Intimacy. What an uncomfortable word. I don’t know about you, but just hearing somebody say the word “intimacy” can make me feel somewhat violated. It’s like I’m back in junior high health class, with the teacher talking so openly about things that just aren’t meant to be talked about in public. “Intimacy” is one of those things, or at least it has been for me for a long time. I have to admit, I’m still not completely over it now.
I’m not just talking about sex. Sex is one thing; I believe that you can have sex without being truly intimate. I also believe that you can be intimate without having sex. No, these words are definitely not synonymous. But they are intricately connected. Like sex, intimacy is private (no pun intended) and very personal. The whole point really, is that it is personal. In many cases, people use the word “intimate” to mean “personal.” For example, to say that a concert was intimate typically means that it was small, up-close, and personal. And that, I think, is the key to why intimacy is actually much more difficult to achieve than any purely physical connection. With intimacy, it’s personal; very, very personal. True intimacy is as personal as you can get.
So what is intimacy, then? And why on Earth and I talking about it?
Well, first of all, I think that there are many components involved. It includes a deep level of trust, honesty, openness, and vulnerability. Second of all, I believe that it is vital, absolutely mandatory, to achieve a deep level of intimacy in several areas of your life if you want to be truly fulfilled. These areas are with God, with yourself, with your spouse, and with selected others.
Let’s start with trust. In order to be any of the other things— honest, open, and vulnerable— you have to begin at a place of trust. You have to know that you can trust the other person with what you are about to share. Of course, to be completely honest, nobody on this planet is 100% trustworthy. We are all human, and we all do and will make mistakes. Sometimes, those mistakes involve betraying the trust of other people. When we decide to trust somebody else, we have to calculate the risk that they will betray our trust and decide to accept it, however big or small that risk is. Either way, there is a risk. That’s why it’s called trusting.
When it comes to God, there is no risk. Actually, I should rephrase that; when it comes to trusting God, there is no risk. The thing is, God has made a lot of promises to those who choose to listen. One of those promises is that we will not come under his judgment if we accept the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice. We also know that He is perfect, and that He cannot lie or break His promises. In other words, we can know with 100% certainty that God accepts and loves us. That should make it easy to trust Him, right?
Wrong. You see, as humans, we are full of doubt. No matter how certain we feel that what we believe about God is true, there is always that sliver of doubt. If you’re shaking your head right now, then hold on just a second. Do you really want to claim that you have no doubt at all? Because as Lee Strobel points out so brilliantly in The Case for Faith, if you have no doubt then you have no faith. All you have is knowledge.
Doubt is the reason that faith exists. God may provide loads and loads of proof for His existence, but in the end there is still that leap of faith that must be made, that choice to trust Him. It is that choice to trust Him that allows you to achieve intimacy with God. Because even though He is completely trustworthy, we are still human and it still takes faith for us to trust Him.
Honesty and openness are two of the other major pieces of the intimacy puzzle. Honesty means that you don’t try to lie or withhold information. It means that you can admit the truth even when it’s embarrassing, uncomfortable, or ugly. Lying to God is futile, because He knows what is in your heart and mind. Lying to yourself is silly, but we often do it anyway. Lying to others is a quick and easy way to keep people at a distance. And overall, lying and/or omitting the truth is the biggest enemy of intimacy. You have to be honest if you want to be intimate.
Openness goes one step further than honesty; it involves volunteering personal information without having to be asked, and being willing and eager to share yourself with others. Openness with yourself particularly means not trying to ignore or avoid things that you are dealing with. You simply cannot be intimate if you are not open. It’s an oxymoron! You can’t get personal without getting personal.
Last of all, vulnerability. Eeek! Seriously, being vulnerable can be completely unnerving and downright scary. Nobody wants other people to see them in a weak position! But when it comes to intimacy, being vulnerable is an irreplaceable ingredient. Interestingly enough, allowing yourself to be vulnerable is one of the best ways to build trust. It’s the key to tons of teambuilding exercises— just picture the scene from Mean Girls; one person stands on a stage and says something they have been afraid to share before, then they turn around and allow themselves to fall off, trusting everybody else to catch them. Only by being vulnerable and taking a risk are they able to learn that they can trust the others.
Vulnerability means sharing your weaknesses, not running from the uncomfortable, and allowing somebody else to see you in a deeper and more personal way. To be vulnerable with yourself means that you allow yourself to admit your weaknesses, that you make an effort to get to know yourself, and most importantly that you reaffirm your own vulnerability by refusing to judge yourself. You are allowed to feel how you feel!
Trust, honesty, openness, and vulnerability; these are the four keys to intimacy, as I see it. Next week, I’ll be continuing this topic by focusing on why it is so important to develop a sense of intimacy with God, with yourself, with your spouse, and with selected others.