Get too close and you’re likely to get hurt. No wonder many people are afraid to take the risk. Most of us have been hurt in some way (or many ways) and being vulnerable again feels too dangerous. Whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually, it can make you wonder if intimacy is worth the risk involved.
You do risk getting hurt when you get close. Think of the people you’ve trusted to some degree during your lifetime: parents, siblings, childhood friends, teachers, romantic friends, business partners, church associates, spouses. Can you think of any of them who haven’t caused you pain in some way? You’re fortunate indeed if you have a parent who never said cutting words to you, a sibling who never tormented or bullied you, a teacher who never disappointed you, a business partner who was always trustworthy, or a spouse who never let you down. The closer you come to someone, the more likely it is that you will experience pain.
Physical pain is there too. As an OB-Gyn physician I work with a large number of women who experience physical pain with sex. Pelvic infections, endometriosis, menopausal hormone changes, or other medical conditions may cause real pain with sexual activity, sometimes preventing intercourse entirely. A woman’s nervous system responds by trying to prevent further pain, making her mind involuntarily recoil from the idea of intimacy. It becomes a vicious cycle.
Intimacy also risks spiritual pain. Your soul may have been wounded by a spiritual leader who didn’t live up to what they claimed to be. Your faith may have been challenged by a loved one’s illness, death, or betrayal. Being close to God may have left your heart somewhat raw when He doesn’t do things in the way you might have hoped.
God’s Pain with Intimacy
God Himself is familiar with the equation “intimacy plus sin equals pain.” He knew He would suffer when He created humankind. He could have remained at a distance, leaving His creation to go their own way while keeping His divine soul protected.
But instead Jesus came as “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23) He entered our world and became vulnerable physically, emotionally, and spiritually. He felt our pain in His body, His mind, and His spirit. He knew physical pain, human betrayal, and deep soul sorrow. (Hebrews 4:15, Mark 14:41-46, Matthew 27:46)
And yet He came anyway. He risked the pain of living as a man, dying on the cross, and going to hell on our behalf. (Philippians 2:5-8) And for Him it wasn’t really a risk: He KNEW He would experience more pain than we can describe or imagine, all from getting close to us. So close He would feel everything we feel and be burdened with our sin. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Is Intimacy Worth It for Us?
The only way to keep ourselves from being hurt would be to close ourselves behind thick walls in our own private solitary confinement, with no connection to the outside world. Then you’d never have to worry about physical, emotional, or spiritual pain from intimacy ever again.
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
Some people try to create false or distorted intimacy, hoping to obtain the benefits of closeness without the risks. Singles become sexually involved hoping to avoid the risks inherent in the commitment of marriage. Spiritual leaders work hard to close off aspects of their private lives while projecting a false vulnerability to others. Spouses withhold aspects of their hearts while pretending to be fully present to each other. Instead of safe closeness, such false distorted intimacy only serves to build less visible walls, but risks even more shame when those walls are eventually breached.
So what are we to do?
- Choose intimacy partners carefully. Don’t give away your heart too soon. Kindness and forgiveness are to be offered freely; trust and intimacy is earned.
- Push the intimacy envelope. Vulnerable openness in circumstances that are as wise and as safe as reasonably possible will grow you as a person and allow you to reap the rewards of true intimacy.
- Don’t neglect spiritual intimacy. Issues of shame, grief, meaning, purpose, hope – these are matters beyond the mind. It’s worth stretching your closest relationships to be open to these issues, and to nurture your relationship with God here as well.
- Don’t lash back when intimacy hurts. Yes, in some way and at some point you will be hurt. Evaluate your own part in the situation. Allow yourself time to heal. Look to God for His perspective. And then slowly open your heart again.
- Keep learning to love well. As humans we are never finished until we arrive in heaven. Until then, invest in the people God has placed in your life. Keep on learning how to love them well.
Intimacy is a risk. But it’s a risk worth taking. Your soul can only experience the fullness and meaning of love when you take the risk of moving closer.
Your Turn: Have you been hurt as a result of intimacy? In what way? Leave a comment below.
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