Most of my life growing up, I often felt misunderstood. I tried to relate to those around me by being who I thought they wanted me to be. But it felt like few, if any, ever saw the real me and said, “I like that person.” That took its toll, and I easily withdrew within myself. I became, at best, a private person. I longed for a friend that would accept me for who I was, yet neither did I ever allow the real me, with all my fears, insecurities, and sin to be seen. I built protective walls of shyness to keep the anticipated pain of rejection manageable and as far away as possible. But something within always ached for a connection with another that would provide a reason to open the door of my heart and truly be seen and known.
As a teen, I realized the name of the quality I hungered for was intimacy. Marriage, I then presumed, would satisfy this yearning. A sexual relationship, afterall, is the epitome of closeness and connection. And though it initially seemed to do the trick, I eventually came to an unexpected realization: a person can be married, sleep in the same bed with someone and still feel lonely and disconnected at times.
A Universal Desire
I, like so many, have longed for intimacy in my relationships but have found it elusive. There are moments when it seems to be within my grasp, conversations or activities with a friend or with my wife where the bond feels almost other-worldly. It’s as if we can see into each other’s soul. Yet it doesn’t last, fading with distance and time. I want to believe, however, that those moments are glimpses of what can be mine continuously, forever. But how?
And then there’s my relationship with God.
I was a young adult when I was told that God desires an intimate relationship with me. It was initially a strange idea, but nevertheless intriguing. I was familiar with the Bible and the concept of serving God. I had memorized scripture as a child, and I knew a lot of information about God and His Son, Jesus. What poked at my mind was that there was possibly a level of connection with my Creator that I had not experienced. Could I be known by God as well as know Him in a way that went beyond merely accumulating theological theories, doing good deeds, and recounting biblical stories? What did having a relationship with God really mean?
Intimacy is important for humans, even holding the key to the meaning of life. But how do I know when I achieve it with a person or with God? The general definition I often hear is that it is a sense of closeness with another where individuals feel connected emotionally, mentally, spiritually or physically. It seems to come about when two share something. Yet it can seem random, shy, delicately fragile, tenaciously defying manipulation. It cannot be demanded, forced, or purchased. When present, it brightens the future, infuses a new sense of purpose and makes everything look a bit more promising. It also provides an avenue for another to speak into blind spots, helping guard against self-deception. Overall, it adds value to life that cannot be fully explained. If only I could be assured of having access to this quality all the time.
Choices for Intimacy?
What can we do to make intimacy a more regular part of our relationships? Here are a few things I’ve discovered so far. But I’m sure there must be more.
To feel known by and connected with another, we have to let ourselves be seen. Hiding our real selves is probably the first and greatest barrier to achieving intimacy with anyone. Typically, we tightly manage what others see of us, pushing to the front what we believe will give us greater social capital and concealing that which we feel will add to rejection and shame. Many have let this hiding become a part of their lives to such a depth that they don’t even realize they’re immersed in it. Unfortunately, we Jesus followers can be the most proficient at concealing ourselves. We feel we ought to have it all together if we’re claiming to walk with the Son of God. We naturally cover up that which we know doesn’t fit who He is. The result is typically a polished and manicured exterior (at least for the short run) with an interior that is often full of deception, confusion, insincerity, shame, and fear. And the worst part is that it seems there is no one with whom we can honestly and safely talk about all that’s going on within.
Yet intimacy, and the safety it offers, can only be achieved by passing through the terrifying doorway of vulnerability. This is true for relationships with people and a relationship with God. To be truly intimate with another human, I have to let myself be known for who I really am: the good, the bad, and the ugly. For two people to have an intimate relationship, there must be mutual vulnerability on an equal level. Otherwise such unbalanced self-exposure is neither wise nor safe. Intimacy with God will always involve honesty about my own sinfulness and weaknesses as well as the worth He sees in me. It will also bring with it the recognition of His goodness and holiness and all He desires to show me about Himself. Such relationships, human or divine, invite each other to “into-me-see” in a connection that is bathed in trust. Life flows through such relationships.
Settling for Less
The temptation, however, will always be to find shortcuts that don’t cost so much. Substitutes for true intimacy abound but don’t give us what we long for. Sex is probably what most people think of when they hear the word “intimacy.” Yet the physical closeness of mere sexual contact will never satisfy the cravings of the heart. Only a commitment to honest emotional and spiritual vulnerability can make the deeper connection possible.
Relating only to people who tell us what we want to hear is also a typical way we seek to manufacture closeness. But it ultimately cannot deliver true intimacy. Still others connect over shadowy secrets and hidden sins, experiencing a strong attachment and identity with those who share their darkness. But it ends up creating bonds that shackle them into dead-end relationships, draining their life through manipulation, deceit, and despair.
God Longs for It Too
I have come to the belief that while it is God’s intention that His children experience intimacy in this life, it is at best a mere taste of what is yet to come. Within our human limitations, we can at most be truly intimate with two or three others. Even Jesus in His humanness, among all his followers and disciples appeared to have three, Peter, James, and John with whom He shared more intimate moments. And among those, it was John who claimed to be “the one whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21:20), a uniquely special relationship. The questions for us are, do I have even one that I can walk in intimacy with? And what would God have me do to make room for more intimacy in my life with others and with Him?
Beyond even a human companion, God is offering a life-giving closeness with Himself. There is, of course, a cost. Our pride, self-protection, hidden sins all have to be acknowledged and laid at His feet. And while we may not be able to constantly feel the intimate closeness the way we would like, that’s not the end. But when we do feel it, it is a reminder of what is to come.
The future, for all who seek God through Jesus now, is an unbroken intimate love relationship with Him for all eternity. And you can get a taste of it today.