Authentic Intimacy In A Virtual World

My very first experience talking to a stranger online was in 1996. America Online had hit the scene and rocked my world. I found myself running to the computer like Pavlov’s dog, longing to hear the now famed words, “You’ve got mail”.

I was single and living on my own when I met someone in an AOL Christian Chat room. In a short time I found myself divulging information about my feelings, frustrations and shortcomings that I was not sharing with anyone else. He made me feel important, valued and cared for.

After chatting for a few weeks, this person emailed me and said he was going to be in my area and wanted to meet me. I tried to ask some questions as to why he would be in Syracuse, NY when he lived in Kentucky. The more questions I asked the more insistent and irritated he became. Then it dawned on me…this guy is up to no good.

If you read my earlier post “False Intimacy and Social Media”, you may be thinking I am a magnet for online predators. I can honestly say these are the only two negative experiences I have had in 15 years.

So why did I share this story with you? I believe that there is no shortcut or fast track to intimacy – especially when dealing with online relationships.

Often we are so emotionally depleted that we latch onto a relationship out of desperation. This happens in churches, bible studies and in the work place. It is also happening in an alarming rate on blogs, facebook, twitter and Google+.

In face to face relationships we do not always have instant access to the person we are establishing a relationship with. When dealing with others in person, we have the benefit of body language and feedback via social cues to help guide us as we move through the discovery phase of a relationship. This limited access allows for a nice pace and flow while building and establishing a friendship.

Online relationships differ as they allow for contact that is both instant and private. This privacy can create an unrealistic sense of being able to bare your soul in a way you might not do in person. There is no body language or social cues to give an accurate representation of the nature of the relationship.

In our hunger for intimacy, vulnerability and to be known, we offer our hearts too soon and miss out on the beauty of a relationship rooted and established in trust and time. We operate under the false assumption that reading about someone is the same as knowing them – and that feeds back into our unmet emotional needs.

So then the question is, can you have healthy relationships online?
I believe the answer is yes, but there are a few elements that need to be included.

Authentic intimacy requires:
1. Honesty – being genuine and truthful about who you are and what you believe. Without honesty there is no basis for the relationship.
2. Effort – anything worth having is worth working for. This is true of relationships as well. Relationships are work – even online.
3. Intentionality – be purposeful in the relationships you develop. You cannot be soul mates with everyone. Select carefully – your heart is worth it.
4. Time – deep relationships take time to develop. Rushing into things by backing the emotional truck and dumping does not equal intimacy.
5. Trust – relationships grow and deepen when we feel safe and when we can provide emotional safety for others. Be a trustworthy for others.
6. Reciprocity – relationships are based on give and take. If you find you are always on the giving end you may need to re evaluate things.

Ultimately our emotional needs can only be met by the Lord God, who created us in His image and as a reflection of His glory. When we seek fulfillment in other relationships before God, we set ourselves up for disappointment and we doom the relationship before it gets started.

In the last year I have had the privilege of making many new friends online. There are three people specifically that I correspond with regularly that have been great examples of the above principles.

I met all three on Twitter… Who knew that you could begin a meaningful relationship in 140 characters or less?! These relationships are based on mutual experience, interests and a shared love for the Lord. All three encourage me in my relationship with God and in my pursuit of living a holy life.

I hope that you have found this helpful and encouraging. God designed us to be in relationship with others. Whether the relationship takes place over the Internet or face to face, following some basic principles will help you to develop healthy relationships that can go the distance.

How’s your vision?

Ever since I turned 40, my eyesight has been deteriorating. I have moved from wearing reading glasses for small print to needing multi focal contact lenses all the time. I had always enjoyed the luxury of unimpeded vision until a few years ago.

My eyesight has gotten bad enough lately that without my contacts I cannot see close up and my distance vision is impaired.

Over the Labor Day weekend while at my brothers house, the guys got the BB guns out and set up targets. Everyone was taking turns shooting and having a good time. I was offered several opportunities to shoot but declined.

