How to get real with your friends
I should have been able to say yes. But when my wife turned to me in the car and asked whether I had a good time, something told me that it would be a lie. Certainly, the food was good. I liked the people, too. An evening in the company of some wonderful couples, with men that I genuinely admired— what was the problem?
I hadn’t connected. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t sitting next to the punch bowl all night, waiting for someone to take an interest in me. I was engaged in conversation, talking with the others about movies and sports and the events of the week. But something was missing, and it took some out-loud thinking to name what it was: contact.
“As iron sharpens iron,” writes the sage, “so one man sharpens his friend.” But the precondition for experiencing the truth of this proverb, the real difficulty, is in bringing the iron of our inner selves, our real fears and desires, into direct contact with the iron of other men.
Have you felt it too? That sense of distance that lays between us as men, a sense that is only sharpened by the invisible pull we feel toward true friendship? Funny, how we can spend hours together in a room or on the golf course, and walk away feeling more lonely than before, solitary islands scattered in the ocean, our true selves buried beneath distant shores. But still we feel this pull, like the lodestone in a compass, pointing toward something it has never touched.
As we made our way home I continued to think. How was it that so much time in conversation had not resulted in the contact I was looking for? What could have been different? How do you go deep enough to find the real iron in a man, the solid core, so that the sharpening may begin? Then it hit me, and I said it: “It’s about the questions.”
I think every one of us harbours a few questions we are dying to be asked. We may not even know what they are. But if someone else happens upon one of these questions, and we answer candidly, then a piece of ourselves that normally lays buried will be unearthed.
The trick is to find them. This isn’t about one-size-fits-all questions like “How are you?” but questions that are specific to the man. This is about digging deeper, about striking iron. So how do you do that?
- You start by widening your inventory of stock questions. A few of my favourites: “What part of your day do you look forward to the most?” Or, a little deeper, “What do you love most about your kids?” Or deeper still, “What has God been teaching you lately?”
- After you’ve asked the question, you listen to the answer and observe. You are a beachcomber, walking through the conversation with a metal detector in hand, searching your friend for signs of what is important to him, what he hopes for, what he fears. You make note of the places, which indicate where something more is beneath the surface.
- Then you dig. You ask the deeper question. If your friend tells you that the favourite part of his day is playing with his boys after work, then you ask him what he thinks it means to be a good father, and where he finds it most challenging to live up to that standard.
- Keep a prayer journal. Make some brief notes on what your fellow men are going through, pray about them and follow up by asking about them at a later date. People are attracted to those who show an interest in who they are and what they think, and a thoughtfully posed question can be very disarming.
In my experience, considered questions help me go deeper with my fellow men. There’s a time for everything, and not every conversation needs to have life-changing implications. But if we are thoughtful with our questions, we will frequently find ourselves making real contact with each other, striking iron, unearthed and sharpened.