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. ...In all likelihood, this is the reality for most of us - we do not really know our friends, especially those in our church circles.
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)
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.