I don’t know about you, but in our over sexualized culture sometimes I’m really confused about what real intimacy looks is.
This confusion over true intimacy has even made it’s way into the church. It grieves my heart, because from what I’ve been through lately the only thing that seems to bring real relief and healing is true intimacy.
When a friend of mine heard about the the spiritual abuse I’d suffered, the first conclusion she came to was that me and my former pastor just got too close, indicating that men and women needed to be careful about being alone and sharing things with one another. I understood what she meant, but then again I didn’t. I guess the big question in my mind was did all intimacy have to lead to an unhealthy relationship?
OK, OK please don’t get the impression that I’m saying throw all caution to the wind. That would be totally naïve considering all I’ve been through, however what exactly does she mean when she says we got too close. I happen to think the problem was way more than getting too close, rather it was about a vulnerable woman seeking help from a man who had ulterior motives or at the very least no understanding of healthy boundaries.
Any counselor, pastor, doctor should have a clear understanding of boundaries to be an effective instrument of healing. For my pastor to say we shared a strong emotional attachment, and I was the woman he’d marry if he could was clearly crossing a boundary line. It is a well known fact in counseling that vulnerable women often times develop feelings for their counselors, and it is the responsibility of the counselor to make sure appropriate boundaries are kept. I’m also understanding from Dan Allendar’s book The Wounded Heart that for sexual abuse victims caring and intimacy often is misunderstood as sexual attraction. Thus is clearly the case for me. My pastor either ignorantly or defiantly crossed boundary lines and committed spiritual abuse, and it really frustrates me when people just assume we got too close which implied at least to me it was just an affair. Maybe I’m overly sensitive and taking her meaning the wrong way, but it’s how I feel nonetheless. I suppose the real question is, what is real intimacy and what does it look like? I think it’s vital for me as I work through my story to have a clear understanding of this.
In one of the first sessions my husband and I had with Sharon, she defined true intimacy for us. She said it meant simply “in-to-me-see.” I’ll be honest with you, I’ve struggled to understand what she meant, but reading Allendar lately is helping me to see how much of the spiritual abuse I stayed in was a result of a misunderstanding of intimacy. Real intimacy I’m understanding is about making deposits into one another’s souls, healthy intimacy is about those deposits being good, healthy and building one another up. There isn’t a need for secrets in healthy intimacy, because clearly both parties understand its about knowing one another within the boundaries God has established for healthy relationships – which also means both parties work to keep Him in the center of their relationship so it doesn’t become idolatry…iron sharpening iron, telling one another the truth even when it hurts keeps a relationship from becoming one where we just keep one another happy, which can easily lead to idolatry. Healthy intimacy also understands the need for other relationships outside and that sometimes it means you might need for others to be involved to help if boundary lines get crossed. Inevitably it will happen. We are sinners in need of God’s mercy. We are broken and messy even at our best. We shouldn’t be surprised when we struggle with healthy intimacy, but we can keep it healthy by keeping it in the light.
When the new pastor came after my former pastor left I was scared to death of my relationship with him. For the past year or so there hadn’t been any major train wrecks sexually between my former pastor and I, but there was still a dependency, control and so much shame from years of secrets. This new pastor was the kind of person I quickly liked. He was positive, passionate, encouraging and also I’ll admit attractive 😉 (I’m sending this to he and his wife who’s a beautiful lady inside and out) . We quickly became friends. However, he was different from my former pastor. He had just graduated from seminary, had worked in campus ministries and had very healthy boundaries. As we talked and became closer, doors were always left open and we decided early on that nothing we talked about would be kept from our spouses. I cannot tell you how much this healthy relationship restored so much for my soul. Even after I told him that I’d had been sexually involved with someone outside of my marriage, he didn’t reject me, nor did his wife. As a matter of fact they both encouraged me time and time again that I was forgiven. He wanted me to tell my husband, as well, but I wasn’t ready and he accepted that. In the year that followed I trusted and cared about my pastor and his wife. I think it was probably the first intimate relationship I had where I was truly honest about who I was and it was healthy.
I developed intimacy with my former pastor, too but when he didn’t keep appropriate boundaries the lie I believed about myself that all I could deposit into others souls was something bad that would bring out the worst in them was just impressed further into my soul. The shame grew in the secrets as did my self contempt. I looked in the mirror and I hated myself and this hate fueled a need for relief and revenge. I sought my former pastor sexually in an attempt to give temporary relief to the shame and at other times to punish myself and him.
The true intimacy I experienced with my new pastor was a salve to my damaged soul. As he saw into my soul and me into his I understood that I wasn’t bringing out the bad in him, as a matter of fact sometimes I think I even encouraged him. It was the same way with the associate pastor who came on staff a few months before I left. We all genuinely liked one another and built one another up and it had nothing to do with sex. It was healthy intimacy and for the time it lasted it brought out the good in all of us.
So yeah, I get frustrated when people just assume that me and my former pastor just got too close.
First and foremost God created us for an intimate relationship with Him. He knows every little detail about us down to every hair and tear and He loves us so very much. When He gives us the faith to comprehend even a little bit of His love for us we become more complete than we ever knew was possible. Along with the knowledge of His total acceptance and love, trust and love grows in our own hearts and we are transformed by it. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Psalm 19:1 But our healthy intimacy and love for one another reveals His love to the world.
John 13:34-35 ESV
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
So it’s absolutely vital that we don’t live in fear of loving one another. Satan is out to keep us from doing this, because understanding God’s love is the most important thing for us. It’s what heals and make us whole. It’s what gives us hope and strength to get through life in a fallen world. It’s also what brings others to Him.
According to Dan Allendar, psychological studies reveal that shame is a better motivator than fear and that often times people will stay in a situation to avoid feeling shame. I would agree. Shame kept me in a very unhealthy relationship for years because I didn’t think anyone could really love me if they knew what I had done. But experiencing healthy intimacy without shame from fellow believers unlocked the chains of shameful secrets that bound me and gave me the courage to tell the truth. Although it was terribly painful and human brokenness brought about a lot of messiness, I’m still thankful for the love and intimacy I experienced over the past two years with those in ministry who cared more about serving God than serving themselves. Yes, it’s been a train wreck indeed, but as my other friend Steve Brown likes to point out, Christians often get in the same desperate situations as lost people just so the world can see that we handled it differently.
What’s different about my situation? The brokenness of human nature is clearly the same, however the love and forgiveness after all that’s been when I could have easily become bitter, the fact that I haven’t given up hope when it seemed there was nothing to hope for, is evidence of God’s handiwork in our lives and I’m oh so thankful.