“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).
Often when I bring up the word intimacy in a discussion, people automatically think of romantic or sexual intimacy. I remember walking through the doors of Where Grace Abounds many years ago with the same limited definition. I had no vision for what this intangible thing called intimacy looked like beyond sex and romance (and, sadly, those were the only things I valued and desperately pursued at that time). If our sexuality is viewed as the mechanics of a car, I want to know what the fuel is that actually runs the vehicle—what propels it? What is it our hearts deeply long for and what were we designed to move towards? One of the answers is intimacy. I think going back to what is intrinsic to our divinely created sexuality can give us clues to the types of intimacy we desire.
My concept of sexuality is multi-faceted. Sexuality is about our bodies, our biologically designated sex/gender and the daily need we have for healthy touch. It also influences our emotional lives, our thought lives and our wills. It has a relational component; the very energy of our sexuality pulls us out of ourselves and towards one another. Our sexuality includes the non-physical side of gender: how we think, feel, and fit in with the same and opposite sex. God cares very much what we do with our (and others’) bodies, because there is a spiritual dimension to our sexuality. Chastity is a daily discipline. So it only makes sense that intimacy isn’t something that’s just “out there”; it has to do with nourishing the different parts of who we are. We need emotional intimacy, intellectual intimacy, spiritual intimacy, healthy touch, and friends from both genders with whom to experience life. Let’s unpack these a bit.
Types of Intimacy
- Experiential Intimacy (Sharing Life): This is day-to-day intimacy. Sometimes I’m tracking and sharing routine things (How was your day? How was work?); other times, big, joyful or agonizing things (grief, loss, celebrations, holidays). This involves sharing different types of experiences together. Don’t miss this often neglected intimacy or the ways you can intentionally deepen simple points of connection.
- Emotional Intimacy: I’ve worked hard over the years becoming aware my emotions, acknowledging them, and giving them room for expression, but do other folks know I have them? Would I be willing to express joy, sorrow, grief, or anger with close friends or loved ones? Could I work through a conflict with another? Vulnerability often provides the opportunity to experience intimacy on a deeper level.
- Intellectual Intimacy: I’m not much of an intellectual, but I love discussions, sharing thoughts, opinions, and perspectives about a variety of issues. Sometimes I make myself vulnerable by sharing my thought world with others, despite fear of being discounted or rejected. I am enriched when I discover what, why and how someone thinks about things.
- Physical Intimacy (Healthy Touch): This is a tricky thing for most people, especially for those who have been wounded or exploited by inappropriately sexualized touch. Yet we need it all the same, so we must figure out what’s appropriate for each relationship (and at this point in the series, I’m talking about friendship). Is it handshakes, arms around the shoulder, or hugs (A-frame, side or bear)? Do you reach out or receive this type of intimacy in a healthy way?
- Spiritual Intimacy: I am shocked by how intimate it is to sit with someone in God’s presence, praying for one another with hearts open to God. This vulnerability goes beyond words sometimes, and leaves a lingering sweetness. No wonder people shy away from prayer, at least out-loud prayer with others. Our longings and yearnings for what we want most suddenly appear during these times, or contrition, or conviction—wow! There are many ways of being intimate spiritually: worshiping together, having a lively (respectful) debate about Scripture, serving together. Have you ever thought of these as pathways towards deepening intimacy?
As you browse through this list, think about your current relationships. What types of intimacy are present? How can you be intimate? Once again, people can err on the side of “too much,” or “too little” when pursuing intimacy. We can share (or expect from the other person) much more than what’s appropriate for a relationship, or we can remain hidden and self-protective to the point that intimacy never has a chance to get off the ground. It’s good to refer back to my last article on the Components of Healthy Intimacy. Let’s not forget mutuality, pacing, follow through, etc.
“But hey, ” you might ask, “…what about sexual and romantic intimacy?” Exactly, I think that deserves a whole article by itself. Stay tuned.