True intimacy is beautiful, but hard work.
There are of course many forms of intimacy (friendship, parent-child, sibling-sibling, etc), but in what follows I mainly have marital intimacy in mind.
Last year a woman explained to me that she and her husband of 20 years had drifted apart. There’d been no big fall-out, no prospect of divorce, but also no real intimacy. “I just wish we could discover each other again”, she said. Her experience is common.
Yet deep intimacy is part of God’s vision for marriage. Human marriage is a picture of a heavenly marriage between Christ and his people (Ephesians 5). This heavenly marriage is all-consuming and intimate; Christ is the Lover, the Bridegroom and the Wooer of his people. He longs to share all he has with us, and he longs for us to share all we have with him. We were made for this heavenly marriage, and human marriage is designed as its pale reflection. Consequently, within the human heart, is a hungering for deep intimacy with each other and – for the Christian – with Christ.
The challenges of intimacy with Christ therefore has parallels with the challenges of intimacy in marriage. Jesus’s parable of the sower (Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8) pictures these challenges as different soils. The hard path, the rocky ground, the thorny soil and the good soil are analogous to different approaches to marital intimacy. The hard path is analogous to the hard heart that is sometimes seen in marriage: a spouse is embittered, resentful and determined to make no effort towards intimacy. The rocky soil is analogous to the disappointed heart in marriage: the relationship doesn’t live up to the initial rose-tinted promise, and now pursing intimacy feels dreary and pointless. The thorny soil is analogous to the distracted heart in marriage: children, money, time-pressures, aging parents and career crowd a marriage and choke intimacy.
Growth in intimacy therefore requires prayer for a soft heart, healthy realism and constant weeding to prevent intimacy being choked.
I have been married eight years, and growth in intimacy is very much an on-going journey. A key element in this journey has been the regular ‘marriage review’. These reviews take place two or three times a year, during which we take a couple of hours to ask each other ‘How is our marriage going?’ and ‘Are we growing in intimacy?’ Although these sessions feel twee and unnecessary, in retrospect they have provided vital oxygen to hearts that are easily hardened, disappointed or distracted from true intimacy.
By Allan Beckett