Intimacy as Soul Food

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. – Psalm 63:1

Take a moment and watch a video clip from the movie, Shrek (you can see the clip here) If you’ve never seen the movie, let me set up the scene. Shrek is an ogre, and all his life people have judged him, making wrong assumptions about him. And because he’s been wounded over and over again Shrek has shut himself off emotionally. He has wrapped himself in a hard-shelled identity as a frightening beast who needs no one. And he doesn’t let many people beyond that hard-shelled identity. It’s a way to protect himself from being hurt emotionally. But a very talkative donkey tries to break through that hard-shell.

What is true for Shrek is true for each of us. God designed us for intimacy, but intimacy is risky business, and most of us have been wounded along the way. We often think of intimacy as something sexual, but true intimacy is emotional. Intimacy means “In-To-See-Me”. It’s allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, revealing the truth about ourselves to someone else. It’s the journey of allowing others “in to see me,” the real me. This is what our hearts most long for – to be known fully and completely as we are, and be fully and completely loved and accepted for who we are. But it’s risky business because the more layers we peel away, the more of our heart we reveal, the more power we give to others to wound us, to judge us and to reject us.

In his book, Soul Cravings, author Irwin McManus says of intimacy, “We are most alive when we find it, most devastated when we lose it, most empty when we give up on it, most inhuman when we betray it, and most passionate when we pursue it.” We were made for intimacy with God and with one another. It’s a need as strong as our need for air, food and water.

But like Shrek, we hide our true selves from one another. We fear that if others knew the truth about us – our fears, our failures – we would be rejected and unloved. And so we hide. We keep others out. We project an image on Facebook that doesn’t tell the whole truth about us, because it feels safer. But meanwhile, our souls slowly starve.

Want to develop the kind of intimacy the feeds your soul? Here are three foundations to consider:

Trust   Without trust, intimacy can’t grow. We won’t dare to take off our armor or peel away our layers and reveal our hearts if we don’t trust that what we share will be held gently and lovingly. We need to trust that the other person won’t judge us or reject us. Trust is both given and earned, and it grows slowly.

Transparency   Intimacy requires that we allow others to see through the layers of façade, the masks we often wear that we think will win the acceptance and approval of others. Transparency means being increasingly honest about our fears and failures, about what we want and need. That kind of vulnerability can be frightening because we fear judgment and rejection, which is why transparency requires courage.

Time   True intimacy can’t be microwaved. It stews slowly in the crockpot of healthy, growing relationships. It takes time to reflect and come to know the truth about ourselves, and until we know the truth about ourselves we cannot reveal it to others. It takes time to develop trust. It takes time to slowly peel away the layers of armor most of us wear until we can stand before another person, fully ourselves.

Ogres are like onions. And so are we. But what lives at the very center is the person God created us to be, with all of our light and all of our darkness. Spiritual growth is more about subtraction than it is about addition. It’s about the slow stripping away of all that keeps from living into the frightening and beautiful truth of who we are and knowing that we are loved and cherished in the midst of it all. That thought scares most of us to death, but it’s what our hearts most deeply long for.

Jeff Marian serves as lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN

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