Why are we afraid of intimacy?
What do I mean by that?
Well here’s my attempt at a definition (not meant to be binding, but something to work with.)
Intimacy is the bridge or glue that connects two distinct creatures in physical, emotional, mental or spiritual space between them. Intimacy connects us with other people, animals, creation, or spiritual powers.
You may define it differently.
But this bridge or glue is scary – and vulnerable, as well as liable to abuse.
Sometimes it’s just easier not to go through the effort. Sometimes it’s safer just to not reach out.
But intimacy is core to our human existence – young babies will literally die if they do not have enough human contact.
When people lack or are afraid of intimacy, they will hurt others or themselves in an attempt to get it.
It is a precious resource that I am concerned is threatened in our social media saturated world.
We are actually forgetting how to be intimate with one another!
I understand intimacy as the bridge of the space between us to be expressed in these characteristics:
*Listening – giving someone all of yourself in a moment, your focus in communication, your empathy in emotion, and your authenticity in interaction.
*Silence – moving beyond words in relationship. You can be quiet together, and that’s okay, in fact you don’t have to put any front at all, but just be and your being can be accepted.
*Understanding – it’s not that we’re the same as the other person in relationship, either externally or internally, it’s that we can mutually understand one another especially when we have conflicting opinions or expressions. We don’t need to try to impress the other, or say what we think they want us to say.
*Whimsy – in intimate connections with others, time slows and becomes unimportant and non-existent. We can feel free to just be with one another.
*Fearlessness – self-consciousness disappears, and we do not fear the other person, but draw closer to them, because intimacy builds a connection that is more powerful than fear. Perfect love casts out all fear.
*Exclusive – intimacy is not something we just give to anyone at any time, but we boundary it and protect it, because it is a sacred gift. It is the “you had to be there” moment that everyone who wasn’t there misses out on.
*Unforced – it is freely expressed and freely given. It is impossible to force one person to be intimate with you. You can commit any kinds of actions or abuse or violation against their body, but that will not give you any authentic intimacy.
Now intimacy has gotten so politicized,
and become so synonymous with sex in public discussion,
that we’re not actually able to talk about our core strivings as human beings.
Sex offers deep intimacy so rarely in our world (so often it is transactional, one-sided or abusive)
and so rarely intimacy is expressed without sexual connotations (especially amongst males).
When I say this I mean saying “I love you” to a friend or family member,
giving a good and heartfelt hug that lasts more than a quick obligatory second, or
sitting in comfortable and attentive silence with one another, just to name a few examples.
How common are these moments for you?
But we need it so deeply, especially in a society that is getting really good at numbing out deep connection.
Unfortunately, the institutional church often struggles to contribute anything to the conversation,
either adopting a rigid structure to keep intimacy safely bordered,
or moving towards a carte blanche “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
It’s either an over-controlling helicopter parent or it’s an absentee.
It either tries to police intimacy or leaves it completely unprotected.
Both of these approaches limit our own ability to feel intimacy in our lives.
We are actually forgetting how to express intimacy with one another.
My biggest contention with the church’s conversation around sexuality,
isn’t really about who’s having sex with whom.
It is that we fail to understand how striving for intimacy is a core part of Christian faith.
Intimacy with God.
Intimacy with others in the believing community.
Intimacy with our selves.
All of it free from fear.
Jesus is an embodiment of God’s desire for intimacy with us.
The traditional Christian belief that God became human through Jesus expresses how God wanted to be intimate with us, so God became one of us.
In our society’s quest for intimacy, and to moving out of the oppressive and anti-relational shackles that modernity and puritanism has imposed on us, we’ve rushed to sexual liberation as the answer.
Sexual Liberation means freedom to choose one’s partner or partners.
Sexual Liberation means freedom to marry because of love and choice.
Sexual Liberation means freedom of sexual expression using media or pornography.
Sexual Liberation means freedom to commodify and utilize sex for whatever one desires.
Sexual Liberation means freedom from oppressive gender norms.
Sexual Liberation means freedom for the individual.
There are many ways that this has truly been liberating. There are also ways in which the shackles in which we are trying to break free from have only been made tighter. And as we’ve been unleashing sex, we’ve started to have less of it.
Could it be that all this marketing and visualization of sex is cheapening its intimate power?
If we’re having sex less, why is it all that anyone seems to talk about?
In many progressive Christian circles, there’s a desire to show the bible’s sexier side.
Believe it or not, this is important – we can’t be afraid of sex in the church. Fear of the sexual has caused so much evil and oppression.
However, that being said, when one searches for the bible as if they were scrolling through a celebrity tabloid, to find out who was having sex with whom, we can miss out on the deeper truths of the text.
The text doesn’t say clearly, and I dare say the text doesn’t care all that much. But I think the bigger truth isn’t exploring what happened, but the intimacy that was expressed in these moments. Why does it need to be sex?
In the two former instances, in cultures where male-to-male physical affection was routinely expressed in a non-sexual manner, isn’t it interesting that a culture that struggles with platonic male physical affection on epidemic levels so quickly makes these ancient stories about sex? What does that say about us and our inadequacies?
What are we missing?
Intimacy gets complicated in community.
The detail-by-detail play-by-play distinctions between moral and immoral physical expression are not defined by God on high, nor even by the bible (although there are generally consistent themes), but by a community (or an institution, which believe it or not is a form of community). The community defines what is appropriate and what is not – what will increase intimacy among us, and what will break it apart? Ideally, intimacy in the community grows as a result of these distinctions. But too often, it all gets inverted and people get hurt and excluded on fairly specious reasoning and/or evidence.
But again, I’m not really talking about sex.
I’m talking about how intentional a church is about pursuing its depth of connection amongst each other and with God. This is what I look for in a church.
When I walk into a church, what is the intimacy factor?
The buzz in the air?
Do I feel God’s presence in this community?
One thing you may or may not know about the early church, but they commonly met to worship around a dinner table, reclined together on a mattress-like couch on a floor, and greeted each other with holy hugs and kisses. Physical expression was an integral part of creating intimacy as a community in the early church.
The intention with the holy hug or kiss, was an opportunity to express physical intimacy with one another devoid of sexual undertones. It created an intimate and physical “sex-free zone” between people (hence the reason they called it ‘holy’ – meaning separate), to create a family-like atmosphere. This is why fellow believers in the early church called each other fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters.
We have constructed a world where we try to protect ourselves from intimacy (especially for males). We put shoes on our feet before walking outside. Too much physical interaction with children is seen as questionable or suspicious. We greet people with safe business-like handshakes – symbolically saying that you as a whole embodied person does not matter, it’s only the work that your hands accomplish.
We block out intimacy publically and in polite social interaction, because we don’t understand it. And to paraphrase Carmine Falcone from Batman Begins: people are always afraid of what they don’t understand.
I guess I’m striving and dreaming of a church, where we’re striving more about intimacy and authenticity than appearances and rigidity. I am less concerned about how it’s particular stance on sexual ethics, but value if it a place where we can be real together, worship together, heal together, challenge each other and help each other grow spiritually. Isn’t that what mostly anyone is looking for when they go to church? To express God’s love in community?
So I close with the question, what does intimacy mean for you?
How do you find it in your own life?
What action do you take to protect it?
How do you pursue intimacy with others?
What scares you?
How do you desire more connection in your life?