Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Courage of Intimacy

From Guest Speaker - Shari Derksen - a member of the SVUC congregation

Job 2:11-13, John 11:32-36, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Let us pray. Holy One of All That Is, thank you for your Word and the messages of truth that are in it. May we have the ears to hear the truth that you would speak to us today, and the courage to move towards your love and freedom. Amen.

Good morning. For those that don't know me, my name is Shari Derksen, and I've been attending Symons Valley United Church since Sept 2014. I'm used to being on stage here in a singing capacity, but this is a whole other ballgame. As a psychologist that focuses on healthy relationships and healthy sexuality, a message on intimacy is right up my alley. So I was more than happy to agree when Vicki approached me. Today I will be speaking on intimacy in friendship, and I will also be addressing intimacy aspects that can be applied to any relationship. The foundation of intimacy is 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. 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 mothers 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 ash with painful sores all over his body, his friends gathered together to go and be with him and to comfort him. In 33 chapters of attacks and pontificating, their comfort is questionable, though more substantial than Jobs wife who simply suggested that he curse God and die. 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 this morning. 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.

Another way that we block intimacy is by judging and blaming others. Rather than looking at ourselves and taking responsibility for creating what we want or don't want, we focus on others and how they need to change or be different. When we regularly focus our attention outward onto others we deny them the opportunity of learning and sharing in our experience. It is a way of distracting from what is going on with us. Intimacy occurs when I share with another what is true for me, not when I articulate what I perceive to be true for them. No one knows my truth but me, and they cannot know my truth unless I share it with them. Likewise, I cannot know someone's truth unless they share it with me. And so to pretend that I already know their truth and what needs to change, I deny them the opportunity of sharing what is actually true for them, and thus denying the opportunity for intimacy.

There was a time when I was angry towards my father for his behaviour, and I blamed him for not being the father that I thought I needed, and expected him to change in order to meet my needs. I would not share myself with him, and I was not open to hearing his truth. It wasn't until I was willing to look at myself and to take responsibility for my own perceptions that were in the way that I could share some of my truth with him and in so doing discover ways that we could connect. Truthful aspects of him that I was not able to see before when I was blinded by judgement and blaming.

There were those Jews who had come to visit Mary and Martha that judged Jesus for raising Lazarus from the dead and blamed him for creating a ruckus. And in their blame and focus outward, they went to the Pharisees to complain and perpetuated more fear and blame. But then there were those Jews present at the miracle who were open to the truth of Jesus and who he was. And their belief would have fostered connection with Jesus and intimacy with other believers.

Another way that we block intimacy is by manipulating and controlling others. That may be in aggressive, bullying ways, or it may be in passive-aggressive ways. Rather than expressing what it is that we need or want, we manipulate or control others to produce the outcome that we want and/or to relieve anxiety. Those that use aggression control others through fear. Aggression and angry behaviour is often an outer surface display of underlying emotions. What may actually be fear, shame, frustration, sadness, or any number of other emotions is displayed as anger. Rather than express what is actually going on and what is needed, aggressive behaviour keeps others at a distance.

While facilitating treatment groups for men mandated from the court for domestic violence, I've witnessed the transformation that occurs when these aggressive men learn healthier ways of communicating, and the intimacy that unfolds when they have the courage to express to their spouse or partner what is actually going on for them, rather than react with anger and violence. Spouses and partners who had previously shut down in fear, could now respond to meet needs in loving, intimate ways. And lastly, we block intimacy with others by manipulating them to get what we want. Rather than assertively express what we need or want we may use guilt, deception, or games of all kind kinds to control others to behave a certain way. Again, this is a way of keeping our truth from others. Connection cannot occur when we don't speak our truth directly. And others cannot respond to us in real and authentic ways when they feel manipulated. As humans we have a natural tendency to feel anxious and distressed when our freedom appears to be threatened, including feeling manipulated, and we try to regain a sense of control by refusing to comply. Were more inclined to move away or distance ourselves from the person that is manipulating us, rather than move towards them. The opposite of intimacy.

What holds us back from expressing our truth directly is fear. Fear of rejection, fear of disappointing others, fear of failure, fear of our own power, all kinds of fears. Fear is what keeps us small and separated. It takes courage to move away from familiar and comfortable patterns of fear. But when we do, when we break free from that which holds us back, we discover that fear is an illusion. That the truth really does set us free. Love really is more powerful than fear. I've experienced this time and time again in my own life, and have witnessed it over and over with clients as they let go of fears and discover openness and possibilities on the other side. As they expand and move towards love, intimacy occurs. So as I mentioned before, the foundation of intimacy is a solid sense of self, an awareness of and a willingness to speak our truth in the moment. I could go on and on about ways that we block intimacy, but I think I'll wrap it up there for today. May we look to Jesus as a model for speaking truth and fostering intimacy. Amen.

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