At some point in time (probably in the 40’s or 50’s), someone decided that it was better to replace the word “sex” with the euphemism “intimacy” or “being intimate.” And because of this, to this day, many older people will blush if you use the term “intimacy” around them, assuming you’re referring to sex.
But just recently, I was listening to this podcast on Desiring God, where pastor Sam Alberry made this profound point:
“The Bible shows us we can live without sex, but we’re not meant to live without intimacy. And the Bible has a much broader way of thinking about intimacy than we do […] In our culture, we’ve pretty much collapsed sex and intimacy into each other, so we find it very hard to conceive of intimacy that isn’t ultimately sexual. The Bible shows us that you can have plenty of sex without having intimacy, and it also shows us that you can have plenty of intimacy without having sex.”
When I heard that, the door was opened on something deep within me that I didn’t know I was longing for. For too many years, I have sat in the church pews hearing messages about marriage and dating and sex, and I have obediently shut my emotions off while listening, because I felt excluded from this amazing gift being described from the pulpit.
But for the first time I heard a pastor speak words of welcome to my longing soul – that what I truly craved more than anything was intimacy – and that I didn’t have to be excluded from it just because I wasn’t married.
And this knowledge that I can be known and loved and deeply cared for, even without a spouse, makes my heart rejoice
So what exactly does it mean to have intimacy with others? Dictionary.com has a number of definitions for intimacy, the second of which is, “a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group.” Another is, “the quality of being comfortable, warm, or familiar.” Sexual intercourse isn’t even listed until number 6.
I began to understand that intimacy is the quality that I have been discovering about real relationships this year – that when you truly get to know another person and listen to them, you are developing that intimacy of the soul that connects us with one another.
One article I read about this topic had great insights, even though the author’s premise was that ultimately, you should be seeking intimacy in a potential romantic relationship, which I disagree with. However, she said this about intimacy:
“Being intimate involves the mixing of our life with another’s, a mingling of souls, a sharing of hearts. This is something we all long for because it’s how God made us. We were designed to connect.”
“Real intimacy makes us feel alive, like we’ve been found, as if someone finally took the time to peer into the depths of our soul and really see us there.”
When I think of those who know me best – those I call my “kindred spirits,” be they family or friends – I do indeed feel like they are looking into my soul and truly knowing me. When I talk with them about all that we love and share in common, when we spur each other on in the faith, when we comfort and encourage one another in our trials, and when we celebrate our victories together, we are strengthening the bonds of intimacy that Christ has given us.
Like Sam Alberry said, the Bible gives us a much broader sense of intimacy, outside the confines of romantic relationships. Jesus Himself demonstrated this with his group of 12 disciples, the three who were closest to Him, and of course, John the Apostle – “the one whom Jesus loved.”
By establishing a community that was based on His love and His purposes, Jesus was showing us how to have true, Christian intimacy. This is a beautiful thing, especially when there are those of us who don’t fit into the traditional married roles – be that through singleness, through being widowed or divorced, or through a spouse who is no longer a close confidante.
If we come alongside each other in the church and make intentional efforts to build up intimacy and relationships, we come to see the reflection of Christ more clearly. The Trinity is, in itself, the most intimate relationship there ever was, and when we love others’ souls deeply, we are mirroring the love that God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have for one another.
I feel deep satisfaction in my closest of friendships because we are sharing that soul knowledge of one another. It is a joy and a relief to have someone in your life who wants to know you intimately and who accepts you for who you are, flawed though that may be. And because I’ve experienced that kind of intimacy, I know that if I’m ever to marry, it will only be to someone with whom I can have that kind of soul connection – or it will 100% not be worth it to me.
So, friends, let’s be more imaginative when it comes to intimacy. Let’s be willing to open our hearts and our homes to others and get to know them more deeply. Let’s allow honesty and vulnerability to be what defines us, and let’s embrace one another for who God made us to be.
Even if the term intimacy still makes you uncomfortable because of its connotations, let’s not limit close relationships only to marriage. May we not exclude others in the church through our definitions and the way we talk about marriage, making them feel that they can never be truly known or most deeply loved if they aren’t married. God’s imagination when it comes to relationships is so much wider than that – may we therefore reach out and embrace one another with His kind of love and intimacy.
Photo by my talented friend, Jenna Hill – visit her website here.