This is a guest post by Casey Samulski. Casey is a husband, writer, and entrepreneur who loves Jesus and making disciples of Jesus. He has led and coached missional communities in New York City and now lives in Los Angeles where he co-leads a missional community and leads men in DNA Groups at Soma Culver City.
Men’s DNA then, if it is of any value at all, is valuable because it gives us a way into intimacy with Him, the best intimacy of all.
About seven years ago, my pastor and I were in our first DNA group together, and we both shared stories from our past that no one other than our wives had heard about us. They were painful stories and not ones I intend to repeat. But I’m starting here because I suspect this fact makes us common rather than unusual.
A Narrative You Construct
Male intimacy, at least in America, is a withering thing. It seems all but lost from contemporary life. If you are like me, you have considered your wife your first confidant–not in itself an unhealthy arrangement. But who are numbers 2, 3, 4, and 5 in your life? Who are you confessing to in your community apart from her?
From James 5:16 we know that we should “confess your sins to one another and pray so that you may be healed,” but as is unfortunately common to the Protestant layman, most of us have happily broken with the Catholic tradition of making this the sole province of the priest while failing to replace him with anyone else in our lives. A few of us have perhaps found one or two friends over the course of our lives to whom we may reach out and share. Often, though, they are cities or states or continents apart. And this too, is a good thing–it’s a good thing to have friends you trust. But making your closest, confessional community entirely from men of a different church, or city, or state also insulates them from the other half of the story. They can listen and advise and comfort you only by receiving your life as a narrative you construct for them, rather than a life they can observe, critique, and speak into.
Secretly, I think we prefer accountability at a distance or with a spouse because it gives us an out; we must moderate ourselves with each. It is logical, after all, that we only tell our spouses what they are able to handle–she cannot, beyond the limits of imagination, understand you from a man’s perspective. It is natural, after all, that we only tell our far-away friends our side of the story–they have no regular exposure to our lives and so can’t come to know us by anything except that.
As to the other men in our lives, the ones that are actually with and around us regularly, the ones we sit beside in the pews or meet with in our missional communities, more often than not it is easy to be in a pattern of friendly acquaintance with them. They know us, we know them, but nobody really has to be known, not deeply, to maintain the friendship.
Men build their hopes for intimacy on future and current spouses and that’s how you end up one night in a DNA group, sharing for the first time with another man a secret or shame or fear you’ve kept from everyone but her.
Confession, we should realize, has always been the stuff of true intimacy. It is people knowing you at your worst and most vulnerable that allows you to feel most accepted, loved, and cared for. It is the moments of failure and abasement that allow us to hear the gospel again newly, to actually experience from others the love and forgiveness we know but secretly doubt God extends to us. And we can only experience this when we permit our friends to go there with us and become for us a vessel for His grace.
The easy conversations, in which all we find to share is the circumstances of our lives, are the conversation that build a surface-level connection. Like scrolling through our Facebook feed, we are merely checking in, updating each other on our status. It is more comfortable, certainly, to bro out: to talk sports, philosophy, the economy, business, politics, jobs, anything, really, that doesn’t require us to examine ourselves too deeply. Pick your poison. It’s when we dig into the stuff that makes those circumstances hard or upsetting for us–our anxiety, our unbelief, our doubt, and our sin–that we begin to reveal ourselves as we truly are: broken.
This is why “competent men” will never have true intimacy with others. If maintaining a facade of control or self-sufficiency is your default, no one is going to get to know you truly. You’ll perform your way through every friendship, lonely as a wandering ghost. But so often, even when we know we are lonely, we set our hopes on other intimacies: intimacy as romantic love, relationship, marriage, or synthetic and false alternatives like porn.
And this is why I think there’s something special about DNA groups. They are a tool for teaching men what intimacy looks like with one another. I’m now in my sixth or seventh DNA group–I’ve lost track–but what I’ve seen, over and over again, is that we need handholds to learn intimacy again. We need a structure that pushes us to talk about what is going on inside us and gets us out of our comfortable defaults. Not just behavior modification that is so much of men’s accountability–“Did you look at porn? Dummy, stop doing that.”–but a structure that is teaching us to listen first and speak slowly, with gospel fluency, so that we can each discover for ourselves where and why we don’t believe.
The culture certainly hasn’t taught us this. The idea of men arm in arm or holding hands has been relegated to the realm of eros, sexual desire, while in other cultures it’s as common as water. We have neither the models nor the practices for male intimacy. Western culture seems to have forgotten this, and apart from the military and team sports, it is more or less impossible to find structures for teaching men how to bond with men.
We Need True Friendship
In the deepest irony, it’s our marriages and dating lives that suffer for this. By looking to our wives as our chief or sole source of intimacy, we burden them with a need of discipleship that even the wisest and most patient of women can never fulfill. By looking to a relationship as our opportunity for intimacy, we build a lonely desperation at our center that sabotages us in its insecurity. We become needy, or predatory in how we court women–we date to be fulfilled by them instead of learning to cherish them.
Men were made not just to need and cherish our wives but to need and cherish true friendship with other men. That’s why my wife and I have always said that the best thing we’ve ever done for our marriage is for both of us to consistently be in a DNA group.
Truth be told, it was only as I had begun to share in DNA that I learned how to unmake the idol of marriage in my heart. I stopped living a life that was waiting for marriage to fulfill me and started living one that experienced intimacy with God through the men he’d brought into my community.
Everything we do in life should be for the purpose of growing closer to God. Men’s DNA then, if it is of any value at all, is valuable because it gives us a way into intimacy with Him, the best intimacy of all. When we make the space for Christian confession and begin to practice the art of speaking the gospel into one another’s lives, we begin to experience the promises of Scripture coming true for us: love, forgiveness, sanctification, grace, and hope.
Be prepared: this is more than a Bible study you attend. Growing in Christ Together will invite you to grow as a disciple and help others grow, too.
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