As a general rule, men struggle with expressing love in brotherhood. The awkwardness occurs for any number of reasons. There can be family origin issues where love was poorly expressed or not at all. Then there is the difficulty men have in connecting below the surface level in the first place. In addition, there can be resistance to such emotive words because it may tragically conjure up some connection to homosexuality. However interesting an analysis of those reasons might be, I don’t want to go there. I want to camp out on a very different reason. It’s in the word love itself.
The Root Meaning of Love
We use the word love in the English language for all sorts of things. “I love chocolate ice cream.” Or “I love the way this author writes.” How about this? “I love my wife and family.” Or this: “I love God.” Finally, there is this: “I love you with all my heart.” Each of these uses of love carries a differing shade of meaning with differing emotive power. It’s an unfortunate confusion in our language. One reason men struggle in expressing love in brotherhood lies right here. They are unsure where their use of the word love lines up in the continuum from loving chocolate ice cream to loving with all my heart. So let me offer a little helpful clarity.
In all the shades of meaning for love, one idea prevails over them all. It’s the idea of assent or approval. What we love, we approve of, we assent to. In other words, we find it good. It’s similar to what God spoke over creation in the Genesis account. He repeatedly pronounced it good. He approved of it, assented to it, loved it. When we say we love anything, we are in essence saying, “I’m glad that you are here. I’m glad that you exist. In fact, I want you to exist.” To what or to whom we speak such a pronouncement gives it the differing emotive coloring, whether it’s the steak dinner, the panoramic mountain view, or our dearly beloved.
Speaking Words of Approval and Assent
So what does this discursive trip into etymology have to do with brotherhood? Just this. When men seek to communicate brotherly love to each other, they are expressing approval and assent. They are saying something along these lines: “I’m so glad you are here. I’m so glad you are in my life. Something would be missing if you did not exist. You offer me a taste of true connection into the transcendent wells of masculinity. You offer me the experience of true brotherhood.”
Men need to hear words like this from other men. It doesn’t have to be, “I love you.” That may carry too many confusing messages. And most men don’t know how to respond to such a statement either. You can say instead, “I’m glad you are in my life.” Or “Thank you for offering me a taste of brotherhood.” Or course, using the phrase “I love you” isn’t out of bounds. For some, it may be the best way to express what they feel.
Resisting to Receiving
But even after such reflection, it’s still hard for me to receive. I have spent much of my life resisting what I most needed from other men. My formative emotional template (as is true for many other men) was to figure out life on my own. Along with this came a fierce independence foisted on me by early experiences of shame. I was not going to appear weak again. Tragically, such resistance to receive help and love from other men kept me emotionally shriveled and spiritually imprisoned. Masculinity is always bequeathed, never accomplished by oneself. Expressing love in brotherhood is a critical part of that bestowal.
Over the years, God has helped me lower my resistance and receive love from others, especially from other brothers. It has been a surprising source of healing, and it has also opened new doors into receiving God’s love.
In these four posts on brotherhood, here is what I have tried to say:
- True brotherhood starts with sharing the deeper things of the heart.
- Jesus is our elder Brother and wants us to relate to Him that way.
- True brotherhood finds momentum when a quest is involved.
- Brothers need to find ways to express and receive love from each other.
Finally, find a few brothers, walk with them, and keep them close. You will never regret the effort.
This will be my last post until mid-September. I am taking a much needed sabbatical from all ministry and writing. See you then!
PS. I have to thank Jonathan Rogers for much of these thoughts on love. For his excellent blog titled “Love and Assent,” click here.