I had just finished our last service one weekend and was on my way out of the church when a young woman with tears in her eyes stopped me. She asked me, “Does intimacy really require vulnerability?” She shared the trauma of her past relationships and how it had basically erected a wall around her heart. She was fine with romance, but the definition of intimacy I had given during that morning’s service seemed like an impossible standard to her.
“…Entering into another person’s brokenness and pain with a heart to bless rather than flee or blame.”
Dr. Dan Allender captures this idea of intimacy with a personal story. He and his family were on a ski slope. He was waiting at the bottom of the mountain, and his wife and son were not quite halfway down. His son had fallen and refused to get back up. Finally, Dr. Allender walked back up the mountain to “fix things.” He motioned to his wife to get out of the way so he could sufficiently motivate his son to stop acting like a baby. His wife stood between them, protecting her son from her husband, but not in a mean-spirited way. Dr. Allender was quite livid by the time he got to them, but she just put her hand on his chest and said, “I know the men in your life who have humiliated you.” In just a few words she sucked all the anger out of him and brought him to a stunning moment of self-awareness. “I know that is not what you want to do with your son. You are a good man. You’re a good father.” Then she turned and skied away.
It’s good to differentiate between romance, intimacy, and love.
Love can create intimacy, and intimacy can create romance. Without true intimacy, though, romance leaves us feeling like empty shells. And intimacy is only possible through love.
Here are two intimacy killers:
“I can’t let him see this part of me.”
Vulnerability is a prerequisite to intimacy. What we keep in hiding functions as a chasm between us. We wonder why we don’t feel much of a connection when we’re so guarded and full of fear.
“I can’t help him with that.”
The pursuit of intimacy is complicated when we suffer from our spouses’ brokenness or help cause it. Usually, those struggles are the very forces that drive us apart from one another. We judge and blame. We feel defensive and fall into self-protection modes. When we choose the inner characteristics of Jesus that the apostle Paul describes in Colossians 3:12 (compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience), though, and allow them to help us forgive and forbear (as described in the next verse, 3:13), we will experience intimacy.
So enjoy the romantic dinner, but don’t confuse it with intimacy! If you want intimacy tonight, open your heart a little more than you have in the past. Enter into his or her pain and brokenness with a heart to bless. You’ll be amazed at the connection that can form!
Wesley Furlong is the founder and director of City of Refuge (refuge.life), a network for community transformation and the director of Church Development for the EVANA Network, an evangelical Anabaptist network of churches across North America.