fearing intimacy is wearing a mask, a very scary mask.

I just finished reading Donald Miller’s Scary Close. I highly recommend the book. To anyone. I’m not here to talk about the book specifically, but I am here to share some inspired reflection.

I always thought — probably even up until today — that I wanted to be known as wise. For awhile, I thought I wanted to be known as smart, but that wasn’t satisfying. It struck me that what is wisdom without the capacity for relational intimacy, being a healthy human being?

The funny thing about reading books that you claim to be impactful is you then need to put in the work to be impacted. You have to change; there’s to be work done. And that’s what terrifies me.

This post terrifies me. Yeah, I’m gently trembling as I type. I’ve been taught to be honest, but I never adequately connected honesty with vulnerability, with intimacy. I have always been accustomed to keeping the world at an arm’s length, and maybe a few more inches for safety.

Vulnerability is what makes us human. No one’s perfect, but I think a lot of the digital age has sought to edit and censor our trademark imperfection. I’m not supposed to be a person, I’m a brand.

But we’re personifying brands. So how does that work? Is a person a brand? Or is a brand a person? In my efforts at self-branding in real life — i.e., relationships — I’m neither.

I’ve had a lot of unhealthy relationships. Mostly, I’ve sought out unhealthy people. It’s easy to hide in relationships with unhealthy people because they’re not healthy enough to call you on your BS, but also because they have enough issues to occupy some time.

By hiding in relationships, I mean it’s easy to trade intimacy for shared experiences. If you spend enough time together having a good time, any relationship can seem good. More accurately stated, any relationship can seem healthy and intimate.

I’ve derived a lot of worth by “fixing” people. I’ve never fixed anyone. I’ve helped some people, but unhealthy people don’t fix people, they just setup unhealthy dynamics based on manipulation. Welcome to my life.

Life without intimacy is death. Sure, there’s happiness and most of the experiences we associate with life, but death isn’t the opposite of breathing. Death is the separation from grace and intimacy, it’s living devoid of true relationship.

What is it that I’m afraid of? Am I the only one here? Am I truly unlovable?

Ever since I can remember, I’ve believed that I have to prove my worth to be loved; I have to earn my keep in relationships; intimacy is admitting weakness. Stated bluntly, if my wife, for instance, had any idea how truly depraved I am, she would run screaming.

Grace is a powerful cure. Grace for oneself, grace for one another, receiving grace from God, all so crucial. It’s grace that acknowledges our humanity, our imperfection, but in the same breath assures us we are lovable and loved.

Grace for yourself, loving yourself, is critical to the healthy person. If you don’t love yourself, you can’t love anyone else, and you will never understand God; the opposite of self-love is prideful self-contempt, sin. I am not God, how can I judge myself, His handiwork ? (Romans 9:20)

Intimacy is rooted in identity. See, I can’t love myself if I don’t believe the repercussions of not loving myself. And I certainly can’t accept grace or love others if I don’t love myself and accept my identity. But who am I?

I am a son so loved by God that before the foundations of the world were in place He wrote my name in the Book of Life. I am adopted, forgiven of all future and past wrongdoing, and loved without a single condition. There is nothing to earn, nothing to lose.

This is who I am, so what do I have to lose? I have no answer. I hide from intimacy like a fugitive from Azkaban for what? I wish to God I had an answer.

The terrible thing about fear is over time it becomes rational. I have nothing to fear. Yet, I want to escape intimacy — with my wife even — because I’m afraid she’ll finally know too much about me and decide I’m no longer worth it.

If I keep it up, she might. Like so many before her, I’m pushing her away. By avoiding intimacy, I prove myself to be dangerous, I cannot be the loving and caring husband I have the capacity to be. Without intimacy, I’m just a deadbeat.

You are too.

Who am I? Who are you? What lie am I settling for, forcing those around me trying to love me to love the shell of a person?

Why do we willingly substitute a life filled with meaning from intimate relationships for the turbulent flight of pleasure high to pleasure high? Is it really worth it? I’m dying in here. So are those who love me.

Is intimacy worth a risk? Or is safety really that valuable? I have more than a hunch safety is nothing more than an illusion.

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Originally published at faiththroughdoubt.com on September 9, 2015.