Deep in the heart of every adult hides a well-hidden secret…the need to be nurtured, honored, and encouraged. Stoic macho-men and super-moms refuse to admit this fact. Independent singles, business professionals, and males and females of all ages, races, and stations deny it. Only young children openly admit they have such a need before it becomes a secret and invite hugs, hugs and more hugs with always-open arms.
As I think back on my own young adult past, there was a time when my secret demanded full attention. I was deeply alone and adrift, confused and empty. Not a single soul offered to come alongside – so rather than beat people over the head or grovel for mercy like a beggar, I stuffed the secret back in its private little cubicle in my heart and went on my not-so-merry way. No matter that I resorted to destructive behaviors in an attempt to compensate. No matter that I assumed a false identity. No matter that I began to walk a long, degenerative road of addiction. It was a matter of survival.
I ate only vending machine junk rather than real food…an absurd behavior that fed my secret for months with a counterfeit “filling.” The secret spot seemed less empty when I skipped “normal” meals and intentionally smothered it with chocolate cream-filled cupcakes, fried fruit pies, and candy bars. This was a desperate act.
Because I did not receive spontaneous, unsolicited love-offerings during this phase, I began to wrongly assume the role of a victim. In my own mind I became unworthy of intimacy. This lie led to more unreasonable decisions and mistakes borne of weak judgment, and ultimately lingering regrets and ingrained bad habits.
At the time, I had no idea where to go for help. I feared ridicule and/or rejection (or simply the reality of being ignored), and so barricaded my heart with a skyscraper-like wall. At that time, I had not witnessed mutual burden-sharing where the secret was exposed and jointly explored. I continued to excuse those in my life who stood by and watched me become reclusive and even ill without intervention.
Some of us are nurturers by nature, and I am one such person. As a child, I pitied each wiggly fish on the other end of the fishing pole, especially when it swallowed the hook! I learned to support my parents in the midst of volatile emotional outbursts – no small task. When I was older, a pastor once laughingly remarked, “She mothers anything that comes across her path!”
There are those of us whose personalities seem ready and able to care. We gladly serve others’ needs, sacrificing our own secret need in order to meet theirs. It is true that we need to confirm our motives periodically; we need to make sure we’re focused on the well-being of our recipients rather than on their attention or compliments. Still, it seems obvious to me that being other-centered is easier for some than others.
Those who are not so inclined come to rely on those of us who are nurturers, and it is easy to see how they may become oblivious to the needs of their caregivers. After all, they may reason that such people choose sacrifice and vulnerability! Surely they don’t expect others to match their zeal for service!
However, everyone needs support; everyone shares the same secret need. Too often when classic “givers” are challenged by their own failing health or other losses, the classic “receivers” maintain distance or crack jokes out of embarrassment or to avoid being perceived as inadequate.
Inevitably, relationships defined in this way become marked on both sides by loneliness and distance, disappointment and escape, futility and even despair…rather than intimacy.
I once heard someone say, “Time heals all wounds.” However, my secret did not gain a public hearing for years, and the pain of loneliness persisted. I tried being more verbal as time passed: “Please don’t do that,” or “It would be really nice if…” or “Why can’t you try to understand me?” or “I just want to be validated!”
In the end however, I always backed into the familiar role of people-pleasing. It seemed easier to sacrifice myself than demand love. Solicitation was an unreasonable option since I didn’t want love if it was not freely given. Instead, I longed to be intentionally sought after and cherished.
So many times I questioned circumstances, and the people in them. Was I unlovable? Were others clueless? Were my needs unreasonable? Couldn’t they see that I was weak and vulnerable and required support and nurturing too? Why wouldn’t they initiate SOMETHING?
Perhaps these people did not have eyes to see my struggle. It is true that I allowed them to side-step the issue (the secret) rather than laboriously educate them to the ways of my heart and soul. And yet why were they so blind? Isn’t it a basic rule of humanity to cultivate intimacy – the deep and abiding connection that melds hearts together? What else is worthy of priority in this life?
Are people so self-contained, fearful, and short sighted that they intentionally retreat into solitary confinement rather than engage with others in real life? If so, why is there so much fear?
Can’t we all choose to learn what it means to share our hearts, even when it is hard to open up? Isn’t everyone teachable, after all?
What does it mean to love in an active sense? Are we content to wear masks and pretend to be ships passing at night on the turbulent seas of life, or are we ready to love?
I still wonder how to best inspire those who struggle with emotional intimacy, particularly those who rub elbows with me. It seems a matter of consistently striving to exemplify availability and transparency, and yet that’s not the whole picture. I must become bold – even confrontational - and challenge myself to join those around me as we jointly jump out of our respective comfort zones into a common pool of vulnerability.
You see, I am convinced there is a bigger picture – a way to live when hearts meld rather than stand at rigid attention in each other’s presence. I am convinced this is the way to live as ordained by our Father God and implemented by His Son. I am convinced this lifestyle is available to us as disciples of Jesus through the indwelling Holy Spirit who empowers us with faith, hope, submission, compassion, and humility.
I have gratefully found a surprising measure of freedom from past bondage, and yet I still grow weary of relationships that don’t “connect.” On one hand, I can and do intentionally forgive people who resist intimacy, even thought the smoldering coals of relational pain continue to burn and sting way down deep. On the other hand, I plead with God to intervene and build new foundations when old ones seem to fail. In the midst of a mix of both of these approaches, I also want to actively seek the depth of unrestricted relationship I so desperately crave, while challenging those around me to learn to pursue unhindered intimacy with me.
It seems unreasonable to expect deep and abiding connection with anyone but my Lord since relationships on earth are flawed. But I hope (and know with conviction) that somehow, through the power of the Holy Spirit, I will continue to seek deep interaction with others. In so doing I long to encourage my family and friends as we jointly travel toward maturity…and intimacy with a God who created us for relationship with Himself and each other.
It is time to expose the secret that defines us all. It is time to stop living a lie and admit I need you, and you need me – and we all need every other person who will come and share at the heart level. It is time to jointly bring our secret to the Light and leave it at His feet. It is time for intimacy; it is time to mend and grow and journey toward wholeness.
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Dear Beth, About 6 yrs ago I was in this web! More like a frantic fly, ducking the fly swatter to wham my feelings again - from the one I rub elbows with. Wishing so much to have that intimacy of understanding and respect. So I untangled myself, when heads were turned, and crawled away to heal, and do push-ups. Still though, it seems I am really only completely kindred spirited with Jesus,.. but have sisters, and sister's in the Lord that are terrific. Have you more insights on this message? And what works comfortably best for close relationships? Being vunerable is what most people fear, because we are such sensitive, or hot headed, humans. Could it be that keeping up a shield of humor may help, while we all get to know each other better? I'm visulizing these little secrets peeking out and smiling, and enjoying some fresh air. I think I am going to try that more!! But on the whole, I have grown content these last 6 years - It's very freeing. God bless you, and I love your writings and ideas!! Jacque
Beth - Very insightful. also very sad how we continue in Adam and eve's footsteps...hiding. Thanks.