mating, and even Christians parrot "be fruitful" "he who finds a wife finds a good thing" "its not good for man to be alone, he should have help" etc... yet nobody wants to relate to God through His loneliness. Nobody wants to turn their laughter into sorrow and break their own hearts over Him.