By the word brotherhood, I mean how a man binds himself to other men and so experiences a bond between them. It does not come easy. Women easily create community. But men tend to isolate. Underneath all the cultural and personal reasons for staying alone lies one dominant factor — fear. True community among men only happens when the fear of exposure and rejection is stared down. It only happens when stories of the heart are shared. I call it the brotherhood of the broken.
The First Step
I call this the first step in all true brotherhood. Why? Because men are experts at presenting a carefully crafted image of what they want others to see. As a good friend of mine puts it, men have highly sophisticated image management software. The image we project keeps us safe from being perceived as weak, failing, or stupid. But it comes with a huge price tag. You can’t bond to others when you are hiding behind a front. You can’t bind yourself to their hearts when you are too busy protecting your own. Sure, you stay safe. Sure, you stay protected. But you also stay locked in a self-created prison.
For years, I facilitated story groups for small groups of men. Here they had a place to tell the story of their inner lives, with all of its heartache and pain, hope and joy. What was most remarkable was often not the story told, but the reactions of the men listening. They expressed sadness over pain, anger over injustice, and then respect for the courage shown to tell that story. Something happened there that forever changed those men. They walked out of that self-created prison and watched other men do the same. They felt the brotherhood of the broken.
What Happens in This Brotherhood
I want to list three shifts that happen when men tell their stories:
- The book of James tells us to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16). When a man opens his heart, he begins the confession process, one that elicits remarkable healing. Secrecy leads to death and destruction. Transparency opens up light and life. Our spiritual lives find new vibrancy and hope. We no longer feel alone in the trials of life.
- Emotionally, the tyrant of shame is stared down and dethroned. A man feels no longer bound to creating a false self to hide behind. The real man starts to come out and stand. Shame no longer defines him.
- The brain rewires itself when we tell our stories and hear the stories of others. We feel the shift not just spiritually and emotionally, but in our physical bodies as well. It feels so transforming because it is!
Taking the First Step
But you don’t have to join a story group to experience this. You can start where you are to create the brotherhood of the broken. Ask God to give you a friend or two with whom you can share each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). It may be someone you expect. It may be a total surprise.
I have had the privilege of having brothers like this through the various seasons of life. One close friend was as opposite as you can imagine from me by any sort of personality test. But he needed a safe place to talk, and so did I. Another close friend, when I first met him years ago, did not give me a good first impression. But as time went on, we began to walk as brothers in the daily battles.
But all of this requires a willingness to risk deeply. Often you will have to initiate. And no guarantee comes that it will be reciprocated. It also requires a willingness to let go. No one can bear the burden of your soul. Nor can you bear his. We learn to give thanks to God for brothers who come alongside and walk with us, but we cannot cling to them.
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Bill Delvaux is a graduate of Duke University and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has been a church planter, a high school Bible teacher, and a running coach. Six years ago, he pioneered Landmark Journey Ministries to help men connect their stories to God’s story through retreats and spiritual direction. His newest book, Heroic: The Surprising Path to Manhood, released in April 2019. His greatest claim to fame is being married to Heidi for 32 years and having two amazing daughters, Abigail, and Rachel. He and his wife currently reside in Franklin, TN.