I was dropped into an active battle zone. Bullets were flying. And not one guy had my back!
For most of my life I had become accustomed to fighting and losing life’s battles alone. Even in the bloody aftermath God deployed a band of brothers to help me heal and fight with me in the trenches.
I don’t want you to have to fight life’s battles alone. There are brothers out there that want to help you fight your battles. There are brothers out there who need you to help them fight their battles.
The warrior king leaves no man behind.
In my grade ten year, my dad assumed a pastoring position in small-town-nowhere. Initially I was curious and excited about the novelty of living in a new location. My first day of school, however, turned any excitement into social dread.
I walked down the school hallway and turned left into my classroom. As I crossed the threshold, my eyes abruptly locked with twenty pairs of eyes staring right back at me, the new guy. Unaware that my peers had formed a large circle around the room, I clumsily walked right into the centre. I backed up awkwardly. I desperately wanted to blend in.
In that moment something within me froze. Never was I more self-conscious. I felt exposed. It felt like their eyes pierced right through all my external efforts to look composed and saw the inadequacy inside. I interpreted their stares as condemning judgement. I felt them write me off. I don’t remember what broke their awkward stare, but I have never been able to fully escape that intense feeling of social scrutiny. I was dropped into a battle of soul survival.
My new school had only one group of high school guys. It quickly became apparent that I did not fit in. I was intimidated by their cocky attitude, heavy metal music and stories of drunken parties and sex.
Social anxiety continually gripped and impacted my whole body. My sensory system was constantly on hyper alert as I perceived I was in hostile territory. Sadly, the hardest times of my school day became recess and lunch. The only way I knew how to cope with my social awkwardness in this unstructured time was to sit alone, within ear shot of the group, and fake doing school work. Although the formal classroom dynamics were frightening to me, they felt safer than unstructured and unsupervised social contexts with my peers. That is where the painful words were spoken. I was homesick for comrades I didn’t know existed.
My inability to relate to male peers was at the core of my social anxiety. Although I inwardly judged their immorality I craved the respect of their inner circle. After all, it was the only circle available to me. Even though some tried to initiate conversation I didn’t know how to respond…so they stopped initiating. I felt utterly ostracised.
I reasoned that my only hope of fitting into this group of guys was to act like them. That would require me to be someone I wasn’t, someone I didn’t even want to become. And even if I did act like them, I would feel shame facing my ultra conservative parents and church. No matter what I did or said I anticipated bullets of condemnation from either side. I was trapped alone in no man’s land, paralysed by my social insecurities.
Even though I considered myself an outcast I still feared their outright verbal rejection. I just tried to blend in and lay low, be unseen and unheard. I was terrified they would exploit any weaknesses and further aggravate my wounds of rejection.
For two years I literally didn’t know how to act or what to say. So I didn’t do or say anything.
I pleaded with God for one guy I could call friend. One guy that had my back.
My soul was battle-damaged and left for dead in no man’s land.
I wasn’t accustomed to being a social misfit and it demoralized me. Deep down I started to believe I was a loser and blamed myself for my social awkwardness. It was my fault that I couldn’t fit in. My peers were surely justified when they belittled or ignored me. There was obviously something wrong with me that made me socially unacceptable. My anger turned inward and the bullets of self-condemnation targeted my fragile sense of self.
A deep self-hatred consumed my thoughts. I lost hope that I could ever fit in and it plunged me into pervasive depression and anxiety. I frequently contemplated suicide. Death seemed preferable compared to facing my peers. Self-destructive negative thoughts became my automatic and habitual way of thinking. I was becoming my own worst enemy. I was constantly shooting myself.
Fast forward to my first days of Bible College. Of all places, I had hopes that I could find a comrade there. Even so, I was again stepping into the social unknown and my first time away from family. My social anxiety reared its ugly head once again.
My roommate was a varsity volleyball player. He carried himself with a lot of swagger, an attitude I was all too familiar with and suffered under. In the first few days, he used my music player to record a message to his girlfriend back home. One recorded message he left in the player, so I was curious to know what it was. I pushed play. Right at the section I started to play he had recorded, “My roommate is such a loser! I will see if I can get a switch.”
I thought to myself, “Great, here we go again. I’m stuck in a loser rut and I can’t get out of it. Even Christians expressed their distaste for me.”
But leaving me for dead in no man’s land was not the end of God’s plan. Little did I know that he had my back all along. I may not have been aware of his presence, timing or strategy but he saw and had compassion on my wretched soul. The God of angel armies sent comrades to extract and care for one of their own wounded.
This tactical move forever changed the landscape of the battle for my soul. As General, God knew the exact nature of my internal battles. He knew the haunts of social rejection that held me prisoner of war. At strategic moments he deployed comrades to care for my battle-damaged soul.
Given my past history of rejection, I was shocked when some Christian hallmates befriended me. I wasn’t used to having any personal attention at all. I had written myself off as a loser, unworthy of any attention or social interaction. I had come to expect peer neglect and rejection. I wondered what they could possibly see in me. I thought, “Why are they even bothering to talk with me?”
