BY BEN WATANABE
As perhaps the youngest attendee of the EC Men’s Retreat this past April, I was intrigued by the varied social dynamics of the older brothers. Growing up, the impression somehow enters one’s mind that personalities fade away as a person ages and that all adults become the same. Later, one comes to learn that this is not even remotely true.
And so there we were, personalities abounding, as every man was doing his best to “get to know” the guy standing next to him with as much awkwardness as a corporate soft skills training seminar. I myself, not wanting to be left out, jumped in with the utmost vigor, navigating conversations like a verbal ninja on all manner of topics. I had already engaged in a heated debate over the best camping knife, learned about life as a NOVA firefighter, nerded out over which strategy board games “real aficionados” play, and commiserated over the intricacies of Federal consulting before the average camper had managed to gnaw through his baked-potato-shaped rock.
Several hours in, I found myself with my introverted social energy reserves quickly waning—and from the looks of things, I wasn’t the only one. Individuals who had started off the evening trying so hard to reach beyond their comfort zones and socialize with folks they didn’t know began falling back to their regular circles. Those lacking such a group joined each other in the favorite male pastime of wordless, side-by-side sitting.
Thankfully, Pastor David, with his ever perfectly coiffed mane of hair, decided that this was the ideal time to swoop in and kick off the first discussion. In line with the current church series on “Thriving”, the theme of the retreat was “A Band of Brothers: Overcoming the Enemy of Isolation.” Pastor David challenged each brother to find our commonality with each other in Christ instead of the world’s values. This is a truth about which all Christian men need to be constantly mindful.
It appears that there is a common factor in the dynamic of men disengaging from the church. Meaningful and authentic communication is superseded by conversations on work, sports, or other topics in an attempt to find common ground while simultaneously avoiding any actual depth. This lack of meaningful Christ-centered conversation provides a breeding ground where a host of lies can take root—lies that we alone are wrestling with faith, that we alone are struggling with weaknesses, and that others do not face such challenges.
These feelings of inadequacy are used by the Enemy to rob us of our worth. It’s frustrating. It’s lonely. And it’s the furthest possible thing from the manner in which we’ve been called to live and thrive. The reality is that we don’t need to be searching in vain for common ground with our brothers when we already have it. Our common faith in Christ and our common mission to which He’s called each of us are more than enough upon which to build meaningful and lasting relationships.
These concepts challenged me as we broke into discussion groups that evening. For several hours we shared with each other. The personality differences that previously had been so tiring to overcome became avenues for refreshing encouragement and uplifting prayer.
A single evening of open fellowship isn’t enough to overcome our feelings of inadequacy or isolation, but it was a start. And by God’s grace, hopefully this will be the beginning of something that permeates the community of Open Door. Only then will we be able to shake off the chains of loneliness and venture forward, in fellowship, as a band of brothers on God’s holy mission.
Ben Watanabe is a small group leader for NextGen Fairfax.