A friend who was well meaning thought that I was afraid of guns and offered to teach me how to shoot. I explained that I grew up around guns and was quite comfortable and capable but that I was not wearing my contacts and therefore could not see. My husband suggested I get my glasses and give it a try. So I did.

I eagerly went inside, found my glasses and put them on. I grabbed the BB gun and took a stance like Annie Oakley. As I lined up the scope, I quickly realized I could not focus on the target.
I wiped my glasses and lined up again. Same result.

Then it dawned on me. I wear bi focal lenses. As I lined up the target in the scope, it was falling into the same site line as my no line bi focals. This distorted my vision and the target. For normal activities like reading and driving my glasses were sufficient, but in this situation the slightest variation left me out of focus and missing the target completely.

I got to thinking about how life is much the same way.

How many times do we line up our goals, dreams and ambitions in the scope of what we think God’s plan is for our life, only to find out we were off by a country mile?

I was reminded that although I think I can see everything I need to in order to make the shot, that there are many variables at play that are beyond my control.

I’ve been thinking about this all week and trying to resist the temptation to line up the circumstances in my life and play god.

What does playing god look like? These are but a few of the possibilities:

Manipulating people and events to achieve a desired outcome
Forcing our agenda onto others
Not allowing God to speak into our life and then respond
Not trusting that God has our best interest at heart

How about you, has your distorted vision caused you to play god in your own life?

Jeremiah 29:11-13

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Small Ball

If you have been living for more than a few years you have probably been wounded at least once in your life by a friend, co- worker, family member or even someone from church.

The question is how do you respond when you’ve been hurt?

Do you make sure everyone within the city limits and beyond knows you have been hurt sparing no detail, or do you take your heart to the one who created you and allow Him to knit it back together?

Many years ago while serving in full time ministry I had some hard, hurtful things said to me. The comments were inaccurate, inappropriate and out of context. The person who I thought I could trust, threw me under the bus on nothing more than hear say.

I had to make a decision.

Would I take this situation to the court of public opinion and let those around me know exactly what went down in an attempt to clear my name, or would I go to the Lord and trust that He would take care of my reputation and my heart?

I chose to trust God.

My husband and I made a pact after this incident. We call it refusing to play “small ball”. What does that mean? Simply put, we don’t go there. We don’t play the get even game.

Small ball is exhibiting the very behavior that was hurtful and offensive in the first place.

To not play small ball means making a conscious decision not to air my grievances with others in the public arena. It means not fishing for information, not talking to people about “hypothetical situations” and not trying to clear my name or save my reputation.

God knows my heart, my intentions and my desires. If my motives are pure than I can rest knowing that God is on the throne and therefore I don’t have to try to do His job.

Instead, I take these hurts to the cross and allow God to meet me there, heal me and show me what my response if any should be.

Choosing not to play small ball is not a short cut, and it is not easy. Following I’ve listed a few consequences for engaging in the game of small ball:

1. When we have been hurt we seek comfort. We seek this from people rather than turning our hearts toward the Lord. Our God is a jealous God and He wants our undivided affection.

2. When a friend or family member has hurt us, we often want to retaliate. This is non productive and almost always makes the situation worse.

3. When we seek justice in the court of public opinion, we demonstrate a lack of maturity. When we are more interested in “outing” the other person under the guise of justice, we discount the redemptive power of God.

4. When we pursue dealing with our personal wounds in a public arena we deny God the opportunity to heal and restore us and settle for well meaning words from friends and family.

5. When we look to have our interpersonal injuries dealt with in public, we miss out on the opportunity to learn and grow from the experience and potentially miss the lesson that God had for us.

Have you played small ball, and if so what was the score?

Grace & Peace ~ Karen

Disappointment

Disappointment is one the hardest things for me to handle.

I know that probably sounds immature of me, but I’m keeping it real here.

Like death and taxes, disappointment is inevitable.

How we dealt with it early in life impacts how we manage it today, and can shape how we cope with disappointment in the future.

