The Enemy of Intimacy

Posted on 2012-06-10. Filed under: Quotes, Thoughts |

I can’t begin to express how much Henri Nouwen’s writings speak directly to my soul. I read this passage this evening and had to reread it multiple times because of how poignant it is to me right now, in this moment.

Fear is the great enemy of intimacy. Fear makes us run away from each other or cling to each other but does not create true intimacy. When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples were overcome by fear and they all “deserted him and ran away” (Matt. 26:56). And after Jesus was crucified they huddled together in a closed room “for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19). Fear makes us move away from each other to a “safe” distance, or move towards each other to a “safe closeness, but fear does not create the space where true intimacy can exist. Fear does not create a home. It forces us to live alone or in a protective shelter but does not allow us to build an intimate home. Fear conjures either too much distance or too much closeness. Both prevent intimacy from developing.

My own experience with people whom I fear offers plenty of examples. Often I avoid them: I leave the house, move to a corner where I can remain unnoticed, or express myself in flat, non-committal sentences. Sometimes I create a false closeness with them. I talk too long with them, laugh too loudly at their jokes, or agree too soon with their opinions. Whether I create too much distance or too much closeness, I always sense a lack of inner freedom and a resentment towards the power they have over me….

But whether through distance or closeness, fear prevents us from forming an intimate community in which we can grow together, everyone in his or her own way. When fear separates or joins us, we can no longer confess to each other our sins, our brokenness, and our wounds. How, then, can we forgive each other and come to reconciliation? Distance allows us to ignore the other as having no significance in our lives, and closeness offers us an excuse for never expressing or confessing our feelings of being hurt.

There is a balance in healthy relationships that must be maintained between distance and dependency that is difficult – nigh impossible – to find, much less maintain. Just as there is a balance in life between maintaining relationships and maintaining aloneness, without being lonely. Our decisions and actions become muddled through all of this, mainly due to the influences of various fears that lace our thoughts, feelings, and wills. O, to live life without fear! ‘Tis to live life apart from this world. I recognize that I am too broken to even imagine what that would be like.

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