Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lectio: The 7 Levels of Intimacy

{recommended reading}

Let's clear one thing up right away: this book is not about sex.  True, intimacy is an important part of sex, but by no means are they the same thing, although I guess most magazines would have you believe that.

If you haven't heard of Matthew Kelly, he's a speaker and writer from Australia who is huge on encouraging excellence and a search for meaning.  I've never been big on change-your-life kinds of things, but there's something about his approach to self-improvement, with its underlying desire to inspire holiness, that is so honest and truly motivating--he takes an Aristotelian, "be the best version of yourself" approach.  In this book, he proposes that one can't possibly have the most fulfilling life possible without deep emotional intimacy with another soul.  Whether it's with the Lord, your friends, or your fiance, it's true that we all have that longing, that genuine need, to be truly seen and known by someone who loves us unconditionally.

Matthew gets this, and rather than reading like a typical self-help book (although the back cover of my copy reads, "build the strong, powerful relationships you've always desired"), this feels more like a sharp observation of different ways human beings relate to one another as it encourages you to cast out fear and open yourself up to a deeper vulnerability and honesty.  But, getting to that point of honest intimacy takes time.  Hence, the 7 levels.  Each level, which I think could just as well describe different types of friendships (there's Aristotle again, talking about friendships of pleasure and utility) or different phases in the progression of a virtuous romance: two people relate to each other first in generalized cliches, and as time passes and their relationship deepens, they begin to speak in terms of facts, opinions, hopes and dreams, feelings, faults, fears and failures, and ultimately, perhaps, legitimate needs.  Obviously, no one lines up their friends and says, "oh, I speak to him on the level of faults, and to her only on the level of opinions," or relates to a single person in only one specific way (I can talk to some of my best friends just as easily about my shortcomings as I can about a new J. Crew catalog).  But, I think there really is insight to be gained in the way Matthew articulates the joys of each of these interactions, as well as ways you can overcome certain fears and hesitations to grow in intimacy with another person.  Nor is this book about building the strongest possible intimacy about your heart's deepest needs with every person you know.  It takes prudence as you're getting to know someone, and it's also okay to have more casual friendships and conversations--just because these are levels doesn't mean one is necessarily better than another.

It makes sense: you don't tell your future husband all your biggest secrets on on your first date, most likely.  Bringing up any wounds you might have and trusting someone to love you through them is a deeper sense of love and healing that comes with time.  As you prepare to spend your lifetimes loving everything about each other and imaging Jesus' total giving and forgiveness, this book is a great pick for your engagement.  You guys are probably pretty close already by this point, but it brings up some insightful ways to articulate things that are hard to say--apologies, admissions of your weaknesses, and your most honest desires.

Matthew wisely points out in this book that "we can never get enough of what we don't really need."  But what about the things you most truly do need?  It's not the answer to every question, of course, but this book is a fantastic guide to revealing the needs in your heart.

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