Job’s Friends and Jesus Weeping: Ways We Block Intimacy Part I
Job 2:11-13; John 11:32-36
The foundation of healthy intimacy is true interdependence, which requires a solid sense of self. That is, an awareness and allowance of our own experience so that we can share it with another, and also be open to receive what another has to share with us, whether that experience is positive, or negative, while maintaining a clear sense of self. Schnarch (2009), world-renowned sex and marital therapist, stresses the importance of developing a solid sense of self (internal validation), rather than a reflected sense of self (dependence on others for validation), for healthy and lasting intimacy. He posits that a solid sense of self comes from developing an accurate identity, intrinsic self-worth, and lasting values and goals (ones that don’t arise from other-people validation). Intimacy requires authenticity.
There is a special intimacy that is fostered in friendship. We choose our friends, those that we choose to share ourselves with. They are a joy in times of celebration, and a comfort in times of struggle. I am reminded of a time of uncertainty and restless nights when our eldest daughter Georgia was 10 and in a California hospital with a ruptured appendix. In a foreign country, with no family close at hand, our beloved friends Scott and Amanda were there to offer comfort and to provide some stability with childcare for our youngest, Sophie. Our willingness to share our struggle with our friends fostered intimacy. And I witnessed the comfort of friends when meal upon meal was brought to my parents’ home in the final weeks of my mother’s battle with cancer. Reminders that we were not alone.
At a time when Job had lost it all, his children, his livelihood, and he was sitting in a pile of ashes with painful sores all over his body, his friends gathered together to go and be with him and to comfort him. His friends were there to remind him that he was not alone. Even in suffering, he was not alone.
It’s easy to share with our friends when we’re happy, when things are going well. But it takes courage and vulnerability to admit when things are not going well. When we’re sick, when we’re broke, when our marriage is failing, when our child is an addict, when we’re so anxious or hopeless that we can’t get out of bed. In a world of images and appearances, and selective Facebook posts, and beautiful Instagram shots, we like to pretend that all is well, that everything’s under control, that we have our act together. But it’s in the reality, the authenticity, the rawness and nakedness of the human experience that we connect with one another, that we have intimacy. When we pretend and hide, we deny the opportunity of allowing others to connect with us, or to help us, or to share in our experience.
Mary was authentic in her grief at the death of her brother Lazarus, and she wept openly in front of Jesus when he came to be with her and Martha. And Jesus, even in his divinity, was not above the human experience of sadness and anguish, and he too wept openly with his friends whom he loved. Intimacy.
There is a vast array of human emotions and human activities under the heavens. And in Ecclesiastes we are reminded that there is a time for everything. A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. We can choose to fully embrace or engage in these emotions and activities in the moment, or we can choose to deny or minimize them. And when we choose to embrace them, and to share them with another, then intimacy can occur.
However, there are a number of ways that we block intimacy, and I want to address a few of them. One way that we block intimacy is through a lack of introspection, or in other words, a lack of awareness of, or a disallowing of our own experience in the moment. Perhaps we are not aware that we are sad, or anxious, or angry, or that a boundary has been crossed, or we do not allow excitement or celebration. Sometimes in our growing up years we learn that it is not OK to feel or experience certain things. Perhaps we were taught that crying is for the weak, or to suck it up when things get rough, or that it’s not OK to make mistakes, or that only dad or mom are allowed to get angry, or to not get too excited about things as they’ll likely be taken away, or to not celebrate lest we become too proud for our own good. We learn that these feelings or experiences are shameful, and so we learn to hide them or to avoid them altogether, and in so doing we deny ourselves. We make ourselves small or invisible.
Imagine if Mary had learned that crying and sadness were shameful, and that at the loss of her brother, instead of weeping openly with Jesus and her friends, she distracted herself with busyness, or put on a brave face and pretended that she was managing fine. In denying herself the human experience of sadness and grief, she would have denied herself the intimacy and connection that would occur in sharing it with those close to her.
In what ways are you putting on a brave face, or hiding behind a mask? What busyness or distraction keeps you from being authentic? In what ways are you limiting your own experience? What steps towards intimacy might you make with a friend today?
Shari Derksen, MA, is a Registered Psychologist with the College of Alberta Psychologists and specializes in the areas of relationship issues and intimacy, as well as many others. For more information on Shari, her work, or other articles she’s written for Living Well click here to link to her full bio page.