Strong Man, Weak Man


I’ve been wanting to write this post for some time, but never found a perfect time to do so. In light of the Ted Haggard scandal, with so many advocating a greater honesty, more openness, and a greater reliance on personal confession (myself included), I wish to discuss one enormous barrier to that advice.

Two months from now will mark the 30th anniversary of my conversion to Christ. I’ve witnessed plenty of trends in the American Church during that time, but only in recent years has the Lord opened my eyes to one of the more intractable prejudices.

We Christian men have a serious disconnect concerning honesty, openness, and personal confession. We may claim that those things are good for the soul, but God help any man who truly practices those disciplines.

How so?

While I’m speaking solely from what my own eyes have seen, men who consistently share their personal failings will eventually get a cold shoulder from other men in the church. Men who talk about their mistakes, who are unafraid to communicate with others, get treated like wimps, pansies, wusses and any other unmasculine name you can think of.  Strong man, weak manOther men will start spending less time with them, choosing instead to huddle up with the group of guys who prefer to talk about last night’s football game—the same group of guys that never lets their inner demons be known.

At a time when Christian men are sucking up men’s books featuring tough-as-nails guys who hunt bear with a pointy stick, the man who weeps over his own sin gets relegated to the quilting bee. How we ever ended up with that sort of thinking is beyond me, but I’ve seen it. Better to be the strong silent type and laugh at a ribald joke on occasion than to communicate one’s failure.

I’d like to think this misperception’s only been around since churches started mimicking the “win-at-all-cost” propaganda of the business world, but I’m not so certain. Perhaps we’ve always cast a negative glance at the man who talks just a bit too much about his failings. Nothing kills more men in their hearts than to have someone think them soft. And nothing is softer than to talk about one’s own sin.

Is it any wonder then that so many men flameout in spectacular ways? And it’s usually the man’s man, not the confessional guy, who winds up incinerated. Why the enormous pressure? Are we that performance driven in the man’s world that we can’t handle a little personal confession?

We’ve got to stop the denigration. We can talk all we want about communicating our own failings and sins, but if we’re still equating that kind of openness with being a wimp, we’ll never get anywhere. I don’t care if it’s fear, pride, or self-loathing that’s driving that shunning, we’ve got to convince Christian men that living a life of honest confession won’t wither their cojones.

13 thoughts on “Strong Man, Weak Man

  1. Another large component in inhibiting honesty, IMO, is fear of man. It hardly applies just to men, but it’s pretty pervasive. It takes a strong man, a man who can withstand misunderstanding or maligning, to own up to his own failures and be one of the few friends to others who do.

  2. Jo Taller

    And everybody used to tell me big boys don’t cry
    Well I’ve been around enough to know that that was the lie
    That held back the tears in the eyes of a thousand prodigal sons
    Well we are children no more, we have sinned and grown old
    And our Father still waits and He watches down the road
    To see the crying boys come running back to His arms
    And be growing young
    Growing young

    – Rich Mullins (rest in peace)

    Thank you for your blog.

  3. I’ve always considered testosterone laced activities as a cover for weakness in men, but then, you know what I think of sports in general, so add to that a certain derision for all things competitive, and you get an idea of how well I do around other men. No one, however, likes a whiner, and it is easy to cross the line from “confession” to “whimp” simply by forgetting to turn off the font of self-pity.

    That being said, the socially accepted definition of “Man” in American society does not include sitting around a circle and telling other men that I have failed to live my life through Christ rather than through my own strength. Especially since it is socially acceptable to live life by my own strength. Another case of Man vs. God. One area we do not hear much about, though, is confessing to our spouses. It is hard to confess weakness to the one person you are supposed to be strong for, but it needs to be done. It is one of the most liberating things in the world to have my wife hug me and say she forgives me. And it lets loose more burdens when I can stop holding all my failures in. I had a pastor once tell me that the hardest thing he’s done is spend time with his wife in prayer. So I made it a point when I got married to pray every day with my wife. We can speak to God, and at the same time, speak to one another. We are one in His eyes, and praying together confirms it in our hearts and minds.

    Now I’d like to hear from the women. We are accustomed to seeing women confess all to one another on TV. Does is happen? Does it help? Do you feel judged? Do you feel empowered? Can you confess to your Husband?

