In the movie, “Dan In Real Life,” there’s a scene (check it out here) where Dan, the dad, stares up at a light house with his youngest daughter, Lily, and begins to sermonize; “when you’re out there, and you’re being tossed back and forth by those big dark waves, and you think that you’ll never feel land again, and that you could just split into a million pieces, and just sink down all the way down into the deep, it’s the light that keeps us on course. It’s the light.” Dan’s daughter interrupts with, “Dad, are you OK?” Dan, looking vulnerable, pulls it together with a smile and says, “Of course I’m OK, honey.”
Like Dan, so many husbands, fathers, pastors, and men in real life, face a tremendous pressure (often self-imposed) to have all the answers, and to always “have it together,” as if we were Christ himself. What we really need is permission to simply be men; to engage our pain, to confess our weakness, to deal honestly with our deepest emotions. Sometimes we need permission to not be “OK.”
I’ll be honest; there are times when I feel that I could “split into a million pieces, and just sink down all the way down into the deep.” As I look behind me this year, I see one of the toughest seasons I’ve ever known. As I look before me, I see the greatest challenge I’ve ever accepted in my life (planting a church). Behind me lurk all my failures, before me lurks the possibility of failing yet again.
“Fits of depression come over the most of us,” says Charles Spurgeon, to a room full of young men at his Pastor’s School, in 1856. “Usually cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.”
Brothers, as we attempt to deal with despondency as men in real life, I see two options before us; we can continue to “fake it till we make it,” (fooling ourselves) or we can “learn to lean:”
LEAN HEAVILY UPON THE FATHER: “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. —Psalm 55:22
There’s no burden too heavy for the Lord. In the back-room privacy of communion with Christ we are free to lose the phony smiles, to fall on our faces and cry out, to be utterly raw and undone in the presence of our God.
Christ himself, in the Garden of Gethsemane, collapsed under the weight of the world, our salvation stacked upon his shoulders. With his face in the dirt, pleading in prayer, and bloody sweat perspiring from his porous humanity, Christ teaches us how to lean heavily upon the Father as he makes his way to our redemption.
LEAN WISELY UPON FRIENDS: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” —Galatians 6:2
No man, but Jesus, can be our ultimate Savior in these seasons of weariness, yet God gives us real “flesh and blood” friends as a means of his sustaining grace, and we must learn to lean wisely upon the people He places in our lives who are willing to walk beside us. Even Christ was not able to carry his cross alone. In his weakest moment, He leaned upon another man, Simon of Cyrene. (Luke 23:26) Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 reminds us that, “Two are better than one,…If one falls down, his friend can help him up.”
As we learn to lean on others, we must recognize that not everyone can be leaned upon in the same way, to the same degree. If we don’t learn to learn carefully upon friends and family we may overwhelm them. And if we lean in the wrong way, or to the wrong degree, upon a weaker brother, we may both collapse. We need to cultivate relationships with other men in our lives who are strong enough to lean upon. Who do you have in your life that you can lean upon?
A WORD TO PASTOR’S & WIVES: Spiritual leaders, historically, including in the Scriptures, are, for various reasons, especially susceptible to reoccurring seasons of sadness and gloom. One of the most helpful voices in my own life has been Spurgeon in his 1856 Lecture “The Minister’s Fainting Fits.” In a lot of ways, Spurgeon understands my heart as a pastor more than even I do. It’s reassuring to hear, from this great spiritual mentor, on how to recover when “…the heralds of the daybreak find themselves at times in tenfold night.” I commend this teaching to pastors & wives (and encourage discussion), believing it can be a helpful map for navigating the dark forest of despondency (especially on Mondays!)
So men, let me ask you, “Are you OK?”
In this new year, may we give ourselves permission to be men in real life, and may we “learn to lean” on our way to being truly OK.