The New Testament instructs readers in five separate books to greet each other with a loving or holy kiss. To our modern, Western minds, such an intimate gesture should be reserved for close relatives, or lovers. But in the ancient near east, this was a standard greeting, and in the context of Christian love, it took on special significance. We have lost any sense of true intimacy, and as a result, our relationships, mental health and spiritual health have all suffered a significant blow.
The first and most important kind of intimacy that we have is divine intimacy. God is not a distant and impersonal force. He is intensely personal and intensely relational. The intimacy that exists between us and God is the model for every other type. In scripture it is compared to a spousal relationship, a fatherly relationship, a brotherly relationship and a deep friendship. It is all of these things because all of these other types of relationships draw their love from Love itself. This is what it means to say “God is love.”
The only kind of intimacy that we are comfortable with anymore is sexual intimacy. The thought of any other kind tends to create a sense of discomfort because sex and intimacy are so linked in our minds. We are created for intimacy of all kinds, sexual included. Just because we are more comfortable with sexual intimacy does not mean we have any true sense of it. Sexual intimacy means that two become one flesh. But there is nothing intimate about hook-up culture. There is nothing intimate about contraception, a practice whose purpose is to remove the greatest vulnerability and power human beings are given: the creation of life. As important is it is, this kind of intimacy is reserved for a very specific kind of relationship, and leaning on it alone to fulfill our need for connection will always leave us unsatisfied.
Other types of intimacy are often alien to us. Especially for males, a certain level of closeness will automatically create suspicion that a friendship has a sexual element. Fear of intimacy between friends has created a climate of isolation, and in that isolation people seek out destructive substitutes for intimacy, like porn. Real intimacy demands a certain level of vulnerability, a certain level of sacrifice. Vulnerability exposes our wounds, and leaves us open to getting hurt. This is why we fear it. But if relationships with others is what we desire, nothing less will do.
I will be graduating within a few weeks. In my time at Loras, people have seen me at my worst, and I have seen others at theirs. Here are some tidbits of wisdom about intimacy I have learned that you might need to hear:
- Make room for intimacy with God through prayer. This will feed all of your other relationships.
- Strive for virtue and have someone you trust hold you accountable to the growth you want to see in yourself.
- Listen, listen, listen.
- If you are in a romantic relationship, time with other people is just as important as time together. You need solid friendships for balance.
- Friendship is the best foundation for romantic relationships.
- Don’t rush to a level of intimacy you are not comfortable with or ready for.
- Take time for yourself. Even if you are an extrovert like me, you need occasional solitude to reflect, and recharge your batteries.
- Learn to recognize toxic relationships, and love those people from a distance if you have to.
- Be kind to the people you can’t stand.
- Tell your friends you love them.
- Pray with people.
- Get off your damn phone sometimes.
- Make your home, dorm, or apartment inviting and hospitable.
- Call your parents.
- Call some old friends.
- Most importantly, make a gift of yourself.