Intimacy with God enables us to maintain a passion for justice and a commitment to living in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in poverty. Intimacy with God opens up the door to intimacy with others.
But what is intimacy? Is it emotional? Spiritual? Sexual? Experiential?
And is intimacy taught or is it simply a part of what It is to be human?
Many of us share this passion for justice, though it may not always look the same. If you were to ask my friends and colleagues what I have a great passion for, what lights a fire in my spirit, makes me sit up straighter, and speak a little louder, they would tell you- Human Trafficking.
For others it may be a desire to see equality for the LGBT community, another might seek to improve the quality of life for the Sudanese refugees living here in Omaha, and so on and so forth.
No matter what the cause, our ability to impact issues of injustice is directly connected to our ability to experience healthy intimacy and our ability to experience healthy intimacy is directly connected to our sense of identity.
How do we tell a woman trapped in Kolkata’s sex trafficking industry that she is valuable and beautiful if we do not believe this about ourselves?
How do we encourage a child living on the streets of Peru that God AND others want to know them and want to share a life with them when we don’t know the depths of that type of relationship ourselves?
Hear me when I say that this is not about perfecting self before you can serve others.
Identity, Intimacy, Impact… this is a continuous cycle… not a hierarchy of achievements.
If you have an incredible sense of self-worth and identity but never look beyond yourself than you have missed the point. And if you are celebrated for your acts of service and your fervor for justice but cannot even be vulnerable about who you are with those who love you, than you have cheated yourself. God is a God of intimacy AND of action. She desires for us to know her, each other, AND ourselves…. and then to use that knowledge to bring about peace and justice.
But, most of us do not even know what it is to be intimate with our self and yet, how we relate to the world is a reflection of how we relate to our self. When you consider that, it is easy to understand why we are rarely truly intimate with others.
How often are you alone with yourself? How often do you spend time studying who you are and working on your sense of self?
Identity can be explored in solitary and with others. Are you taking time for personal retreat, a small group, private counseling or some other identity exploring activity?
Personally, I struggle being apart from others or from activity for too long. I am an extreme extrovert and to say Quality Time is my love language would be an understatement. I barely even sleep. Secretly, I think I’m afraid I’ll miss something horribly exciting if I dare close my eyes.
Nonetheless, I realize how vital time alone and intimate time with God can be. I have had to learn ways to make that time and how to use it effectively for me. In my case, I love to paint and to write. Transmitting my thoughts, fears, and prayers to canvas or paper is a powerful act for me. What environment is most effective for you?
Western culture is rich with people who celebrate a focus on independence, self-appreciation, and personal identity but much of that is wrapped up in our status, money, and appearance.
It is a whole other thing to say I need time to “take care of me”, “to know myself”. Particularly for women, there is a perceived air of selfishness in these types of statements. Who are you to focus on you when there are so many of us clamoring for a piece of who you are?
But even if we can get past those voices there is a more painful question at the root of this issue- “How do I pursue intimacy with myself if I’m not even sure I’m someone I want to know?”
I have spent the better part of my life believing 3 things…
1. I am not someone worth pursuing
2. I am not someone worth loving
3. I am not someone that people stick around for.
I spent my childhood passed around from orphanages to families to state facilities. I had a mother who would look at me and tell me how little there was about me worth loving.
Who would want to know that person? I certainly didn’t.
The truth is that the ways that our parents treated us in childhood did not have anything to do with who we are but more to do with their fractured identity. If my mother couldn’t see herself clearly she certainly could not see me – let alone love me the way a child deserves. Our relationship was filtered through a lens of her own hurts and shame.
My mother taught me and society teaches all of us to be dishonest. Many of our parents taught us that keeping up appearances, worrying about what the neighbors think, was more important than our feelings.
My mother taught me that to survive was to not feel and, more importantly, to conquer was to never reveal our true self.
You may not have learned the exact same lesson and you may not have learned it from a parent but to a degree we all play these games. We were all given lessons about just how how much of ourselves it is okay to share with others.
I know, intellectually, that I am not defined by the lessons my mother gave me. Most would agree that who we are may not be defined by our past but it is certainly affected by it. For better or worse, it is our heritage. Those lies that I was told as a child are a part of my heritage. We might think that because of our achievements or our relationship with our perspective gods that heritage shouldn’t matter anymore, that somehow it would just cease to affect our identity.
That’s simply not true. Healing of one’s identity requires intimacy; with self, with God, with others. I had to be taught what it was to love… to be vulnerable. I had to watch people in my community exercise acts of intimacy because I didn’t know what it meant.
Every time my mother looked at me and told me what an embarrassment I was to her or raised her hand to me has required a healing experience of someone in my life telling what I am really worth; how I am really loved… by them and by God. I have spent years observing healthy intimacy, learning about my true identity through it, and in turn being able to experience intimacy myself.
In this video, Jean Vanier refers to “Taking out, from within us, all the seeds that separate us from people…”
My fractured identity, my painful memories, the lies I’ve carried through my childhood and into adulthood… are all seeds that separated me from people.
Even my passion for justice, something I believe God entrusted me with, was a broken version of itself. My need to be needed, my fear of abandonment, my wounds had diluted that passion into something less than it was intended.
Yes, each of us, with all our hurts and broken identities, can still bring about change in this world. A person who is starving does not need me to be emotionally whole in order to enjoy the food I am offering them. I can occupy Wallstreet.. or Omaha… even in the midst of my personal trauma.
But do you want to bring about change in this world or great change… The kind that rocks communities, helps restore the identities of others, brings not only physical but spiritual freedom?
Those types of changes require intimacy. They require knowing your identity, being vulnerable enough to share it with others, and taking that step together towards impactful action.