Two and a half years ago I wrote a blog piece that came to my mind again this week. It centered around the word intimacity. At first, I thought I had coined a word; then I Googled it. Google says it means “the condition of being near.” It is basically a synonym for “intimacy.” So forgive me for improving the definition. We already have the word intimacy. I need this word: “intimacity” – that is, is our capacity for being intimate.
We long for intimacy, but most of us don’t have enough capacity to enter into it, even if we are offered it. The small group I was in one time during an Advent retreat experienced this lack. When I was sent off on a prayer walk as part of the same retreat, I had a moment of clarity. I realized that I and the others in my small group were all struggling with getting to the place where we could connect. Most of us told stories that demonstrated that we were relatively obsessed with connecting – clinging to life rafts of intimacy (even if they gave us splinters), chafing under the bits of our loneliness, restlessly scanning our horizons looking for moments when we might feel together, touched, or at least relevant. But one of the missing factors in our equations of connection was our own intimacity.
We need the intimacy, but it is exactly what is broken between us — and we never seem to know why. At least I am often a bit foggy on just how I operate. I think we all have a tendency to think all our relationships just mysteriously happened. We might be a bit in denial about what we bring to the situation – namely our capacity for intimacy, or intimacity. Our ability (or usually lack of same) needs to be named. We need to develop. So let’s do that a bit, right now.
If we ever try to figure out what’s wrong or undeveloped with our intimacity, we often spend a lot of time and energy starting at the wrong place: with other people. We lay awake at night wondering why someone broke up with us. We minutely (and often wrongly) list what someone thinks is wrong with us, based on their off-hand comment or body language. We dissect the lacks of our parents and how we adapted to them detrimentally. We flood our therapists with stories (thank God for Circle Counseling!) about how we are stuck and stumbling, or how someone has stuck us or made us stumble.
But our broken relationships with other people are often symptoms of a core issue: our intimacity in relation to God. That’s where we need to start. During Advent every year (and any time we open the Bible, or seek God at all), we get another chance to see God’s great intimacity. It is a good example for us. God, who is so totally other than us, becomes so totally one with us – choosing to be like us in body, sharing our sorrow and sickness, identifying with our unforgiveness and death! All the tender feelings we feel when we see Mary holding the baby should seem as amazing as they are – God just came out of her womb, vulnerable, open to the mother/father love he IS.
The beginning of my own intimacity starts with reconnecting with the Source of it. Trying to get there through endless attempts at human relationship repair is kind of backwards. But I, and probably you, do quite a few things backwards. Just in our small group during the Advent retreat (which was actually rather intimate, even though we’d mostly just met), we all demonstrated our fear of being vulnerable. I know that the whole experience made me ponder how easy it is for me to resist the impending experience of lack of connection rather than resist what I do to help create that experience. I am working on seeing my withdrawals and avoidances as sins against the call of the baby Jesus to be trustingly vulnerable with him.
Blessedly, we can share the Lord’s ability. Once he was born of the flesh. But what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Post-resurrection, our intimacity with God is as amazing as His is with us. The more we open ourselves to that Spirit-to-spirit relationship, discipline ourselves to receive the love, repent of the sin that has tangled up our relationship with God, so far (mainly the sin of not being open and receiving), the more we have a chance to relax enough to explore how we can connect with all the people we would love to love, and would love to love us.
So what can one do to develop intimacity?
1) Have at least one daily appointment with God. Try reading a book about developing intimacity like Martin Laird’s Into the Silent Land. It is one of my favorites from 2011.
2) Get a therapist. You probably need one. Psychotherapy is great for people who are having true difficulty living day-by-day. But it is also great for anyone who is exploring the unconscious ways we all relate that need to be more conscious. We don’t need to spend our whole lives protecting ourselves from disappointing or destructive intimacy.
3) Worship when it is organized for you. If we don’t merely sit through public worship and watch it, sometimes singing songs, our hearts can be softened and love unleashed. It is an easy connecting point that repeatedly gives us a chance to loosen up.
4) Make a plan for how to relate in your cell; don’t just attend it, waiting for something to happen. The cell is a weekly discipline that includes developing our intimacity. I hope it is a safe place for you to move beyond what is typical for you, to be born again in further ways, to have Spirit capacitized in your flesh.