Angled at 45 degrees and slicked with mud and grease, the “Slip Wall” on the adventure race series “Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge” presented competitors with an obstacle no one could conquer alone.
Teams attacked it by stacking themselves into an unsteady human ladder, hoisting teammates to the apex, all while bracing themselves against the threat of collapse.
Life can sometimes feel like this. We all face seemingly insurmountable obstacles — financial troubles, health crises, fractured relationships — the list could go on. Without support from close, committed friends, we’ll never get over these walls.
A few years ago, an article in Men’s Journal presented the “Male Deficit Model”. Based on 30 years of research, it showed that male friendships typically fall into three categories — convenience, mentoring and activity. The article argued that men tend to drift apart once these shared activities end.
Throughout my life, friends have come and gone like a streaming TV series — present and enjoyable for a season, then largely forgotten.
I’ve been fortunate, though, to have several friendships stick. A group of seven other men with whom I’ve remained closely connected for 20 years offers a helpful template for building friendships that last.
Most of my college friendships centered on playing and watching sports and involvement in our university’s chapter of Cru. These experiences gave us the side-by-side bonding that psychologists have found to be the most common way men connect.
Where might you find your crew?
There are plenty of environments available to men of any age. For example:
During our senior year, a Cru staff member who mentored the eight of us organized a camping trip in the Pennsylvania mountains. The trip was filled with fun activities, but our mentor also encouraged us to open up to one another about the deeper things in life: struggles, dreams, fears, trauma.
He challenged us to “take off our masks.”
Men normally flinch at this sort of vulnerability, but it acts as super glue, binding us to each other in powerful ways.
The depth of our vulnerability was made possible in large part by our shared faith in Jesus. A verse in the Bible, Romans 8:1, says that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (New International Version).
We all carry heavy things in our hearts: things we’ve done or said or things done and said to us. Romans 8:1 explains that when we come to believe in and follow Jesus, He deals with all that we’re guilty and ashamed of. That was the purpose of Jesus’ death and resurrection — that He could bear our guilt and the punishment it justly deserves, then leave it buried and gone as He invites us to share in a new life.
In other words, we stand uncondemned. That truth frees me to talk about the rawest parts of myself with the knowledge that I’m accepted and loved. When I open up in that way with men who share the same faith, they act as conduits of Christ’s acceptance.
After our weekend in the mountains, my friends and I signed a document committing us to stay connected for life. We pledged to continue building our friendships, encourage one another’s faith, and gather once a year to kindle the flames of our brotherhood.
This simple act — making a solemn commitment — is perhaps the most powerful ingredient in maintaining lifelong friendships.
The 20 years that followed our pledge have seen each of us face towering slip walls. A broken engagement. A stillborn child. Several miscarriages. Deaths of parents.
Without putting a stake in the ground before the end of college, we’d have been more likely to face these challenges alone. But our shared commitment to the group motivated us to connect in person every year, to use technology to stay close in spite of physical distance, and to shoulder the heavy burdens we each face.
There’s nothing special about me or my friends. The steps we’ve taken are quite simple. Here are some similar simple steps you might take to experience such life-giving brotherhood:
Change isn’t easy. It’s even harder when you are trying to do it on your own. Inviting others into your life can provide the support and encouragement you need to change your life for the better.
If you want to help people get to know Jesus, try starting right where you live. Here are real-life ideas for sharing your faith in your neighborhood.
What American Christians miss by not building friendships with people who are different from them.
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