And then I thought: perhaps the very precariousness of human relations made the intimacy all the more poignant and all the more treasured. It's only been in the past few generations that we have been allowed easy intimacy, assuming that mothers will not die in childbirth, that babies will live to have babies themselves, that we'll all reach retirement age and enjoy our wel-earned leisure. Perhaps that's why we've messed up intimacy; we simply weren't prepared for a lifetime of intimacy-and still aren't. How much are we supposed to protect ourselves by holding back from intimacy? Isn't the easy, instant, pseudo-intimacy, which is all that many people know, one of the best protections against real intimacy? (Madeleine L'Engle, Penguins and Golden Calves, p. 13)
What damages a friendship? Is it any surprise that the answer is sometimes the very thing that built it? That seems to be the case most often with idols. They are often just icons not treated as icons.
Intimacy. I have craved intimacy for as long as I can remember. When I was three years old, I had a little baby-size pillow--but it wasn't just a pillow. In my mind, it was personified. It was "Brother." I didn't have a brother, and in my mind my life was not complete since I didn't have a big brother. When I was three, my baby pillow did the trick. But that was because I was three and I could imagine. I felt my aloneness then, but I didn't understand it until I was older. As I understood it, I began to feel my loneliness more and more deeply. Loneliness became a tool, and I had misused it. I had made an idol rather than an icon out of it; and even though I was aware of this and wanted to destroy the idol, I didn't know how.
Intimacy takes time to develop, but I also think that some combinations of people develop intimate relationships more quickly than others. It depends on how much we fear intimacy and how much risk we're willing to take--and usually we calculate that based on a number of factors: our own stress level vs. our need for intimacy, the other person's response to our subtle overtures, the other person's perceived willingness to become vulnerable, the other person's perceived acceptance of things we consider flaws, the other person's efforts to initiate and maintain contact. All of these things played heavily into the development of our friendship. We both entered in with the same need, and we responded because we recognized that same need; and every response from one of us made the other feel safer and more willing to be vulnerable; and every vulnerability brought more response. This is how intimacy works--and it's a direct example of how intimacy with God works.
This was a problem in my marriage. He wanted intimacy, even emotional intimacy; but he couldn't handle painful emotional intimacy ... because he couldn't handle pain. It was a fundamental difference between us, and it eventually destroyed us--or the "us" we thought we had. Intimacy is the foundation of marriage. Sex is a symbol of intimacy. That's why it's an important part of marriage. The husband and wife expect to be the people who are most intimately known in each other's lives. The answer to the problem that occurs when a friendship surpasses the level of intimacy in marriage isn't holding back intimacy from the friend. It is increasing intimacy with the spouse. You can't substitute physical intimacy for emotional/spiritual intimacy. That's what Kyle and I tried to do. And when a need for intimacy clashes with a need for someone's approval from people whose "intimacy" is important to me but is not available because their own idols get in the way, I make them my idols as well. And I'm no closer to intimacy in the end because I would have to become as the idol myself in order to even get a positive glance from that significant person--and there is no true intimacy with idols.