When Intimacy Breeds Familiarity

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all!! So the merry holiday season has come and gone, though the warmth of season cheer still lingers (as, I suspect, will all those Christmas dinners & cakes!).

This year, Alex and I decided to ditch the traditional Christmas parties and Church services in favor of taking a much-needed sabbatical over the long holiday. It would be a time to retreat, relax, and spiritually recharge. We would have extended prayer times, catch up on reading, watch movies, talk… It would be the perfect end to the year.

Then I fell ill. And trust me, it was not a pretty sight.

I will spare you the gory details, but suffice to say there was plenty of coughing, sniffling, and (my greatest nemesis) upchucking. Ugh. I was at my lowest, and Alex was in his element – he tenderly cleaned me up and put me to sleep, patiently braved through my emotional tears, ran all sorts of errands at all sorts of hours, AND sat through the entire Bridget Jones’s Diary franchise with me. What a champ.

But the moment that pierced my heart the deepest was when I saw Alex, kneeling on the bathroom floor, single-handedly cleaning up all traces of my upchucking incident. That was a pivotal moment. Amidst my yelling tearful protests that I should clean up my own mess, he gently insisted that he wanted to do this.

I was ashamed and humbled. Ashamed to have made such a mess, and mortified at my inability to control my body’s reflexes. And I was humbled that this man, having seen me at my absolute worst, still loved me. Not once did he wrinkle his nose in disgust, and he did not hesitate for even a moment to step into the situation.

I was a terrible mess, but I was loved.

But I suppose that is the way love works, isn’t it? It takes utter vulnerability to uncover it. In the midst of brokenness, it flourishes. The greatest tests reveal the deepest loves.

At the same time, all of this has got me thinking about intimacy and familiarity. If true love requires us to stand unmasked, real, vulnerable and revealed, then what is to keep us from becoming too familiar with what was once sacred?

What I mean is this: A beauty that is only to be admired from afar seems all the more glorious to its beholder because it is unattainable. Once it has been obtained, it becomes common. It loses its fascination. Romance is lost.

So my question this season is: Can intimacy and romance walk hand-in-hand?

My question is not directed solely to the context of marriage. Through the ages, humankind has proved over and over again that we easily lose our sense of wonder and fascination with many things – life, beauty, people, God. We have a propensity to take things for granted. And there is the old adage “Familiarity breeds contempt”.

A classic example is the man Uzzah who was struck dead for touching the ark of God (2 Samuel 6). Not exactly a happily-ever-after Sunday School story. I used to really struggle with the fact that God killed Uzzah even though he was just trying to be helpful – rather an extreme punishment for a good deed. And what did he get for his troubles? Instant death. Not even a chance to repent.

To be honest, I still struggle to accept this story sometimes. It just doesn’t make sense that this could be the God of love. But when I look at the story in the greater context, the greater love story, I realise that everything God does is in love and for love. God was protecting love by guarding against familiarity – Uzzah had had the ark in his home for so long, he had forgotten how holy and awesome the presence of God was. He had become familiar.

*Note: I am only presenting one out of many reasons that Uzzah was punished. There is so much more to this story, and I am only giving the most simplistic answer for the purpose of this article which is not aimed at answering the question of why God killed Uzzah. I would recommend further study and reading of the books of Chronicles and Samuel to get a better perspective of why God did what He did (:

Even God can be treated with familiarity. Wow. Perhaps that is why many people, myself included, choose to keep others at a distance. We don’t know if we will be loved and accepted once all our flaws are laid bare, and we’d rather not find out.

But as I think about it, I am realizing that true love can only be true love when it has seen all.

Sure, there will always be the Uzzah stories, but how about the stories of King David and the beloved disciple John – men who knew God intimately and loved Him wholeheartedly till the end? How about Jesus, who knows us deeply and yet loves us still? Or what about the love stories that bring tears to our eyes and hope to our hearts about husbands and wives who love their spouses in sickness and trials, loving against all odds?

Not all familiarity is bad.

It is the seeing all that makes the love true. Because until it has been tested, it is only love in theory. The greatest tests reveal the deepest loves.

Yes, I take a great risk in opening myself up to love and be loved – that intimacy could breed familiarity which could breed contempt. But this week with Alex has taught me that there is also the possibility that I could be loved beyond my wildest imagination. And that, I think, is worth any risk.

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Idream of Eden. We were made for the Garden and the full pleasure of paradise. We got separated at Eden and we spend our whole lives searching for a way back into that secret paradise. All of life's pursuit + pain + questioning can be traced back to man's search for home. Our deepest instincts tell us that we are not home outside of this reality, and our souls will never stop searching until we return. Only there will we find rest and our true being. There, we begin to dream again the dreams that have laid asleep in our hearts all along.

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