Intimacy is a scary concept for a lot of people. When I mentioned I was writing a book about intimacy, some people visibly tensed up. Others blushed. My wife laughed.
I sometimes wonder why people have such a strong reaction. Why do we fear intimacy so much?
For one thing, I think we’re afraid of being hurt. Intimacy means being known by someone—like my wife knows me. She knows my strengths and weaknesses, my hopes, and my fears. She can use that knowledge to bond with me and grow closer to me, or she can use it to shame, wound, or betray me.
We also fear intimacy because it can set us up for disappointment. If you and I are not particularly close, I won’t be crushed if you let me down, because odds are I didn’t expect much from you to begin with. But if I desire closeness with you, if I come to depend on your friendship or need your love, it would wound me to the core to be rejected or abandoned by you. I would feel like a fool for trusting you.
Intimacy can also make us feel needy. Or worse, it can reveal our neediness. Generally speaking, we don’t like to feel needy. We like to think of ourselves as strong. (Ironically, the choice to pursue intimacy—to reveal our weakness and neediness—actually requires great strength.)
Many of us fear intimacy because, deep down, we think we don’t deserve it. We’re afraid that our flaws are bound to emerge, and it will hurt even more to lose intimacy than never to have had it at all. Anytime we let someone in, we run the risk of being hurt or rejected. So we tend to avoid it.
The irony is, of course, is that we deeply desire intimacy. We want to be loved, to be liked, to be celebrated, to have someone who accepts us no matter what. We want to have great friendships. We want to have people to turn to when a crisis hits. We want to have someone trustworthy in whom we can safely confide our secrets. We not only want intimacy, we were made for it.
Whether you are a man or a woman; whether you’re the life of the party or a wallflower; you were made for connection. You were made for relationships. You were made for intimacy.
We see it whenever a freshly minted baby enters the world, looks into its mother’s eyes, and—by some miracle—latches on to its mother’s breast and begins to feed.
We see it when two young lovers cannot stop gazing into each other’s eyes. We see it when a couple bent with age won’t go anywhere without holding each other’s arms. We see it when a child comes to us beaming with the knowledge of a secret and wants to whisper it to us.
We see it in the Bible when God looks at Adam and declares, “It is not good for the man to be alone,” and proceeds to create a partner who is “just right” for him (Gen 2:18).
When we experience intimacy, we can take on whatever else life throws at us. Without it, even our greatest accomplishments ring hollow. After all, where’s the joy in success if we don’t have someone we love with whom to share it? That’s why I believe the pursuit of intimacy is the greatest, most worthwhile pursuit there is.
Granted, for most of us, pursuing intimacy is not as simple as adding more fiber to our diets. We have to work at it. But it’s worth it, because deep down, we know that being close to another human being matters like nothing else in the world. And being close to God? That takes things to a whole new level.
But maybe when you think about having “an intimate relationship with God,” it feels like one more obligation in an already overwhelmed life. After all, intimacy is tricky enough to pull off with a real, live flesh-and-blood person. How can we hope to have an intimate relationship with someone we can’t even see?
Well, what if I were to tell you that not only did God create you for intimacy, but he also has been pursuing an intimate relationship with you from the very beginning?
Not long after God decided “it was not good for the man to be alone,” we find him walking in the garden searching for Adam and Eve. They were his creation, he enjoyed their company, and he wanted to spend time with them. But they were hiding. Finally, he calls out, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9)
Unfortunately, the serpent convinced Eve to eat from the Tree of Life, she had cut Adam in on some of the fruit, and their relationship with God changed—the bonds of intimacy were broken. For the first time, they realized they were naked, and they were embarrassed and ashamed. For the first time, they feared being seen and known by God. So, they hid.
Now, here’s the interesting part: God allows them to hide—because intimacy can’t be coerced. God doesn’t want compliance; he wants connection. Intimacy respects distance, but isn’t content with it. Like God in the Garden, intimacy calls out, “Where are you?” And God, in his desire for intimacy with us, has been asking that same question ever since.
It’s a mystery, no question about it, that we’re invited into an intimate relationship with God. But how does that happen? Is it possible that God has been speaking to us all along, and we’ve been hearing without realizing that it’s him? Is it possible for us to draw closer to God without realizing that it’s happening? I think it is. In fact, I believe God uses our relationships with other people to teach us how to love him. The more we pursue intimacy in our other relationships, the more we see and understand God’s incredible, audacious love for us.
John Ortberg is the senior pastor at Menlo Church in Northern California and the bestselling author of All the Places to Go . . . How Will You Know? He and his wife, Nancy, live in the Bay Area and have three grown children. You can follow John on Twitter @johnortberg and on Facebook.
His newest book, I’d Like You More if You Were More Like Me: Getting Real About Getting Close helps readers create deeper, more meaningful relationships in their lives. Everybody wants to be loved, to be celebrated, to be known. The good news is that building those connections is easier than you think—it’s about inviting others to share in your small, everyday moments. It’s about shared experiences. You’ll find that a deeper relationship with your spouse, friends, kids, coworkers—even God—is not only attainable, but it’s what you were made for! Learn more at www.getrealgetclose.com