I had a couple of interesting conversations this past week regarding men’s reluctance to open about pain. One of those conversations was with my brother, who is very understanding and supportive of what I am trying to do with the Broken and Mended ministry. As a combat veteran and an army ranger, he deals with his fair share of pain, but the idea of opening about that pain is an extremely foreign concept. He’s been trained to deal with his pain in another way and probably out of necessity for the training that men like him have been through.
In a conversation through Twitter, a woman named Esther, who writes about dealing with chronic pain from the perspective of an LPC, told me that it is rare to see Christian men writing about chronic pain. For some reason, it is reasonably normal to find women doing so, but not men.
It has long been a stereotype that women are more open about their feelings (presumably both physical and emotional feelings) and that men bottle it up because they do not want to show any weakness. In most of our experiences, we have all witnessed a lot more tears from women than men. A boy doesn’t have to be very old before he is told some version of “suck it up and act like a man.”
There’s the comical line from Tom Hanks in “A League of Their Own,” when he tells his female baseball team that “there’s no crying in baseball!” Even though he was coaching a team of women, the stereotypical mindset from a predominately male sport was still present. He wanted his women to act like men!
I’ve played plenty of sports and I can tell you if the circumstances are right, there can be a lot of tears shed in male locker rooms! Men have tear ducts too, and certainly, God intended for us to them! Jesus was not afraid to shed tears. I’m not just talking actual tears, but the emotional vulnerability they represent.
All of this causes me to consider my role, as a Christian man, who writes about chronic pain and who endeavors to establish a network of support groups for both men and women, who have this incredibly difficult struggle. I would imagine there are differences in the ways that women and men process the emotional aspects of their pain, but I absolutely reject the cultural ideals regarding masculinity that prevent men from being able to share in meaningful ways. Those ideals did not come from Jesus or the Bible. Read the Psalms, the Laments, Job, etc. Almost everything in the Bible was written by men, who openly talked about their struggles, pains, threats, etc.
Does emotional vulnerability make someone weak? The Bible has a very different view of weakness than the societies of the world. The world sees the cross as weakness. God sees the cross as the power to save. Paul struggled with his “thorn in the flesh” (which may have been some kind of physical ailment). He begged God to remove it but God had different ideas: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
The world’s view of strength is a facade. True strength does not come from pretending there is no weakness. That leads to far greater consequences than exposing a little vulnerability. True strength comes from admitting weakness so that God’s power may be made known in our lives. That’s what this ministry is all about and I pray it will be no less valuable for men than it will be for women. Maybe men need to learn more than women how to be strong in weakness. “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”