    • Dee


      I began a lengthy answer to your questions, but I figured you will understand if I give a condensed response. Yes, women confess to one another. Yes, it does help. Through trial and error we learn which of our friends will judgmental and which of them will be supportive and provide wise counsel. This can be a painful process, but it is worth the trouble once you find that jewel of a person who becomes a counselor and mentor. I am blessed with several.

      I cannot speak for other women and their relationships with their husbands (and having had just one husband for twenty-one years I do not have a wide range of experience in this area) but I can confess to my husband. I find he has a much different perspective on things than I do. ;0)

  4. Well, I’m a woman. I’ve been in complementarian circles for a while now where I think this problem might be worse. This post made remember an old post I read from Mahaney a while back I think part of the problem is that masculinity is still defined more by culture than by Scripture, even by those who pride themselves on modeling and teaching Biblical masculinity. The same goes for femininity. I’ve had this conversation with my husband many times, the one where he tells me I’m not feminine when he’s really trying to say I’m not ‘girly’. A big difference. Just like there’s a big difference between being masculine and being ‘macho’. The two have become almost synonymous in our culture, even in the church. I don’t think it’s something to be joked about either, though I realize Mahaney was trying to be funny in his article. It hits too close to the truth and the truth isn’t funny, it’s sad.

    As far as how it is for women, I think it’s just as bad or worse. Women are more subtly deceptive, we can look like we’re being very open all the while playing a game of how much to tell. Telling a little makes you look like a brave honest soul, while telling it all shocks the heck out of most people. When it comes down to most of my serious problems I’ve learned to be ‘selective’. I’d love to have someone I could tell everything to, but most people don’t want to hear it, and they especially don’t want to admit they struggle with the same stuff. Where do we go for help with the really ugly stuff? Where can we cry out like the Psalmists and be ourselves with each other like a real family? If it isn’t the church then it isn’t anywhere…

    Dave, it’s great to hear that you confess to your wife. I’ve heard this discouraged many times by many men, but it’s one of the best things my husband does for our marriage (he wasn’t always honest with me in the first few years of marriage). It took me a long time to learn to humble myself and ask him forgiveness for my sin too, but we are much closer when we’re being honest and humble. Now if we can start being that honest with other people!

    • One of my favorite movie lines is from “My Fair Lady”: ‘Mrs. Pierce, you’re a woman…’ Why Mrs. Pierce didn’t haul off and whap Henry Higgins…

      How God defines things, and how His creation defines things are often in opposition…What we consider manly (or womanly) conduct is so often in contrast to what the Bible declares is proper conduct that I wonder if our society would condone such conduct or lock us away should we live as the Bible says we should. I think of Moses or David and their relationships with God, and can only shake my head in bemusement. David had a relationship with Jonathon most men of today would look askance at, but only because that type of closeness is defined by our western society as “too close.” We still struggle with the relationship Jesus had with Mary, Martha and Mary. And the idea of John reclining on Jesus’ breast at the last supper gives some people conniptions. Our perceptions are so warped by the stain of sin that we can’t, for the love of God, see straight.

  5. Ekval

    This may be a little bit contrarian, but I don’t think that all of the problem is just about the issue of macho-ness. I was in the past a mentor for young Christian men and a high school basketball coach at a Christian school.

    Those young men respected me a lot because I think for some of them I was one of the first examples of someone who both participated in sports or what we might categorize as typically manly things and yet at the same time was not afraid to admit my shortcomings and cry when needed.

    My students and athletes saw me cry and confess where I’d let them down, or let others down. I confessed struggles I’d had in the past, and they certainly saw me struggle with my anger issues for which I had to humbly apologize to them on occasion. I certainly hope that was the right example.

    But that alone, or the fact that I was their Bible teacher probably wasn’t what made them, in a few cases, try to emulate me. What added to that was that while I wasn’t the caricature of a manly man that we see portrayed so idiotically in our culture, I still enjoyed some of the same things they did. Many times I had those young men over to my house to play Xbox. The wrestling matches on retreats were legendary, and I had to play ball with them whenever they played. (Do you know how hard basketball is to play in dress shoes and a shirt and tie.)

    Honestly, I think that as men, if we want to portray Christ, we have to portray all of it. We should be willing to confess, certainly we have to drop the idol of perfection that we hold up in evangelical circles. At the same time, though I think there is a bit too much focus on the manliness currently, it is still acceptable to be “manly”. It’s okay to want to be a hero, to want to be strong, as long as we remember that any strength or heroism is not in us, but is in Christ.

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