Disappointment comes in all sizes and shapes. It does not discriminate against age, sex or occupation.

Disappointment can take place in relationships that break down, in a ministry that fails to thrive, in a marriage that is struggling and in our relationship with God the Father.

Sometimes disappointments happen to us and are completely out of our control such as death, illness, injury or the loss of a job.

Other times we set ourselves up for disappointment because we have unrealistic expectations.

As a kid I dreaded disappointment and it reared it’s ugly head with regularity.

Disappointment ranged from not having anyone to play with to being left in the care of my abuser.

As I got older I devised ways to self protect so that I would not have to experience the sting of disappointment and the emptiness that came with it.

I became a master of disguise when it came to my emotions.

Regardless of the circumstance I was impenetrable. I would not allow anyone to know I was hurt, disappointed or sad.

I used humor to hide what I was feeling. I led people to believe my life was together and I was a happy well -adjusted person.

But in reality I had wrapped my heart in barbed wire not realizing that while barbed wire is used to protect it also left me alone, as it was too dangerous for anyone to touch.

I knew I was living a lie, but I would never admit it.

In the early years these coping skills served me well. However the older I got, the more antiquated my strategies became until one day I realized those skills were now counterproductive and impeding my personal relationships and my faith.

Like any young adult I wanted deep, significant and lasting relationships. I was so terrified of being disappointed that I almost never revealed my true self, and as a result was hurt even more and experienced the very thing I was trying to avoid: disappointment.

Over time I have come to understand why I avoided disappointment and the consequences of wrapping my heart in barbed wire.

God has been remodeling my heart in what I refer to as an extreme heart makeover.

He has removed all the faulty thinking and strategies and taken me down to the studs of my soul. At times I have been laid bare for all to see the incomplete mess of my heart.

God did not do this to humiliate me or in an attempt to pull the holiest of power trips.

No, He did it for me so I could allow the architect and designer of my life to have His way with my heart.

He knows it better than anyone. He created me. He gave me my sense of humor and my tender heart that I try to hide.

With God’s gentle leading; I recognized the strategies I initially used to protect my heart were also keeping me from the fullness of what God had in store for me.

Our God loves us and gave His son to set us free. Will you trust Him to remove the barriers you’ve erected around your heart and allow the Lord to remodel your heart?

Grace & Peace ~ Karen

Risky Business

Risk, it’s more than just a board game.

As a kid I hated the game of Risk. I’ve never liked board games and I am not a strategic thinker, so this game was always a bit intimidating to me.

Maybe I didn’t like it because it required a lot of thought and little conversation.

Perhaps it is because the game involved minimizing risk in order to dominate and I lack a competitive spirit or maybe it’s because I thought it was a boy’s game.

What I realize now is that this game is a metaphor for life.

Call me a control freak, but generally speaking I do not like Risks…I like guarantees and assurances.
If you do _______then ________ will happen.

Unfortunately life, love and relationships do not come with guarantees.

Life requires taking risks, being willing to step out trusting and believing that God has our best interests at heart.

My friend Tracee shared her thoughts and experiences about what happens when fear and faith collide on her blog this week. In her blog she makes this statement, “Our lives are meant to look and sound different after God has entered in.”

I so want that to be true of me. I want for others to see there is something uniquely different about me and that it is the reflection of Jesus living, ruling and reigning in me.

So, I ask the question…does your life (and my life) look any different since God has entered in?

I believe that in order to fully experience the fullness of life in Christ we must be willing to risk.

Typically when I think about risks I conjure up images of base jumpers, extreme athletes and the crew from Whale Wars.

What does it mean to risk in our faith?

When I first began my journey with Christ, I was terrified that God was going to ask me to be a missionary in Africa. I know it is funny now, but back then in 1984 I was seriously afraid.

I don’t know where the idea came from. I was a junior in high school and I didn’t even know any missionaries, but I did know that in order to follow God I was going to have to relinquish control and trust Him with my future.

