The Agony of Intimacy

She excused her ten-year-old self from the intimacy of our family dinner table, consumed with anger. Indignation and frustration drove her to her room.

After hearing her door slam, I put my fork down and followed up the stairs, pausing at the top step.

Should I go in? Or should I leave her alone?

It’s not always easy to know the right thing to do, especially when a relationship is hurting.

After a short hesitation, I opened her door and entered in, sat on the side of her bed where she’d buried herself in her covers, touched the back that was turned toward me.

“Do you want to talk?” I asked.

She ignored me. Anger does that.

I waited a moment, tried again. But this time I tried something different.

“Sweetheart, I need to ask you a question.

Deep breath.

“Do you want to be angry? Or do you want to be close?”

She made a slight turn my direction, softened, and answered.

“I want to be close.”

It wasn’t an easy concession for her to make. Vulnerability feels risky. Anger feels safe. But behind all her bravado, she ached for connection.

Intimacy. 

Thus, when faced with my question, my child chose the harder emotion instead of the safer one. And in the end she got exactly what she needed most of all. In minutes, we talked, hugged, and resumed our seats at the family dinner table.

I saw myself in my girl that night. In both her reaction and her need.

Too many times I’ve hid myself in anger, a refuge that felt far safer than my pain. What I wanted, more than anything, was nearness. But in my fear, I rejected risk in exchange for the promise of safety.

I’ve done this in friendship. Parenting. Marriage.

And I’ve done it with God.

God, I want more of you! More! Please. Take me deeper, closer to you.

I prayed those words more than ever earlier this year. This is my deepest desire, to know God, not just know about Him. To experience a Moses-like intimacy, one in which He speaks to me “face to face, as a one speaks with a friend.”

But the answer to my prayer involved more pain. More struggle. More angst.

Intimacy is hard-earned. Rooted in the latin intima, the word means the innermost membrane or lining of an organ.

Thus, intimacy is a product of surgery, an opening up of the deepest parts of ourselves to another. Just as patient submits her failing body to a surgeon’s scalpel, a person who longs for intimacy must endure a similar exposing. It involves submission to the process. Vulnerability. Pain. Risk. And an extraordinary amount of hope in the potential reward. In other words:

Intimacy grows out of agony.

This is a problem, of course. We humans aren’t fans of discomfort. In fact, we run from it and resist in a vast array of creative ways.

Is it any wonder we are more lonely and angry than ever before?

This has been at the heart of my hard journey over the past several months. A daily deliberation between nearness and anger, trust and isolation. The beginning of a new surgery God is working on my heart and soul. It’s not been easy or comfortable. And it’s not been without risk.

Even so, I already see hints of the greater gains. The surgery He’s working is delivering a new freedom and confidence.

And the closeness I crave.

The wounds suffered in relationship can also be healed in it. That’s the miracle of intimacy. 

So I continue to lay on the table and trust him with the knife. Because intimacy waits for me—for us—on the other side.

I don’t have three steps or four truths to offer you today. I considered it, it would be the practical and prudent thing.

Instead, a question:

Do you want to be angry? Or do you want to be close? 

You may have good reason to retreat behind the safety of your anger. God (or your spouse, child, friend, parent) let you down. He didn’t do what you expected Him to do. He didn’t come through as you hoped He’d come through. You feel hurt, betrayed. Done.

But the only way to find the healing you truly need is to stop running away. And instead run toward.

Remember: the way to intimacy isn’t retreat. It’s through. 

And He can be trusted.

“There are two realities to which you must cling. First, God has promised that you will receive the love you have been searching for. And second, God is faithful to that promise. So stop wandering around. Instead, come home and trust that God will bring you what you need. … God will offer you the deepest satisfaction you can desire. Just stop running and start trusting and receiving. Home is where you are truly safe. It is where you can receive what you desire. You need human hands to hold you there so you don’t run away again. But when you come home and stay home, you will find the love that will bring rest to your heart.” —Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love {pg. 12}

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Question: Choosing intimacy over safety isn’t without risk. It’s HARD. However, it can also bless your socks off. Share with us a time when a risk to move ‘closer’ made your life richer, better, sweeter as a result. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

12 thoughts on “The Agony of Intimacy

  1. Michele, there have been times wherein I risked … well, I’m not sure what the risk was, if not maybe my fatherly pride … but I risked confessing fault to my children and asking their forgiveness. It is profoundly humbling, but the resulting relationship was much more “real” than if I had maintained my fatherly pride and authority (dad is never wrong).

    Question: You said, “Intimacy grows out of agony.” Is that always the case? Is that the only way?

    • True emotional intimacy requires a “peeling back” of the layers of ourselves to expose the real us, the most hidden us. Thus, this requires a certain measure of pain and discomfort because it involves risk, vulnerability, etc. So yes, “agony.” By definition agony is a physical suffering. And, personally, my experiences with deepening intimacy—with God and others—has involved some measure of suffering. It’s usual the questions, doubts, conflicts, tensions, disagreements, and emotional angst that, when leaned into and learned from, become the foundation of a deeper intimacy.

        • One more thought: The moment of Jesus’ agony was the moment of our greatest intimacy with Him. The cross is the most beautiful example of how God chose intimacy with us—rather than distance, rejection, anger—and His willingness to suffer secured our eternal access to relationship with Him.

  2. When I forgave my father 20 years after we last spoke. I reconnected with him by sending him a letter of forgiveness and invitation into a new relationship with him and me adult to adult. We have kept regularly in touch ever since and have visited each other several times (he leaves overseas)

    • Wow. Such a brave step, Caroline. And you’ve reaped the results of such courage. It doesn’t erase the circumstances that caused the breach, but allows a life of peace and wholeness in spite of them.

  3. My last “come to Jesus” moment was so sweet – even though I was driving my car. He has an incredible way of being present when we surrender – over and over. I’m amazed how hard it is to fight against “running” – to just be still is one of the hardest things for me to do.

  4. once again thanks Michele..words of wisdom…I am still dealing with the loss of my spouse..I know only God can fill that intimacy… I would covet your prayers..thanks Henny

  5. Michelle,
    This describes where I am right now. The disappointments, losses and my own failures to hold on to faith have overwhelmed my desires and hopes. I’m not sure I can let hope in again because I don’t have support and I think it just might not be survivable this time. I say/look like I am trying just enough to keep anyone from looking too closely but I know it’s all fake. I don’t think I can take it in my walls and it feels hopeless to try. The choices look pretty limited.

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