I have had a few thoughts about writing this blog post… Namely the quick mental connection that occurs between the words intimacy and sex, and secondly because it’s, well, intimate.
There are a handful of people I would discuss truly intimate things with, and even then I might pick and choose between them. The time I might turn to my Mum will look very different to the time I turn to an old and trusted friend. So writing about intimacy isn’t easy. If you know me, I’m concerned it’s embarrassing. If you don’t know me, I’m still concerned it’s embarrassing, but at least I don’t have to look you in the eye any time soon.
In books I have read on divorce and on singleness, there is an emphasis on intimacy and how to handle our desire for this. It usually focuses on one thing: God. God is to be the source of our intimacy.
Now to be frank, physical intimacy is something you really miss when it’s no longer there. There’s obviously sex, but there’s also hugs, hand holding and being physically close to someone. Then there’s the emotional intimacy where you could exchange a hundred words in a look, and reveal your deepest fears or concerns; that’s missing too.
Intimacy is defined as being closely acquainted, or having a detailed and thorough knowledge of something. It’s as applicable to exploring and understanding a theoretical concept or a piece of software as it is to an emotional, intellectual and physical relationship with another person! It’s not simply a synonym for sex; it’s knowing and in the case of relationship rather than a concept, being known.
Wherever we are in our experiences of intimacy, whether positive, negative or non-existent, our desire for intimacy can be met in God. We can become closely acquainted with God. Like a parent and a child, He already knows us yet longs to talk to us, that we might come to know Him better. Intimacy is created when people spend time with what they want to learn more about.
So as I sat around thinking on this idea further, I suddenly realised my idea of intimacy of God was really boring. I mean, intimacy with God is great. I love hanging out in my room praying, and seeing God reveal something new in the Bible or give me a new way to look at a situation or story. But my idea of intimacy with God was somehow confined to sitting on my bed, praying, listening and reading my Bible. These are all good things, but if I was on a date and all we did was sit in their room, this would firstly not be overly conducive to a healthy relationship, and secondly would get pretty boring pretty quickly. In a way it’s not surprising that intimacy with God was great but not necessarily something I looked forward to enough.
The thoughts in my head would often go something like this…
‘Thank you Lord for this beautiful day – Wouldn’t it be great to go for a walk? – Thank you that you have revealed this character flaw to me…even though I don’t desperately want to acknowledge it – I’d really like to go for a walk, and get a coffee – how can I be changed to be more like you God, what can I do to grow more like you?’
Do you know what I’d do with my best friend? I’d go for the walk.
I’d talk about this character flaw and express how I see it cropping up in my life and the damage it’s causing. I’d ask their advice about what to do. Then I’d listen, to how they see this flaw, to the ways I could change it, refine myself and my behaviour. Then we’d go and have a coffee, and cake.
Miriam Swaffield spoke at Momentum 2015 on the idea of retreat with God. And this wasn’t to sit in a bedroom. It is to go and do something with God. To get out and listen. Go to the coffee shop and read your Bible. Hike up a mountain and listen to what God’s saying to you. Find what you love doing and go and do that with God. My inbuilt desire to talk out loud mean that a quiet coffee shop might not work out so well, but walking along with a headphone in as though I’m on Bluetooth just might.
Intimacy is built on knowledge gained and time invested, learning more and letting more of yourself be known. But you’ve invested hugely and now the market’s crashed. Intimacy is so understated as what you miss when you’re no longer married. There’s the emotional intimacy where you share your joys and frustrations and everything in between. There’s the physical intimacy – from sitting next to them on the sofa to sex and everything in between.
Yet this intimacy we seek is possible with God. It doesn’t involve anything other than yourself being present and making time, much like intimacy in any relationship.
But how can God really fill that void? He’s not physically here, as a person, giving you a hug when you feel completely alone, devoid of the one who knows you. But He does know you. He knows when you’re angry or excited or apprehensive or just kind of ‘meh’. He’ll listen to you express those emotions. He sends people around you for hugs and to be a physical presence in your life. Wait a while and see if you can’t feel His presence around you; perhaps it’s on the mountain tops or by water or when you go for that really long run. His tangible presence is wherever you feel most alive.
No person is ever going to fully fill that void. Your spouse won’t have: there’ll have been moments they didn’t quite get it, or didn’t seem to know you like you’d thought. There’ll have been times you didn’t know what they were thinking or quite get it right either. So if we seek for another person to fill the void they left, there will always be a gap. Even if you were still together, there would still be a gap. No single person can be everything to another; only God can be that. To put another person in that role is to set ourselves up for disappointment and doom them to failure. We can enjoy intimacy in our friendships, our familial attachments and in romantic relationships. In fact we need intimacy in our life, not by being married but simply by having those who love us and champion us. Yet our ultimate intimate relationship is God; the only one who can fulfil that thirst for intimacy – the familiarity, detailed knowledge and the very closest of connections we all seek. Single, married, remarried, separated; it’s available. All we have to do is seek it out.
The best talk (in a series of great talks) I’ve ever heard on the topic of intimacy: ‘Let’s Talk About Sex‘.