Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful.

I Corinthians 13:4

The basic building block of any relationship is respect. Respect means that one feels safe co-existing with someone else. For instance, if I don’t know you at all and you stop by the office, we may end up having nothing in common or not even liking each other but it’s a guarantee that I won’t hurt or harm you. That is respect.

After respect comes commonality. Once safety is assured, the next building block is seeing if there is anything in common between two people. There isn’t going to be trust or love or anything else if there is nothing in common. Once people find out they have something in common, they begin to develop a rapport with one another. In developing a rapport, friendship develops, and then trust. After trust, love grows. And when love is present, one feels he or she can be vulnerable. Intimacy a complete acceptance of someone else. We’re not talking in a sexual way. We’re talking in a way that a person can be vulnerable with someone else and feel safe, and not judged.

In a marriage, even intimacy has some extra stages. When people are dating, they are not necessarily completely honest. This is normal. We tend to be in to whatever our partner is into, because we’re just so infatuated with them. After a couple has been married for a while, they may realize that the things they said they were into they actually really aren’t into. For instance, a woman may really get into sports because her partner is into them, and a man may really get into opera because his partner is into that, and then, a couple of years into marriage, they may reveal to each other that she really doesn’t like sports and he really doesn’t like the opera. This leads to disappointment, even anger, over “who did I marry?” and “why did I not see this coming?” Then a couple will evaluate whether to continue the relationship—usually they will, this isn’t a deal breaker—but the relationship may take a step back from intimate to tolerant. From tolerance, it will move toward acceptance, i.e. “I love, even though you_________.” And hopefully, finally, it will move back to intimacy, which is “I love you” without qualification.

Intimacy is what people crave in relationships. Many people think that intimacy is tied to sex, and it isn’t necessarily. Part of what is wrong in our world is that people don’t know how to have intimate, non-sexual relationships, meaning relationships where it is safe to be vulnerable, and relationships where people are completed accepted as they are. Sexual intimacy is part of marriage to be sure, but emotional intimacy is something that as we get older, we crave perhaps even more.

I’m writing on this topic today in order to relate intimacy to our relationship with Christ. We know that Christ wants this relationship with us. How do we know that? Because He died for us—those in the past, present and future—He died for all of us. He told is in John 15:13, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Christ has shown us the greatest kind of love that there is, for what can be more vulnerable than to give up one’s very life for someone else?

Now it is up to us, on our end, to build an intimate relationship with Christ. How do we do that? One answer is, to follow the same stages of relationship building that we use with other people. The first building block is respect. Respect first and foremost of the commandments—are we doing the things that God has asked us to do—are we loving our neighbor? Are we respectful of others? Do we act in a respectful way with ourselves—watching our language, watching what our eyes see, etc. Next is commonality—do we spend time with Christ, do we see anything in common with Him. Christ personified love. If we want to feel like we have something in common with Him, we are to personify love as well. Then we will feel a commonality, and even a “kinship” with Christ. As we spend more time in worship, prayer and service, as we get to know Christ on a deeper level, trust will develop. And from trust, love will blossom. Again, Christ has already done all these things on His end—trust, love, vulnerability. So it is up to us to “catch up.” When we take time to build a relationship with Christ, that’s when we will be able to be vulnerable in prayer, in thought, in action and in repentance.

All of us “married” Christ when we were baptized. He is revealed in the Bible as the Bridegroom of the church. We are the bride. The marriage analogy to the Lord works in two ways. First of all, being married is a continuous action, not a one-time event. Even though we might marry someone on one particular day, we have to continuously work on the married relationship. In the same way, we “marry” Christ on the day we are baptized, but our relationship is a continuous work in progress. Secondly, we discussed above that in marriage, there is inevitable disappointment. In our marriage to Christ, we will get disappointed as well. Most people are disappointed to find out that being a Christian doesn’t make like necessarily easy. In fact, in some cases, like those who have died for Christ, it makes life even harder. This leads to disappointment, even despondency and doubt. For those who stay in the Christian walk, like those who stay in marriage, there will be a time of tolerance and acceptance, a sort of begrudging “well, I guess that’s how this goes,” before there can be a true intimacy with God, and true, “I love You Lord” without any caveats.

Ultimately, whether we admit it or not, we all crave intimacy—we all crave complete acceptance by other people, and we all crave that from the Lord as well. The journey to intimacy begins with respect, followed by commonality, trust, love and ultimately intimacy. It is necessary to get to these steps in this order, and it is necessary that we invest of ourselves—time, emotion, energy—into building the relationship to the point of intimacy. If we stop only at respect, that is like stopping at a level of tolerance, which is not love. Love is where we ultimately want our relationship to be, with our families, with our close friends, and with the Lord. And the same things that guide our deep friendships and familial ties, the same degree of trust, love and vulnerability is available to us in our relationship with the Lord.

Lord, thank You for loving me. Thank you for making Yourself vulnerable, even unto death on the Cross for me and for my sins. Help me to grow towards You, by respecting Your commandments, finding points of commonality with You, trusting You, loving You and ultimately being vulnerable and intimate with You. Help me at all times and in all stages to desire a closeness with You. Thank You for showing us what it means to be loving, trusting, accepting and vulnerable. May I be able to express these things to You and to model them for others. Amen.

Work on the stages of intimacy with God—trust, commonality, trust, love—and work through disappointment, tolerance and acceptance, to that the ultimately relationship with the Lord—intimacy—becomes not just a goal, but a goal that is achieved, lived, and enjoyed.