THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 159
Love and intimacy
[for archived material please go to tonycrosscolumn.org.uk]
The basic need for us all is a craving for love and intimacy. It is part of our very nature and starts with our need for suckling and comfort from our mother. The giving of herself to her child is the initial answer every child discovers and enjoys. As the child grows so his demands for attention and love grow, until as adults we all look for love in a myriad ways. And love is much more than sex - though of course sex may prove to be a very high demonstration and enactment of that love.
Hunger for love is there in every teenager - competing with an ever more demanding ego. Young people are initially unsure how to find the answer - and often confuse it with sex. The same hunger is there in friendship where a special relationship is enjoyed between two people who are special to each other. It is there in marriage and civil partnerships where love and commitment combine to form a special bond.
The nature of this hunger for love and intimacy means it cannot be fully satisfied in the ordinary course of events. Even the couple celebrating their Golden Wedding are still trying to deepen and extend the love they give and receive. Even deep human love - the experience surely of most of us at some time - fails to satisfy permanently our deepest needs. Why is that?
The Christian answer is that it is because we are more than animals - each human being has a soul. If we were just animals we would be content with the giving and receiving of love by our own kind. But because we come from God we cannot ever be fully content with just experiencing human love, however wonderful we find it.
In the love relationship we experience as human beings we always find there are three of us! We are never just ourselves and another person - however much it may seem like that to us at the time. We live and move in a created universe and so live and move and have our being in God.
We don’t realise this at first - no matter how religiously we are brought up. Only gradually do we become aware of THE OTHER. As we grow up most of us begin to have experiences that stir us and move us. We see a sunset or hear some deeply moving music. Or we witness the wonder of birth and we become aware of a deeper part of our nature. We slowly learn to recognise that human love is representative for an even deeper love of our creator for us.
Perhaps we go to church and learn of the life of Christ and are amazed at the pattern of life he suggests for us. It all seems so impossible. We try it out - and fail. And we become aware of guilt as a factor in our lives. And shame. And perhaps we learn that an empty cross is the answer to our spiritual needs.
And of course we go on seeking that love and intimacy that is the craving of our heart.
We all look for it in different places. We enter into human relationships - people live in societies - and we are secretly looking for the answer to our deepest need. We try manipulating others to give us what we think we need. We demand love. We try to buy it, or capture it. And it eludes us a lot of the time for we have much to learn before we can be really successful, and start to find real love flowing through our lives. We have to overcome many things - acquisitiveness for one. We hope, sometimes, that by acquiring things we will satisfy this inner craving we have. It is a craving that we try to deaden sometimes with drink and drugs and sex.
In due course most of us come to a wiser and better view of reality. We realise we have to attend to our own inner attitudes because until we are prepared to give love we will never receive. As long as we are trying to gather, or collect or demand love we shall fail to find what we seek.
It is like the old story of the Israelites trekking through the desert - do you remember? They were able to collect this white stuff called manna early in the morning. When they ate it they were sustained in their journey. But when they tried to collect it and keep it for the evening meal, it went rotten. So with us when we try to collect or imprison love - it just goes rotten. Only slowly do we learn that it is truly only in giving that we receive. We begin to appreciate that this is the inevitable law of life. That it is only in laying down our life that we save it.
Another thing we have to learn - even after we have started to live on the right lines - is that we cannot secure the future for ourselves. Not ever! Preparing against the evil day - insurance - is so much a part of life today: we are even offered insurance on a brand new product to protect ourselves against future defects.
So in our lives we find the wicket gate of self-giving and start to receive true love in response - and we start to try to safeguard the situation. Will you still love me when I am sixty four? Am I safe in this relationship? Does she really love me?
There is no assurance that can be given. Who knows whether I will ever reach sixty four! And what happens if I go on to eighty four? What then?
We all seek to have assurances. We all want to guard against future catastrophe and trouble. But in the world of love - the spiritual world - there are no guarantees, no insurance policies.
Sometimes we try to bargain in our thinking - if I continue to look after you will you look after me? If I scratch your back will you scratch mine? We all do it. It is part of that natural ego we all possess, which has one motive alone: to look after our interests - number one alone.
And it often works to a degree! After all isn’t that the story of communities? Isn’t this how - in part - the human race has learned to progress as far as it has? The history of committees? Shared interests and mutual protection?
But it is not enough to satisfy that deep hunger - that desire to love and be loved. At base it is a mercenary ‘lets help each other get by’ sort of solution.
The only long term solution is the preparedness to lay down one’s life. We are unwilling to do that and instead we want to experience all we can. We call it ‘experiencing life’. We gather experiences like trophies. We want to go skiing, we want to visit Thailand or Machu Picchu. We experience what it is like to be drunk. We try drugs experimentally - start with cannabis and progress to coke. We sleep with someone of the opposite sex - and then someone of the same sex. We are greedy for experience. We want to live before we die. We play the business game - success is sweet. And so on. Experience becomes our unrecognised goal. It just seems to us a hunger for life - but it is really an attempt to find the answer to that deep gnawing hunger inside us that looks for love and intimacy. Most of the routes we try are cul-de-sacs. We shall never assuage our deepest longing that way. We shall never learn to truly love someone that way. Anodyne pleasures, a drive for success - perhaps for the ability to dominate - all these we try.
And when we find a way forward that suits our personality we think we have found the answer. We think we have cracked the problem. We feel fulfilled to some extent. But all it produces is a sop to our personality needs - a match to our disposition. Nothing more. No real answer there - just an accommodation to our personality.
Jesus said ‘Come unto me all ye who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest’
We labour on and grow tired. Sooner our later all our successes turn to ashes. Eventually we listen to his words. Are they the words of eternal life? But how can we come to him when we are ‘weary worn and sad’ ? Is not that a confession of defeat? Are we acceptable in that state?
Glorious defeat! The defeat of recognising what our deepest hunger really is. The defeat of recognising we have looked in the wrong places for answers. The defeat of our self-sufficiency. The defeat of the childish pride that pretends we don’t need help!
Turning to Jesus can be done in as many different ways as there are people. You do it your way - do it at just the right moment that suits you. Find just the right place to do it. But do it now! Because the only determining factor is that you hear the voice of Jesus say ‘Come’.