In his book, Soul Cravings, Erwin Raphael McManus writes eloquently about intimacy and love. "We are most alive when we find it, most devastated when we lose it, most empty when we give up on it, most inhuman when we betray it, and most passionate when we pursue it."
Most passionate when we pursue it? Hmmm. . . it reminds me of Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians in Chapter 14 verse 1: "Pursue love," he writes.
Wait a minute. Isn’t love supposed to just find you, like you just "find" a hole in the middle of the street when you fall in? Sure, romance and infatuation may initially require little effort, but to experience deep long-lasting, intimate love requires a passionate pursuit, just like Paul said.
This passionate pursuit sounds vague and for that reason it seems impossible. After all, what does it mean to pursue love? Most of us have never been taught about developing emotional intimacy with another human. We’ve learned how to tie our shoes, do algebra, balance a budget, cook lasagna and maybe change the oil in our car; but no one has ever taught us how to pursue love.
Here are some basic but powerful ideas on how you can pursue love and make an art out of developing deeper emotional intimacy with those who mean the most to you. These principles can help you in your relationship with your boyfriend, girlfriend and even just your friend-friend. If you put them into practice, I’m confident that you’ll even find your pursuit for emotional intimacy and true love enjoyable.
Intimacy is Spelled A-C-C-E-P-T-A-N-C-E
There are keys that open just about every door on planet Earth. I have one to my car door, the door to my home and even the door to my jewellery box. Intimacy is the same. There is one particular key to open the Intimacy Door in your relationships: it’s called the Key of Acceptance. Because intimacy means that we allow another person to "see into" us and they allow us to "see into" them, the Key of Acceptance must be used. After all, no one wants to allow someone to "see into" their heart who is controlling, judgmental, critical, sarcastic, unforgiving, abusive, selfish or just plain nasty.
So, if you want others to open their heart to you, you’ve got to give them a safe place to do so. Why? Because the truth is that while most of us may act like we’re not afraid of anything, in the deepest part of ourselves, our hearts are very tender, fragile and generally fearful of relational pain. For hearts to thrive in intimacy, they’ve got to feel safe and accepted.
Here are some ways you can use the Key of Acceptance to open the door to emotional intimacy in your relationships and pursue love!
When Rebecca dated Brad, she often felt like an unaccepted alien. Why? Because whenever she told a joke, he looked at her as if she had three heads. His look said, "I don’t like the part of you that is funny." He rarely joined in her humour and if he did, it seemed forced.
You may have heard it said that the shortest distance between two hearts is laughter. If you want to develop intimacy with someone special, it doesn’t hurt to find your funny bone if they have found theirs. When they crack a joke, have fun! It will make your friend feel like a genius of humour and it will add an element of joy to your relationship that everyone needs.
I remember the first time someone cried with me when my heart was broken. It moved me and I knew my friend deeply loved me.
When we can cry with another person, and they can cry with us without feeling judged, a deeper intimacy develops. Yes, it takes patience and understanding not to try and "fix" the other person or their problem, but just sit with them in their pain and encourage them. Don’t give them advice unless they ask. They will appreciate it and love you more for it!
True, intimacy can only be developed when we are willing to accept another person just as they are. This doesn’t mean that we never disapprove of their actions, or that we never disagree with them. In fact, a certain amount of independent thinking that leads to disagreements is healthy and normal. If disagreements are not happening, it generally means that communication is lacking because someone isn’t being honest.
In light of this truth, developing intimacy means that we have learned the art of disagreeing well while still sending the message: I love you even if we disagree. I’ll still accept you if you don’t accept all of my ideas. I am glad that you can share your viewpoints with me and I am not threatened by our differences, and no matter what, you’ll still be my friend.
One of my dearest friends is great at disagreeing with me and making me feel honoured at the same time. She knows how to tell me when she believes that I have gone off the deep end, or that I’m about ready to do something stupid. She often says that she accepts me just how I am. For this reason, I never doubt her care for me, even when we argue. I feel secure because she continually celebrates me and cheers me on in life. With that kind of support, our disagreements do not feel like a threat that will destroy our relationship. I do the same for her. We are both free to be ourselves.
Disagreements can lead to greater intimacy because opposing viewpoints mean we are being honest about who we are. However, during disagreements, remember to stay away from insulting your friend’s character, manipulating or blaming. Watch what you say because the emotional safety someone feels in a relationship which feeds intimacy can be destroyed in minutes through poorly selected words.
I recently heard of a man who told his wife during an argument that the only reason he ever married her was because someone else wouldn’t marry him. She was devastated. From that moment on she never felt entirely accepted and wondered if he had meant what he said.
Words can heal or sting, build up or tear down. They can be the reason for, creation of, or the demise of love and intimacy (James 3:6).
There you have it, three ways you can pursue love and use the Key of Acceptance to develop deeper emotional intimacy in your relationships. Most of all, remember to entrust your relationship to God. He is the One who made love and intimacy and knows how it works. If you want to love someone more, ask Him to help you. That’s a prayer He will be pleased to answer!