When the New Man Looks Like the Old Man

“If anyone needs prayer, I invite you to speak with someone at the back of the room before you leave our service today. We’d love to pray with you.”

I do need prayer, I think to myself from the back row. I need prayer very much. I need freedom from passivity. I need courage. I need strength to take initiative and step forward again.

But therein lies the problem: I need someone to pray for my impulse to move because I cannot move on my own, and yet how am I going to get this prayer for movement without first moving on my own?

And thus the service ends, and I walk out the building, walking right past the people lining the walls waiting and wanting to pray with me, walking away from another opportunity to join a small group or join this particular church, even.

I walk away instead of forward because this familiar direction has grown comfortable for the last year and a half.

Walking away has become my new normal — and it looks a lot like my old normal.

When the New Man Looks a Lot Like the Old Man

I’m drawn to personal growth. I’m obsessed with personality models and quizzes and learning more about myself so that I can make informed decisions that will help me grow. A physical touch, words of affirmation guy with the love languages; a Myers-Briggs INFJ; an Enneagram Type 4; and a Strengths Finder top-5 of intellection, harmony, input, responsibility, empathy — I know all about me.

I’ve been beckoned by risk-taking and additional life experience, whether it involves moving across one country or wandering for months across two.

For the last six years especially, I’ve followed the impulse to leave the old me behind in mad pursuit of a new me somewhere beyond the arching horizon of land and sky.

I can’t stay the same.

I have to keep moving.

I can’t stay still.

Don’t sharks do this? Don’t they have to keep swimming to breathe properly?

That’s me:

A shark always swimming forward or backward, or I’m dead.

I’ve been swimming forward in many ways since I moved to Asheville six months ago. Growing another blog. Starting a podcast. Launching a support-raising campaign to create even more content and sustain a basic living. (If you want to support what I’m doing with Your Other Brothers, even $1/month goes a long way.)

I’ve unwittingly become a leader of a group of men whom I never had any intention of leading a decade or even a year ago, and I am a new man, no doubt.

And yet so much of this new man feels too much like my old man. Beyond the safe and distant world of the Internet, in the “real world” I’ve grown too afraid to

commit to a church

find a regular group

plug into community

invest with this city

reach out to others when I’m hurting

trust others

be as real offline as I am online.

For years, my socially anxious self has had to summon inner courage without anyone to push me or decide the hard things for me.

I forced myself to visit churches and try out small groups week after week. Even when I didn’t connect and it all felt like a waste of everyone’s time.

I forced myself to commit to a community and share my story in a circle. Even when I had no idea if I’d be heard or accepted.

I forced myself to ask a man if he would hug me in my brokenness. Even when I felt so silly and desperate saying the words aloud.

I know I’ve turned into a totally new man these last six years. The old me wouldn’t recognize the new me. But is it possible to un-grow? To step back into the pages I’ve already written?

Why does it now feel impossible to force myself to commit to a place and people, week after week,

to share my story in a circle,

to ask a man if he will hug me?

I’m exhausted from mustering this inward strength I no longer have; I’m desperate for a push from beyond. Call it a “sign” or a phone call or a man hugging me without my having to ask him first.

I need something. I want to move forward again.

I used to be a guy who loved taking initiative. A guy who could see a probably homeless man with a typewriter on the side of a street and approach him and ask him for his story. A guy who believed in “destiny” and “paths crossing” and “God’s love.”

Now I see this probably homeless man with a typewriter, and I walk away from him. I walk away from the man on the street and the new man in my heart and the story that awaits us both. The story that doesn’t want to be written. Or can’t be written. Or needs a lot more help to be written.

I feel trapped in this bizarre vortex so far removed from the timeline I once walked and yet also parallel to it.

I’ve become an old man in a new man’s body.

And I don’t know what to do with that.

  • Kevin Zimmerman

    Tom. I’m not sure I have anything to offer in the realm of wisdom. But maybe some “I’m here with you” will be some encouragement?
    Over the last five years I’ve lived in 4 distinct places. I spent the majority of two of those years traveling. And why this hurts is people tell me that I’ve grown and had amazing experiences, but when I look at myself I see alongside that the continued self doubt, the lack of long-term friendship, on-going confusion with where I fit in this world/neighborhood/community. Community is something I’ve experienced through gap year programs, but when left to find, join, create community on my own…. I’m stumped and I just don’t know where to begin.
    There are still moments that break through this – real conversations with my housemate or long-distance friendships showing me the test of time. These are good moments, but honestly, they don’t always hold the weight I need them to?
    Praying for wisdom and understanding. For the re-ignition of sparks and passions. For embraces and affirmations through the mountains and valleys.

    • Thanks Kevin. Appreciate your support from afar. Your prayers for re-ignition especially resonate. I need all the sparks I can muster. Much love, brother.