Fast forward 25 years, I still have not been called to serve in Africa… but I was called to love and serve Junior high and high school students through Young Life, and for many this would be way scarier than Africa!

What does risk look like?

Risk might mean a career change, beginning a new ministry or a new relationship.

It might mean committing to tithe a specific dollar amount every month or risking to tell the truth in a situation where you have been withholding your thoughts, opinions or feelings.

Risk looks different for everyone, but one thing is universal…risking is scary.

Our God knows something about risk. He created us and gave us free will. This means that God assumed the risk for us, so that we could reap the reward.

God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

What are you willing to risk to demonstrate your love to God?

Grace & Peace ~ Karen

Intimacy

When you see the word Intimacy what comes to mind?

Sex, physical touch & romance are the usual suspects.

What about emotional intimacy? What is it, what does it look?

Emotional intimacy is the ability to connect with another person on a deep level. It is the willingness to be intentional and effortful in knowing and being known by another.

Intimacy occurs when we seek out another person, not for what we will get in return but rather knowing, discovering, giving and growing in faith, knowledge and trust with another.

In this process there is a mutual sharing of information, dreams, hurts, disappointments and desires.

Intimacy is walking through the daily ness of life with another and choosing to allow your hearts to intersect with Jesus.

Emotional intimacy is a choice, and it is risky.

Intimacy requires being vulnerable, taking risks with your heart and trusting that the other person is willing and capable of being trustworthy in return.

Emotional intimacy can occur between any two people who are open and willing to expose their hopes, dreams & desires while holding tenderly the heart of another.
It is something that has to be cultivated over time and requires effort and reciprocity.

Emotional intimacy is not a new concept. The Old Testament spoke of “covenant friendship”. I believe that these two are very similar and close to the heart of God.

David and Jonathan shared a deep connection in the Old Testament.

Ruth and Naomi formed a bond that surpassed family lineage and common sense. They shared a common heart that allowed them to love deeply and sacrificially.

I have known the blessing and privilege of this shared heart. I feel privileged to say that I share emotional intimacy with my husband. I also have benefited from deep, intentional relationships with women in my life over the last 20 years.

All relationships involve risk. When you expose your heart and are vulnerable to another, you open yourself to the possibility of being hurt. I have experienced deep loss and betrayal of a dear friend with whom I had shared deeply and the pain was excruciating.

The pain and grief that came with the loss of this friendship rocked my world and caused me to question if the risk was worth it.

During those times I cried out to the Lord. Why did I trust, why did this betrayal cut to the quick?

Eventually I was able to thank Him for the opportunity and experience to grow, to risk, to love and to know and to be known.
We were not intended to embark on our faith journey alone.

And now, a word of caution…

Intimacy in relationship is a wonderful thing, but be careful. When we pursue intimacy with others in order to get our needs met rather than going to God with our hearts we set ourselves up for failure and we place a crippling expectation on the other person.

Our God is a jealous God. He created us to be in relationship with Himself, to reflect His glory and to worship Him. He wants our undivided love and adoration and apart from Him, our deepest needs will remain unmet and unsatisfied.

I am thankful to have a few faithful friends in my life that hold my confidences, share my joys, pray with me in my struggles and love me in spite of who I am.

The Lord has blessed me with a tapestry of beautiful friends with whom I can share my life. Each one holds a unique part of my heart.

I met for coffee this morning with one such sister that I will refer to as “Sweet’s”. I shared with her a dream I have been too afraid to utter to another, and now I will share here with you.

I believe God is calling me to go to the “SheSpeaks” conference, which is part of Proverbs 31 Ministries. It is for women who desire to speak and write in a manner that encourages women’s hearts to know, follow and trust the Lord and to glorify the Lord God with the gifts He has given.

I am in the process of applying for scholarship to attend this conference in North Carolina. I will be posting some information soon on how you can help. I would appreciate your prayers as I pursue this opportunity.

For more information on SheSpeaks click here and for more information on Proverbs 31 ministries you may click here.

Grace & Peace to you as you follow your dreams ~ Karen