As a single celibate Christian, there’s one question I have never been asked, but which I think I should be asked regularly:
‘Have you been intimate with anyone recently?’
My answer, I hope, would be:
‘Yes. In fact, I’ve been intimate with several people recently.’
I imagine you’re a little confused (so please make sure you don’t stop reading at this point!).
Many of us will hear the question ‘Have you been intimate with anyone recently?’ and assume it’s some sort of accountability question about sexual purity. And that wouldn’t be a bad thing. That is the sort of question that those closest to me should be asking me regularly to help and support me as I seek to faithfully follow Jesus.
But our instinctive understanding of that question also tells us something about our instinctive understanding of intimacy. We’re living in a culture where sex and intimacy are often equated to such an extent that to talk about intimacy is to talk about sex. For many of us, that is something we have absorbed and take for granted. But intimacy is broader than sex.
What is intimacy? I tend to think of it as the tangible experience of love. There’s a difference between being loved and feeling loved. It’s possible to have the former without the latter. But the problem is, without feeling loved, we often struggle to believe that we really are loved by another person.
When we understand intimacy in this way, we can begin to see that it is much broader than just sex. There are many ways we can experience the fact that we are loved – that might be through non-sexual physical touch, practical help and support, partnering together in the mundane things of daily life, or deep conversation about our joys and sorrows.
We all need to experience the fact that we are loved. We all need intimacy.
And this is really good news for all of us because we all need to experience the fact that we are loved. We all need intimacy. It’s good news for singles because we can experience the intimacy we need even while remaining celibate. And it’s good news for married people, because the sexual element of a marriage relationship won’t, and isn’t designed to, meet all our needs for human intimacy.
In our friendships, this gives us a helpful question: ‘How can I best help my friend to experience the love I have for them?’ The answer to this question will be different in different relationships based on the individuals involved and the type of relationship. We also want to be aware that while we don’t need to fear intimacy in friendships, we should be wise about it, recognising that, handled badly, it can lead us beyond friendship into emotional or physical connections that are not what God wants for us. But for most of us, the danger will not be inappropriate intimacy but a lack of intimacy.
Intimacy is important, but it rarely just happens. How can you foster greater intimacy in your friendships? How can you help people be able to give a surprising answer to the question, ‘Have you been intimate with anyone recently?’