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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Getting Naked Relationally

There is something about getting naked with someone - once the clothes come off, you see everything, in all its glorious splendor and its embarrassing imperfection. There is something deeply satisfying in being fully seen by someone, warts and all, and to still be loved. I suspect many of us go through our entire lives without ever experiencing that kind of intimacy.

I've been reading Instruments again, and Paul Tripp shares an amazing story of a couple in his church who on the outside had a perfect marriage and family, yet behind the scenes there were years of violence and dysfunction. Tripp describes the moment it all came bubbling out over a cup of coffee:
Brad's story was disorienting. I had known this man for years, yet I knew nothing of what he was telling me now. My mind went to the countless hours we had spent with this family. I had assumed I knew them, so I had never asked anything ... about the true state of their personal lives. ...

I realized that the most personal and important parts of our lives fly under the radar of our typical relationships in the body of Christ. We live frenetically busy lives with activity-based friendships, punctuated only by brief conversations with each other. Now I was sitting across from a friend I did not know. ...

We tend to have permanently casual relationships that never grow into real intimacy. There are things we know about each other, but they fool us into thinking that we know the human beings who live within the borders of those details.
- Instruments (p162-3)
In all likelihood, this is the reality for most of us - we do not really know our friends, especially those in our church circles.

So here's my question - Why not? What are the barriers to such intimacy? And how can we change this? How can we do a better job of getting naked relationally with one another in the body of Christ?

1. First, as Tripp himself notes, we have "frenetically busy" lifestyles. We have so little time for meaningful conversations. The way we live our work-a-day lives has huge implications for our faith-family-and-community lives - we are so busy trying to get things done we have very little time to simply hang out and get to know one another. I think about how hard it is to make time to get together with Ryan and Rachel (and heck, we are going to be planting a church with them!). Seminary doesn't help with this. Neither does television.

2. This brings up a second point. We try to play as hard as we work. We seem to think that the way to make up for a hard week at the office is to try and pack a full week's worth of recreating into our weekend. And the nature of our recreation is very individualistic and consumer oriented.

I think about how last night I watched two movies with my kids - that was good. But it was also relationally shallow. Sure we enjoyed each other's presence as we watched Wallace and Gromit's Curse of the Were Rabbit and then March of the Penguins - but the very nature of watching a movie is me passively taking something in and being entertained. This is not to say that it's irredeemable - I'm just saying that most of our entertainment is individually-oriented rather than relationally-oriented. It's like thinking about your spouse while you masturbate in the shower - the inter-personal aspect is secondary at best.

3. Frankly, I think many of us are scared to death of real relational honesty. There's part of us that would really like to be open and honest with others about our struggles, but we tend to live in a church culture where acceptance is doled out on the basis of 'having it all together.' We are afraid to be honest because such honesty usually results in rejection.

Somehow, we have got to rediscover the truth of the gospel - just as God accepts me on the basis of my relationship to Christ (as a son, rather than as a saint), so too I need to accept others on the same basis. Our relationship can't be based on the fact that either of us has it together, or we will never be able to be open about all the places where are lives are still coming apart at the seams.

So are there other reasons? I'm sure there are - these are just a few obvious ones that leap to mind immediately. The real question is - what would it take to create a community where we can be transparent about our struggles, where we can really get to know one another.

I think this is a harder question - I don't really know the answers here yet, but I do know that this is the kind of community we want to create as we plant a church in Missoula. I think we have to start by actually valuing and desiring this kind of community - in other words, we need to be intentional about what we are looking for. That probably means we need to be intentional in pursuing one another - both to make time for one another, but also to ask each other probing questions, to try and crawl into another person's space and invite them to crawl into ours.

I have a feeling that's probably easier said than done - or at least, it'll be easy to make mistakes and get things wrong. But those are good opportunities for repentance and forgiveness - they are great opportunities to preach the gospel to one another (and to ourselves). As leaders, I think we are going to need to model the kind of openness and transparency we're after - that means being chief repenters and sharers ourselves.

