Relationships

What is intimacy?

Mark Lee // August 20, 2018, 4:18 pm

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I was listening to the radio earlier today, and there was a segment in which three professional family counsellors were sharing their perspectives on what intimacy is.

I was very frustrated by their responses. One of the first things they said and kept returning to was how they didn’t want to “box in” intimacy by being prescriptive or normative by giving definitions. A professional “insight” like that was hardly compelling.

Then one of the counsellors said that intimacy between two people was about creating a shared space in which both partners could share without presumption or judgment. At last, we were getting close to something that could be evaluated and actually realised in a practical way.

Then the counsellors bounced off each other’s ideas along that trend, talking about non-judgment and non-prescriptive exchange, and how “it’s really up to the couple to define it for themselves”. Since it really wasn’t going anywhere particularly helpful, I decided to turn off what was apparently professional advice and mull over my frustration.

So here’s my unprofessional opinion: Intimacy can be defined, not exhaustively, but at least with some identifiable characteristics.

One key characteristic and marker of intimacy is when the dichotomy between self and other cease to exist. Simply put: Intimacy is when two beings cease to be separate and begin to be one.

Now, for many of us, one of the first representations of such intimacy that comes to mind would be sex. Understandably so, just from the biology and physicality involved in sexual intercourse. But we can’t allow ourselves to think that that’s all there is to intimacy, that sex is the only representation of intimacy or even the pinnacle of intimacy – that’s a lie that an intimacy-starved world is being fed.

If we consider that intimacy is when two beings cease to be separate and begin to be one, there are a number of cases where it is not about sex.

This scenario has everything to do with our souls being made for more than our self-desires and self-wants. It has everything to do with the beauty of a soul recognising that it was made for greater things – that it has the capacity to unite with another to reflect something that it would never be able to on its own.

But we can’t allow ourselves to think that that’s all there is to intimacy, that sex is the only representation of intimacy or even the pinnacle of intimacy.

I think of when the disciples asked Jesus to show them the Father (Father God) – that that would be enough for them to believe and to trust (John 14:8).

Jesus’ reply is astounding. In verse 9, He says that anyone who has seen Him (Jesus) has seen the Father. In verse 10, He goes one level up, saying, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.”

So Jesus, a man who never had sex, is a role model of true intimacy: They are so close to one another in the relationship that Jesus says that Father God and Himself are inseparable – one and the same.

No longer is A (Jesus) doing A’s things, and then B (Father God) doing B’s things – A is with B doing AB things.

Of course, there’s something to be said about Jesus “deferring” to God’s authority and debating whether God’s work is Jesus’ work, but the point still stands: There really is no longer a dichotomy between self and other – there’s only one. Jesus no longer physically walks on this earth, but the relationship between the Church (all who call themselves Christian) and Jesus is likewise supposed to emulate this oneness.

We should not feed ourselves a watered-down or fluffy version of intimacy. We need to courageously consider this new paradigm of intimacy and apply it where possible in our lives.

We need to move past a version of intimacy where “you and I” are still glaringly present. It’s not about about one person getting some good stuff, and another getting some good stuff … Because why is there still both? Why is there still we?

I know it sounds extreme, but those are terms which mean two entities are present. So people can talk all they want about wanting to make each other comfortable and serving others – but we can’t allow ourselves to believe that true intimacy ends there.

No longer is A (Jesus) doing A’s things, and then B (Father God) doing B’s things – A is with B doing AB things.

Intimacy is about a willingness to surrender the self to something or someone, with the hope of becoming something more with them – something that does not dismiss or deny the existence of the self or other, but allows for both the self and other to be powerfully re-expressed, re-created as one.

There are weighty implications to this: If we hold each other at arm’s length, which of us would truly be willing to be the first to surrender?

Yet Jesus did it. Somehow. Even with people who mocked, betrayed and killed Him. He decided not to save himself, but surrendered.

But the story doesn’t end there. Jesus’ surrender and death became something that exceeded far more than that surrendered self. Jesus realised God’s plan, life itself – a possibility of reconciliation for all humanity to true goodness and life with a Father God that desires true intimacy with us.

There are just two simple questions left to ask yourself now.

  • To what or who am I willing to surrender to?
  • What confidence do I have that my surrender will yield something greater?

This article was first published on Mark’s blog, and is republished with permission.