When my new comrades would try to encourage me, I couldn’t absorb it. I had such a negative view of myself that I couldn’t believe their words of hope applied to me. My social history was one of rejection and shame.
I was in disbelief when a senior student told me, “God has good things in store for you.” I reasoned that he just didn’t know how abandoned, unloved and guilty I felt. “What could God possibly have in store for me? If my peers weren’t impressed with me and took no interest in me, surely he would be even less interested.”
Although my new friends gave me multiple invitations to hang out, my history of rejection conditioned my reluctance. But their persistence and acceptance were the beginnings of a brotherhood I had always prayed and longed for.
It was male friendship forged in mutual honesty about our brokenness, respect and prayer. For the first time ever I experienced God’s love and forgiveness through the care of my peers. It was absolute irony. God was using male friendships, the very demographic I had come to fear, to heal my battle-damaged soul.
Little by little I gained the courage to confess my sins, fears and failures to trustworthy men. I was shocked but relieved when many confided they also struggled with the same things. I was learning how to let brothers see my sinful, weak and wounded self.
In my initial attempts at vulnerability with my new allies, I felt understood, respected and affirmed. I started to view and treat myself differently. Because they accepted me and fought for my soul I was able to accept myself and fight against thoughts of self-condemnation. As they reassured me of God’s mercy and grace I was able to apply it to my soul as well. In the midst of brothers, God’s grace became real to me.
The war for my soul is long and drawn out. The intensity of my battles vary. My need for relentless honesty with other maturing Christian men hasn’t lessened whatsoever. Over the years it has compelled me to start multiple men’s groups for candid sharing and prayer. I never want to be alone, battle-damaged and in no man’s land again. I don’t want other men to be alone in no man’s land either. Jesus doesn’t intend to leave any man behind.
So what do my groups look like? A small group of three or four guys meets every other week for two hours. Each guy has the floor to share their war stories. In turn we confess battles with sin, fear and failure. We pray immediately for the guy who just shared. That’s it. We also know that we are only a text or call away. We open our lives to each other for emergency prayer and morale support.
What continues to amaze me? The battle in each brother’s life is more fierce than I perceived from a distance. They too are battle-damaged. No other guy has his life together or is free from the scars of life’s battles.
God has answered my high school prayers for authentic friendship over and over. I am no longer alone in my battles! Comrades have my back. I would have never appreciated honest friendships with these comrades had I not also experienced the cold-hearted rejection of male peers in the past.
This depth of friendship doesn’t come by default. Even though God brought these men into my life, I still had a choice to make. How would I relate to men moving forward? Would I humble myself and share my brokenness or keep it all to myself and present a tough face?
If I am honest, part of me still resists being vulnerable to even my most trusted men. I would prefer to give the impression I’m tough and have my life together. I am tempted to put on a strong front and project that I am tough and self assured. But that isn’t the real me. I’m a seriously wounded soldier. But guys have my back! They know my deepest sins and struggles and yet still chose to respect and care for me.
To be honest, I am almost always intimidated when relating to groups of men. I fear that I won’t fit in nor measure up. I realize now that I can’t and don’t have to fit into every group of men. All I have to do is push through my reluctance and be vulnerable with those who have proven time again that they truly care about me. I lean on the relationships that are battle-proven, my fellow veterans in battling together to support one another’s souls.
It’s confidential. It’s vulnerable. It scary. But it’s also the best place for me to be.
How about you? Who’s got your back? Are you fighting life’s battles alone? Are you a lone soldier caught in no man’s land? Have you been an easy target for your enemies to pick off? Is your soul battle-damaged? It’s time to pray and ask God for back up. You need to be extracted. You need healing and comrades to fight in the trenches of warfare with you.
You need comrades. They need you.
But how do you find a true brother born for adversity? Not every guy is open, trustworthy or ready.
- Does he have a genuine faith in Jesus and confess he is broken?
- Does he carry himself in humility? Not making much of himself?
- Does he know how to tame his critical tongue and reserve hasty judgement?
- Can he keep things confidential? Is he trustworthy?
- Can he confront you with truth in love?
- When you confess your weaknesses and sin, does he pray for you and mirror your vulnerability?
Consider some of the most influential men in Scripture who had each others’ backs. David had Jonathan. The Jewish exiles Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had each other in Babylon. Even Jesus gathered twelve men around him, three with which he shared his life in depth. Paul had Silas, Timothy, Luke, Tychicus and a list of many other brothers who battled spiritually alongside him.
Questions to consider and act on:
- Who has your back? Whose back do you have?
- What do you fear about being in this kind of vulnerability? Who are some brothers you could ask to consider this kind of brotherhood?
In the midst of my battles my view of Jesus was too weak and small. He was shrouded in head knowledge but lacked spine. When I look at where God has brought me with other brothers, I have come to see Jesus in a whole new light. Here is just a glimpse of our warrior king that John saw as heaven opened:
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron sceptre.”[a] He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
king of kings and lord of lords.