It's also easy in this type of endeavor to make relational intimacy the goal in and of itself - it's easy to turn relational candor into just one more form of consumerism, where we actually feed off knowing one another really closely. Ultimately, that's not the reason we should be seeking to know one another (and it will never satisfy) - the REASON we should know one another well is to point one another to Christ - to exhort, to encourage, to challenge, to sanctify. The reason we need to know one another well is so that we can better glorify God together - being re-shaped into his image, helping others down that path as well.

I'd be really interested in hearing what others think here - what do YOU think keeps us from having a deep knowledge of one another's struggles? And how can we do better in this area? At the very least, we need to realize that if we are going to counsel effectively, we are going to have to get to know one another effectively.


At 9:54 AM, March 05, 2006, Blogger Karyn said...

I think that one of the best ways to get intentionally relational with people is to look for ways to serve others together. This kind of activity (helping others, usually in practical ways) has been advocated by one of my best friends for a long time. Sure my friend and I have had times sitting down and sharing tea or just going for a walk and talking. But we've really gotten to know each other deeply when we've hung sheetrock together, scraped grease off old stoves, painted, cleaned, cooked, raked, or moved boxes together. Why? Well partly because, as you mentioned, it is not a passive activity. You can work together and talk. But also, doing things like hanging sheetrock brings out the stresses and idiosyncracies of our lives that allows our friends to see our weaknesses and how we handle various situations. What does my tone of voice communicate when I am irritated by how someone else is hanging the sheetrock? An astute friend who is in proximity (because we are working together) will be able to call me on it and this can lead to a redemptive conversation. Depth of relationship takes time and opportunities to experience together. We experienced this last summer in Sudan, with our team going to help out in Yei. Of course, whenever you travel together or live together in close community you have distilled the process and get to have more opportunities to be "naked relationally." This was a great bonding time. We became closer as we experienced the hassles, short tempers, good efforts, shared meals, illnesses, challenges, blessings, conversations and hard work together. Having the opportunity to "do" something may reveal your heart more than just a conversation. Revealed heart issues bring opportunities for interaction and living out the gospel to each other. I think I whole-heartedly agree with my friend, that looking for ways to serve together is a great way to develop a relationship.

At 10:00 AM, March 05, 2006, Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

I so agree with Karyn...and not just because she is my wife!

I often don't know what to say when someone just says to me, "So, how are you doing?" or "How is the Lord working in your life?" I think those are important questions, but any response is going to be through my own filters.

As Karyn pointed out, however, as we work and serve together who we really are emerges, and this can be the seed for fruitful and redemptive conversation.

In other news: Karyn had sent me her comment via email to look at before she posted it. I love that Google ads brought up along side ads to "win back the one I love, even if he/she doesn't want to come back" and for "drywall at great prices!"

At 2:01 PM, March 06, 2006, Blogger Brian said...

I too, would agree strongly with Karyn . . . and I have never met her! ;o)

I have been taking voice lessons once a week since August from one of the ladies in my church. We both have strong personalities, and there have been many times when we are both ready to choke each other and when we feel like screaming with excitement for the progess God has give us. But, we have gotten to know each other well, which also means we have to deal with each other's sin often, too. I also used to work with this ladie's husband when I first moved here, and it is inevitable that you will have to learn to love each other and deal with sin that pours out of us when you hammer nails with someone day in and day out.

I think part of this working together idea may come down to having a slightly different perspective of things. To hit on our gnosticism again, I think it is very easy to feel like there must be a spiritual atmosphere, conversation, or event when fellow Christians get together to hang out. I think this begins to choke out opportunites for us to become more "naked" with each other. But I wouldn't argue against the expectation for things to be spiritual as much as I would argue that we have a very limited few of what is spiritual.

I also want to ask a question:

You had mentioned that: ". . . the nature of our recreation is very individualistic and consumer oriented."
I think our modern love of the "individual" plays a factor in all of this too. It seems that likely a reaction to your post would be that we need to simply begin spending more quality time with people and sharing more intimately with each other about our lives.

I think this has the chance to get messy in not so good ways if we still approach it from our individualistic mindsets. Meaning, I need to share my life with other individuals but I don't make any discernments about who those individuals are linked to or more throroughly defined by.

