By BRANDEN HENRY
An open letter to the heart of men
When was the last time you felt alive? And I mean really ALIVE. Not just the excitement of buying a new thing, watching a great game or closing a big deal. But the kind of alive that gives you a new perspective on life, where nothing feels like it will ever be the same.
On the other hand, how often do you feel dulled, like a knife that has lost its edge? Or even worse, numb? Not feeling much of anything, little to no sorrow to go along with a lack of passion. Maybe you are intentionally numbing with alcohol, pills, spending or sex, or maybe it’s the more insidious kind of numbing that comes by always being nice, dutiful and dispassionate.
What if when Jesus said that He came to give you life to the fullest, He really meant it? What if His great design was that you live life fully alive, rather than merely managing it?
The caricature of the American man is that he is stoic — needing only food, work and sex — and that he’s most pleased when life goes the way he’s planned. I would argue that this kind of life is a shadow of what could be.
Most men that I know, be they 13, 38, or 83, are longing for more but are unsure how to find it. Often in the life of a joyless man, his marriage is dull, parenting is strained and friendships are thin. While he looks to work for adventure, his wife is left lonely and bored. And so these men start a second life that is parallel to the one they live in public. They show a life that’s nice, compliant and risk-avoidant, all while their shadow life is full of resentment, escape and some kind of striving.
Solomon writes about this in Ecclesiastes as he reflects on the vanity of toiling away at work, the weariness of striving to be satisfied, and the exhaustion that comes with endless achievement. He writes that he sought pleasure — through alcohol, sex, work, wealth, experiences, etc. — and he came up empty. Like trying to clutch smoke in his hands, it was never enough. He realized that no matter how much he learned or how hard he worked, the suffering in this life would not stop.
Solomon seems to come to terms with this, to live life on life’s terms, as we say in 12-step rooms. He says community, the act of caring for the poor while receiving in our own poverty, is critical to living with joy. Most of us reading this have a poverty that is often relational, emotional and spiritual, rather than material. Solomon ends his teaching by telling us to be awed by God and do what He tells us.
Usually, becoming alive starts with being awakened to a reality greater than yourself. Years ago, my friend Bill Blair and I started leading men on summer adventure intensives in the Rockies. Bill developed a rhythm for these trips: Awake, Aware, Alive.
What reality do you need to be Awakened to? Maybe you have lived numbed by addictive substances or behaviors, or maybe you have desensitized your life by ignoring your longings, avoiding risk, and isolating from community. What longing have you put on a shelf and tried to ignore?
What are you not Aware of? It is impossible to become aware of yourself without honest, loving feedback from those around you. Maybe they cannot give you that feedback because of how walled-up, hidden, isolated and calloused you have become. How many people really know you: your fears, doubts, dreams and desires? Try to double that number.
What makes you come Alive? This is a question you can only answer through lived experience with others. You will not live life to the fullest in isolation, without risk, and numb to reality. Joy can often be found in a community that is awed by their Creator, and for many of us that comes most naturally by spending time in His creation.
My advice is this: Find some men to help you dig into these questions, or if you don’t know where to start, find a counselor to help you gain some traction. Go to a 12-step meeting or a small group at your church. Ask God to awaken and enliven you, and then pay attention to whom He sends your way,
Branden Henry is gratefully married with four kids. He is a licensed counselor trained in working with trauma, addiction and relationships. He is also a visiting lecturer of counseling at Reformed Theological Seminary. Visit RedRiverCounseling.net for more information.