Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Grieving the Absence of Intimacy

Anyone who has experienced grief over the loss of someone they love knows that you never really just "get over" it.  I have realized in the last months that I am in a different place in living as a single mother.  For a long time after my separation and divorce, I grieved the loss of my best friend and the man I loved. I ached with loneliness and with the absence of a husband's counsel in difficulties and help in shouldering the work of raising three young boys. But recently I have discovered a shift in what causes this ache.

People often say to me that they don't know how I do it--homeschooling three boys, managing our home, taking care of myself, etc.  After almost ten years of it, I don't even think about it being unusual anymore, and I have adjusted my expectations and routines so that the work itself doesn't seem like it's impossible anymore. Additionally my kids have grown to ages that are demanding in different ways, but they are also better able to contribute to the family needs and to offer the pleasure of more mature relationships.  God has also been extremely gracious to me over the years, giving me so much support, encouragement, and counsel through covenant family in our church, people who didn't just sit on the outside and watch me try to parent alone, but who joined with me and took upon themselves my hurts, frustrations, needs, and weaknesses. It was such a huge comfort to have moms to go out with and talk to, to receive anonymous financial support when I didn't know where money would come from, or to just hear someone say "You're doing a great job." But while my previous pain was caused by grieving through loss, my new one is one that comes from a continuing lack.

I don't expect God to fill my new need in the same ways, because it is a need for deep intimacy.  I ache for connection at the deepest levels--and for the resulting touches, looks, and words that come from that kind of intimacy.  The problem with finding this is that you really can't have this kind of relationship with someone other than a spouse. That's what God designed marriage to fulfill! While I have friends with whom I am completely open and honest with, friends who bear the most uncomfortable aspects of being my friend (and bear it well, I might add!), there are natural limits to their availability. They have husbands, children, commitments of their own that I know I cannot be placed ahead of.  Typically family might fill this empty place--parents or siblings stepping in to love and care for me, sometimes maybe a little too much--but even my family relationships are newly developing or absent as a result of parents who are no longer alive. [I retained a wonderful relationship with one set of in-laws who are now my "mom" and "dad," and are completely committed to me. However we are still developing family "history" and experience that results in deep intimacy.]

As I pose my questions to God about this new need, His answer is clear. Even in a good marriage my deepest needs for intimacy are only met through Him.  I'm really struggling in my relationship with my Beloved lately--surrendering to idols time and energy that should be His, resisting His wooing, ignoring His call for my attention. Again and again, I hear Him gently reminding me that He is the only source of fulfillment. Do I believe it? I want to believe it, but no. My choices haven't changed, so really, I don't believe. The challenge before me is not to change my circumstances, nor is it to wait until God changes them, but to pray for Him to help my unbelief and to fill me with an unquenchable thirst for Him alone.

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