I think we should see ourselves more as the body of believers that we are (which I think would attract more "nakedness"), and the different positions or roles within that body. What I'm wondering is if there is particular nakedness that is better off not being exposed to some and/or commanded of us to expose to others? Are there things we always tell our wives but don't tell our brothers, things we tell our pastor but maybe not our wives, things we tell our brothers but not our children, things we tell our brothers but not our sisters, etc.?

I know this may seem elementary, but I believe I've already seen negative effects in the church where we have failed to recognize biblical distictions.

At 5:44 PM, March 06, 2006, Blogger Mark Traphagen said...


I think your last point is worth thinking about, and may point to a healthy balance to the "bare all before all" movement.

At 8:21 AM, March 07, 2006, Blogger Molly said...

I agree with you, Sage, that Brian's last comment is really important. I was glancing through Tripp's "War of Words" yesterday and noticed some quotes to that effect; I'll try to find them and post them if I have time later this week.

At 12:51 PM, March 07, 2006, Blogger Christian said...

Good comments one and all!

In response to Karyn - I wonder how we can create a church environment where more of this kind of thing happens on a regular basis. It seems to me that we need to foster a deep sense of service - both towards individuals and towards the community. We need to feel a "need" before we'll ever be motivated to pound nails alongside someone.

Closely linked to this, I think we need to also sense a healthy measure of our own inability, insufficiency - in other words, the task really needs to be beyond us individually. Only then do we actually look to one another for help.

In response to Brian, I'd agree w/ Molly - I think that there is a sense of propriety. As a husband, I share _everything_ with my wife (and yes, I mean everything - this is hard, because there's a lot of muck within, but it makes for a much stronger relationship down the road because it allows us to expose the muck within).

As for others, there's needs to be a sense of proporiety - my kids don't need to know everything, neither do my friends. That said, they both need to know _some_ things.

I think in general, we are far to prone to err on the side of concealing rather than revealing. Almost without exception, we tend to hide our dirt, rather than reveal it. So as a general corrective, I'd say we need to stary be being really, really open and honest about our shortcomings, failures, sins, etc.

This needs to start with those of us in the pastorate - I want to be foremost of repenters; I need to be willing to admit my problems. Doing that will help create an atmosphere where other people can share their struggles as well, without fear of getting hammered or rejected for it.

In terms of propriety, I think one of the things we should keep in mind is that its possible to share very deeply without necessary reveling in the gory details. And even if we do not feel right sharing the details with everyone, there needs to be SOMEONE whom we are completely honest with.

I think that is one of the key issues for me - the body is meant to be a place where we have people with whom we can be brutally honest - about every little bitty ounce of disgusting wretched vileness that lurks within us. We don't need to reveal it to everyone. We may not need to recount it in super-slo-mo- blow-by-blow replay. But we need to have someone we can share this stuff with.

And the fact of the matter is that most of us in the church treat this kind of stuff like gays in the military - don't ask, don't tell.

Lauren Winner has a great line to this regard in real sex, about how it IS your neighbor's business about what's going on in your bedroom... (if that doesn't make you want to go read her book, nothing will).

At 4:17 PM, March 07, 2006, Blogger Brian said...

I think our unwillingness to share intimately with others reflects on how big or great we believe the Gospel really is . . . (which ends up being the gospel the rest of the world gets to see.)

Great stuff, keep it coming!

At 4:23 PM, March 07, 2006, Blogger Christian said...

Ah, now there you've really touched the nub of the matter - in order to share openly, you have to have great confidence in the gospel, where we are so sure of our standing on the basis of what Christ has done for us that we are completely willing to reveal all our shortcomings and deficiencies - because we realize we are destitute and there's no hope there anyway. Someone who is seeking to find their value in themselves, or something they do, will inevitably have a hard time opening up about what they are really like...

At 8:36 AM, March 08, 2006, Blogger Daniel Nairn said...

Play Board Games!

What better non-individualistic recreation? Kids can join the adults. It exercises your mind, but doesn't have to be so strenuous as to prohibit conversation. You get to sit across a table from actual humans for over an hour at a time.

At 12:05 PM, March 08, 2006, Blogger Brian said...

I was thinking more about sitting down with a hand full of guys, a nice bottle of port, and lighting up a bowl of long-cut tobacco.

Something about that combination seems to get the "intimate juices" flowing.


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