The Agony of Intimacy

Aug 15, 2017

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}

{NOTE: This post may contain affiliate links. See my full disclosure here.}

[reminder]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. [/reminder]

15 Comments

  1. Damon J. Gray

    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?

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      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.

      Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      Of course, just my personal experience, some reading and study, and a dash of opinion/perspective. 🙂

      Reply
      • Damon J. Gray

        But it is an opinion I value and respect. I need to ponder this for awhile. It is a perspective I’ve not ever considered. Thank you for sharing.

        Reply
        • Michele Cushatt

          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.

          Reply
          • Susan Sage

            So beautifully said.

  2. Caroline

    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)

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      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.

      Reply
  3. Jerolyn

    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.

    Reply
    • Michele Cushatt

      YES! You said it so well. To stop running away from the pain and instead be STILL in it is so difficult. And yet, there IS peace there.

      Reply
  4. Hendrika Heeg

    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

    Reply
  5. Susan Nelson

    S good. Thank you. Any thoughts on surrendering? Seems like I have forgotten how.

    Reply
  6. RaDonna Gideon

    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.

    Reply
  7. Benjamin

    I often time try my best to avoid conflict because I would rather not deal with the inconveniences and feelings that it involves. (I know the agony). Conflict vs. peace? I am have realized the I can’t seek peace at all cost without stepping into a zone of risk. True peace comes from facing and accepting the struggle.

    As a peacemaker i enjoy reading this post cause it does challenge my natural tendencies and helps me focus beyond the struggle.

    Reply
  8. Susan Sage

    My heart wept through the reading of this, Michele. Your question to your daughter was so beautifully touching. What wisdom God gave you at that moment, and then to be able to share it with us with the continued metaphor of the surgeon and surgery. So powerful.

    To get up on the table and continue to present oneself to the surgeon is a choice, but a necessary one if we want to continue toward a deeper relationship with our Surgeon.

    I am always so thankful and so amazed at how God uses what you go through and share to touch my heart and to touch the hearts of other readers.

    You are one of my greatest spiritual heroes and I continue to pray for you.

    God bless you my heart-friend.

    Reply

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