It has happened to me more times than I can count. I told someone how I felt, and my feelings were ignored. Dismissed. Rejected. The first time it happened is lost to my memory, but I know I was just a child because I looked at my parents differently afterward.
After scraping my knee, my father must have put some kind of stinging antiseptic on the wound. “Daddy, it hurts!”
“Oh, stop it. It doesn’t hurt.”
But it felt bad to me.
I was telling the truth. I was hoping it would make a difference, that he would do something that would make the pain stop. But instead, I was told it didn’t really hurt.
It was startling, really. I could feel the pain. The pain was real.
And the man who always looked out for me, the father I loved and trusted, said he didn’t believe me. That I was wrong. “It doesn’t hurt.”
But the pain was real.
I could feel it.
Therefore, I had to accept a fresh realization: my father didn’t know everything. (Come on, guys, it was a shock at the time!) He could be wrong about something. In fact, he could be wrong about me.
Unfortunately, such a simple moment caused a deep divide between myself and my parents. Trust was lost that was not regained for a long time. And yet this story is so very small compared to the kind of betrayal that has been experienced by people I know and love.
Relationships are hard.
Trust is precious, and so easily lost.
Intimacy is a risk.
The Great Divide
Honestly, I don’t actually recall whether it was a scraped knee or the pulling out of a splinter or some other typical childhood experience. What I remember clearly was looking up at my father and being stunned by the idea that he completely denied the pain that I so keenly felt. Later, when I was a young adult and trying to understand my relationship with my parents, God brought this incident back to my mind, showing me that there was a moment when I decided that my parents didn’t know what I was going through, didn’t understand me, and clearly couldn’t be trusted to make decisions related to what I thought or felt.
It put a distance between us.
When you meet someone new, that distance is already there. You know nothing about this person. Depending on past experience, each of us automatically keeps a certain distance with new people. Some of us draw them in quickly, opening ourselves up to see if they will accept us. Some of us keep them far away and only slowly allow them closer.
In the ten years we’ve been at LCLC, I have met some people who are trustworthy companions on this journey of faith. And in the 25 years that I’ve been married, I’ve learned the hard way (because I’m stubborn, I admit it) some things about loving, respecting and trusting someone who doesn’t share my perspective on every topic. As we continue this series on intimacy — knowing others and being known — I hope it will encourage you to close the gap, cross the divide, between yourself and others. Deepen an existing friendship, or start a new one.
So, how do we develop intimacy?
The Great Exchange
Intimacy involves an exchange. An exchange of ideas, an exchange of emotions, an exchange of opinions. We share things about ourselves, our past, our dreams. It’s inevitable that we will share some things with some people who don’t agree with us, or who even don’t like what we reveal about ourselves.
I have shared many things with people in our church. I’ve shared where I’m from, what kind of work I’ve done over the years, what kind of music I enjoy, where I like to vacation. I’ve shared heartaches from my past, and testimonies of what God has done for me. People here know some of the mistakes of my past, as well as some of my most closely held dreams for the future.
And there has been an exchange in many of those conversations, where I hear others’ stories, too. Some of the stories I’ve heard were upsetting, or sad, or disturbing. Some of the things other people share with me make it clear that I don’t share their opinions or conclusions about life and living it as a Christian. That used to make me hesitate to get close, but not anymore.
Building intimacy — a deeper relationship — with another person requires a willingness to share something about ourselves, and to discover things about someone else. As Pastor Bill encouraged us to develop these relationships with each other, I began to wonder: What will happen when we share something, and we don’t get the reaction we were hoping for? What will we do if we open up to someone here and experience conflict or rejection instead of agreement and acceptance?
The Great Risk
The deeper the emotion attached to what we share, the more vulnerable we may feel when we share it. This vulnerability is rooted in openness, and the potential for rejection. We open the door to show what’s inside, we invite somebody in, and we give them access to our inner self.
It is natural to want approval and validation for who we are, what we’ve done, what we believe. It’s instinctive. When we open up to someone else, we’re hoping for acceptance, acknowledgment, understanding. Empathy. Agreement.
It’s easy when we open up about surface things. “Hey, want to join us for lunch? We’re going to this local taqueria. They have the best street tacos!”
“Oh, we don’t really care for Mexican food. Do you like Chinese?”
It may be a disappointment that someone else doesn’t share your food tastes, but it’s not a big deal. It doesn’t usually break the relationship.
But what if it’s something that means more to you? “I’m really upset about this Colin Kaepernick thing. It just seems like human lives are more important than a piece of cloth.”
They frown. “You’re right, human lives are important. That’s why it’s disgusting that he doesn’t have the decency to honor the lives that were laid down to buy the very freedom that he enjoys in this nation today. It’s not about the cloth, it’s about respect.”
Hoo, boy. So much for having a deeper friendship, eh?
But this risk can be even greater when what you share is deeply personal. “I know God is supposed to be everything I need, but I’m really struggling right now. If God is so great, why hasn’t He healed me? I’m just so tired of this pain, and I can’t find the motivation to even get out of bed some days.”
Or perhaps, “I’ve been thinking about going back to work. My husband’s job covers our monthly expenses, but if anything extra comes up, we just put it on a credit card. That debt has been stacking up, and it’s on my mind all the time. I don’t want to leave the kids in daycare, but we just can’t keep going this way.”
How someone reacts to something we share (and how we react when someone else shares with us) will either deepen the relationship and build trust, or will drive a wedge between us. It will either dissipate the fear of rejection or confirm our fears. If all goes well, intimacy grows and the risk shrinks. But next week we’ll talk about what happens when things don’t go so well.