“Our view of spiritual manhood has more to do with continuing to function in spite of difficulties than with successfully overcoming them.” Larry Crabb, Don Hudson, Al Andrews
My friend Mary Ellen stopped me in the hallway one day at work. “You look tired.” She said. I closed my eyes, mimicking my zombie like state, and bobbed my head in agreement. But she kept staring, squinting now. Uh oh, did I have something on my face? “You’ve got that man pressure look. I recognize it in you because I see it in my husband. He carries that weight of paying the bills and making sure everything and everyone is provided for. I think its the struggle all good men feel.”
So it has a name? My whole body let out a big sigh. It fit all too well with this unexplained anxiety I carry a lot of times. And it felt so kind and honoring to know its a part of the struggle of good men, like maybe that’s me. And here this whole time I thought I was just blowing it. You bet I feel that pressure and she gave me permission to finally admit I’m exhausted by it.
If you’re a man, I bet you feel it too. This unexplainable pressure to come through a lot. Like all the time. Its not some super hero complex. You’re just trying to pay the bills. Or fulfill your duties at work. And have something left in the tank to play with your kids at the end of a day. Its the 3,459 plates you’re spinning at one time. Not because you particularly like theatrics or circus acts. Life just asks you to do it.
And its not just your outer world that feels this way. Its your heart, your soul, your body that need care too. Its when anxiety keeps you up at night that you realize you need to exercise. Its the energy it takes not to drink that extra beer and check out from life at night. Most of the time, we as men feel the pressure to move, to act, to do more, be more for our families, friends, our jobs, our churches, our God.
The crazy thing is that you probably don’t even know you’re living with it. I didn’t until Mary Ellen pointed it out to me. I hear it in my office all the time from men, hidden in the comments about how they’re doing. They describe their lives as chaotic or out of control. A man told me recently, “When I wake up I feel like I jump on a treadmill that someone’s cranked to the highest speed. And it takes my best efforts to make sure I don’t do a face plant on it.”
Have you ever tried to ride your bike straight into the wind? That’s what this feels like for me. In professional cycling, the rider who takes the head wind is called the Domestique, which literally means “servant” in French. He lets the best riders draft him, exhausting himself so his teammates can conserve energy and have an easier ride. Yep, that’s the feeling. When I come home to find my son smiling because he’s been able to play all day, my exhaustion feels worth it.
Right now I’m typing after an utterly exhausting day of work. Counseling sessions sandwiched with phone calls and emails. And we are buying a house. Which has meant, extra phone calls and emails all week. Oh, and my car was in the shop. Again. And I had to bike to work from the mechanic. Other than that ride, I haven’t had time to exercise. And I’m not sure I’ve done anything to care for my heart this week other than not drink that extra beer tonight that I know would put me just past my anxiety.
And I haven’t blogged in four months. Four months!
My point in writing all of this is to name something for you. A lot of men struggle with feeling like they’re not doing enough. They think its their inadequacy, that they’re blowing it because life is overwhelming. It goes that if only they were more… something… then their boss would compliment them more. Or the kids would finally behave. Or their finances would always work out. Or that woman would finally swoon all over them.
Let me make it real clear: You aren’t enough. Seriously. But its probably not your fault.
There is no way you can meet all the demands of everyone in your life. You’ve got too much on your plate because that’s what life does to you. It takes as much from you as you’ll give it and still wants more. Not many people are going to tell you to take a break. I’m sure you’ll have a few… some friends, your spouse maybe.
In other words, the man pressure is not going away any time soon. If anything it only seems to grow as we grow. We have to do something with it. Either we learn to live with it somehow, learn to keep pace, or we avoid it all together.
So how do you handle the pressure? First, you need time for your heart. You have to slow down, take a break, rest up. In the words of my friend Mike, you need time off the field. Queue the token sports analogy. This is a post for men after all. But seriously you need time to sit it out from life’s demands, without having to dig a hole or crawl in a man cave.
Yesterday on my lunch break between sessions, I played air guitar for an hour. I’m serious. I pulled out my broom, put on my headphones, pulled up some old Pearl Jam, and backed up Eddie Vedder for twenty minutes. It was awesome. And it changed my whole day. I felt lighter and ready for the next session.
The men I know who handle it well do it this way. Exercise, time with God, eating well, time resting and playing, leaning on the support from their wives and friends. I’ve also seen a lot of men self medicate the pressure with addictions. Sex, alcohol, over eating, anger.
And this is the other option: Sabotage your strength. Just blow up your life or flat our run away from it rather than try and meet life’s demands. Go have an affair or get fired from your job for something stupid. Give up on your finances so bad that you just go bankrupt.
My wife was sharing with me recently that her good friend has not seen her father since she was 4 years old. And she’s now in her 30‘s. I thought about her dad, with three little girls and a wife and a mortgage, working his job. And I got it. He couldn’t take the pressure so he ran. We cannot get away from man pressure without doing great damage to ourselves or those who are relying on us.
And that’s the other thing, you have to start disappointing the right people. Spoiler alert: You will be disappointing to somebody and probably lots of somebodies in your manhood career. Will that be your wife and kids? Your friends? Your God? Or your boss when he asks you to work late again because he knows you’ll do it.
Let me be a voice telling you you’re doing a good job. There is very little chance you’re blowing it as bad as you think. So what have you done lately to take a break and get off the field?