Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Puzzle Pieces: Meaning through Relationship

Intimacy is the source and goal of life.

God created us in a very intimate way. He didn’t just speak us into existence. When he created the first man he got hands-on. He formed Adam out of the dirt. Then, perhaps even more intimately, he breathed life into the one he had formed.

The creation of Eve was also quite intimate. God took a rib, a part of Adam, and from it formed the first woman. Both of these together, Adam and Eve, comprised the image of God. God had made us like himself so that we would be fit for intimacy with him.

Life comes from intimacy. From the first man and woman on, life is the product of union. Ideally, new life comes from committed and faithful marital union. As a husband and wife give themselves to each other in love, that love overflows into new life. We were designed to be products of intimacy.

We were designed to find our ultimate fulfillment in intimacy as well. What did it mean to be made in the image of God? It meant that God had imparted himself to us in some way. He had made us like him. From the time of creation God planned to bring us humans into intimate fellowship with him. The way for that intimacy was paved by creation. We were made in such a way that it would be fitting for the Son, Jesus, to become one of us so that we could become one with him through an eschatological marriage. We were created for intimacy.

You are a bit like a puzzle piece. You’ll not find lone puzzle pieces for sale, not even at the discount stores. Why? Because a puzzle piece finds its worth in relationship with other puzzle pieces. Each piece is valuable. But, an individual piece, isolated from the other pieces, ceases to make sense and begins to lose its value. We are like puzzle pieces. We are created together. We’re created to fit together with God and each other.

Unfortunately, in our broken world, intimacy is not easily found and kept.

In the beginning we sinned. Our sin brought division, as it always does. We who had walked with God, sharing sweet fellowship in the garden, had distrusted and betrayed him.

So, what did we do next? Precisely what we continue to do. We hid from God. He was the only one who could heal us and forgive our sin. And we hid from him in the bondage of guilt and shame. Reconciliation and restored intimacy through confession and forgiveness were available. God called to Adam and asked for a confession. But still, Adam hid.

Fear kept Adam and Eve away from God. And it keeps us away from God and each other. We’re broken. We have guilt. We have shame. In our fear we somehow believe that the best solution is to hide from each other.

Somehow we suppose that hiding will protect us. We think that isolation will free us. That’s the way we think in this broken world. As we suffer under a load of guilt and fear – bound – we suppose that we’ve found freedom. In reality, freedom from intimacy is bondage of the worst kind.

Beauty of intimacy

In open and honest intimacy we see ourselves for who we are. We cannot truly understand ourselves in isolation. We become who we truly are only through relationship. It’s in relationship that we are able to manifest our own personalities. If you want to know yourself give yourself to someone else.

As we become open in relationships of love we are freed from selfishness, finding our delight in giving rather than taking. In isolation we seek delight and fulfillment within, where it can never be found. In intimacy with others we find the delight and fulfillment we seek. We find the freedom of giving rather than taking.

Through transparent relationships we are freed from hiding. The illusion of freedom we once experienced while isolating ourselves and hiding is cleared away when we allow the light of love to penetrate our lonely caves. In intimate relationship we become free to be ourselves, unashamed.

But how can we experience it? There are so many barriers to truly honest and sincere relationships. Our guilt, shame, and fear stand in the way. How can we cross the gulf separating us from each other?

Obstacles to intimacy

In Jesus’ story people refused the invitation to a feast, a time of fellowship, because they were too busy. The excuses were lame then and are still lame now. “I bought land” or “I bought oxen” or “I got a wife.” None of these are honest reasons.  

Are you too busy for relationship? How many husbands and wives are “too busy” to develop intimacy within their own families? How often are we in too much of a hurry to engage our friends and family in difficult and serious discussions, the kind of discussions that are necessary for the development of intimacy? If it’s not that we’re too busy it’s that we’re too tired from being so busy to get real with one another.[1]

Many of us are busy and hurried as an excuse to protect ourselves from the intimacy we fear. We are threatened by intimacy. When we open up to others we fear that they will see us for who we really are. We fear that we will be judged. Not only do we fear others seeing us without any masks, we are threatened by the possibility of truly seeing ourselves.

Yet another reason we erect barriers to fellowship is the fear of responsibility. When we open ourselves to others we lose the excuse one man offered to Jesus, “and who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). As we enter into authentic and intimate relationships we can no longer delude ourselves that we are not responsible to one another.

All of these excuses are not only used in our human relationships but, more importantly and tragically, in our relationships with God.

More obstacles to overcome

We devise excuses. One of the perennial favorites is good works. The basic idea is that if I do something for God or my neighbor I am then free from any further duty. If I give God and my neighbor some of my time, talents, or money then I am no longer obligated to give the main thing – my self. Of course it’s not true. Until you give your self you have not fulfilled your duty.

Some argue that they cannot open themselves to God and neighbor, for if they did they would then become emotional. All of the powerful and frightening emotions that had been safely tucked away would come bubbling out. And it is implied that no one would want that.

The reality is that our fear of intimacy and openness is keeping us from the richness of life. Many of us are emotionally dull because we have hidden and stuffed our feelings for so long. The need to keep emotions inside is not really an excuse at all.

Path to intimacy

Considering our arsenal of lame excuses, is there any way for us to experience the intimacy we so desperately need and fear? There is a way. His name is Jesus. He said, “I am the Way.” Jesus extends an invitation to fellowship. He invites and enables our intimate fellowship with the Father and the Spirit.

But to say that Jesus invites us to intimacy is really only part of the truth. It’s not that Jesus says to us, “Let me invite you to have fellowship with me. It will make you a healthy and fulfilled person. I highly recommend it.” Jesus doesn’t just suggest fellowship. He demands it. According to Jesus, there are two great commandments – love for God and love for neighbor. And those two commandments really just boil down to one – love.

Jesus defeats all of our excuses. When we say we can’t come to him because we have fear, guilt, sin, selfishness, busyness, or whatever, he’s always got the answer for it. To those who are too busy he offers rest and provision. To those who are fearful he offers peace. To those who are guilty he offers forgiveness. Nothing can keep us away from Jesus except our own refusal to come to him.

When we come to him we find what we have been looking for all along. We were created for him. We were created for love.

Come to the feast

God invites us out of our isolation and into a feast of fellowship. Jesus is not inviting us to work in a sweatshop. He’s not seeking to suck the joy out of us. He’s not inviting us to a flavorless, colorless life. He invites us to a feast.  

Even though openness to our neighbors will sometimes mean pain, it’s still worth it. Even the pain of intimacy is precious and holy. Jesus himself was betrayed by his intimate friend. When we are hurt as we give ourselves to others God takes that pain and accepts it as a pleasing sacrifice.

One price we pay to become open and intimate with God is confession. And there is a time and place for confession to our neighbors as well. Confession is not easy. But it is worth it. Confession brings forgiveness and release.

So don’t run from Jesus any longer. Stop running from God. Be open to him. Be reconciled to God and your neighbors. You’ll find what you’ve been searching for all along. Come to Jesus and live!

[1] See chapter 8 of Paul Tournier, The Meaning of Persons (Buccaneer Books, 1997)