By Matti Gresham
*Originally posted on www.mattigresham.com, adapted with permission by the author.
Now, more than ever, you hear that our society is getting lonelier, more isolated, more consumed with social media and less connected to the people around them. While I think that could be true, I think that disconnection has been happening long before social media was a thing. We just found other ways to stick our heads in the newspaper on the train to work instead of into our phones. You can disconnect in a million ways. And as I get older, I’ve started to realize that true intimacy is such a rare thing – because it’s terrifying.
I used to think that I was a pretty “vulnerable” person. I would tell people intimate things about myself, my past, my trauma, and think that because I was willing to do that, it must mean I’m an “open book.” But I heard something recently that really shifted how I viewed the definition of true vulnerability: Unless the information that you’re sharing has the potential for the person you’re telling it to, to reject you, it’s not vulnerability.
If you can tell that information and you have no internal dilemma of whether or not that person will judge you, leave you, be disappointed in you, etc. then it really isn’t vulnerability – it’s transparency. Transparency is what we fall back on when we feel like obtaining surface-level connection, while being too afraid to tell people the things we’d never want them to know about us.
The difficult thing to realize is that we need intimacy (because that’s what we were made for) but there’s another ingredient that’s essential for us to get there. Vulnerability. And to some of us, that is terrifying.
Which brings me to the conversation about marriage. Marriage may be the one place you truly can’t run away and from yourself. I’m lucky enough to have a spouse who knows me almost better than I know myself at times. Clint can tell when I say I’m okay, but I don’t really mean it. He can tell when I withdraw because I feel bad about myself or when I feel like I’m not good enough, and he will come and meet me there.
The unfortunate fact (and the reason why so many marriages end) is that I can be in a marriage without being truly intimate. It happens all the time. Couples slowly over time disconnect due to a million different reasons: broken trust, shame, missed opportunities for connection, busy schedules, misplaced priorities, addictions, discontent, the list goes on. All of these things can be repaired if both a husband AND wife are committed to coming together and working on wholeness, connection, and forgiveness. But usually this disconnection happens slowly over time, like a ship whose anchor was cut loose by mistake. It drifts slowly, until you realize you can no longer see the shore and it seems impossible to find out how to get back.
For me, I would put walls up pretty quickly when I feel like Clint was trying to love me “well.” I realize how counter intuitive that seems, but because of a past history of unhealthy relationships, I have a deep unconscious fear that if I do let him love me, and I let myself love him without restraint, I will lose myself, and eventually him. So I kept myself a bit guarded – not too much, just enough.
Just a quick side note – those walls did serve me well when I was dating, because it kept me at a distance from people who were not my husband. It saved the intimate parts of me that God created for marriage and allowed me to save them for my husband, and him alone.
I adore Clint, and tell him that all the time, but you see, this is where it gets tricky. I may not let myself feel everything I could let myself feel, because then I’m vulnerable. I’m at the mercy of his decisions. I’m vulnerable to him ever deciding to leave me, deciding it’s too much, deciding this wasn’t what he signed up for. But I’ve learned that the only way I get to have the marriage I want to have, is by pushing past those walls. The walls that once served me well, now, don’t serve me anymore. They really prevent me from actualizing the full love and oneness that’s made available to me in marriage through Jesus.
So, I’ve learned (and am still in the process) of letting myself feel it. The walls, they still come. Clint will do something sweet or sacrificial, or he’ll try to talk to me about the dreams that I have, and there they are! The walls just keep popping up. But now, when I feel them come up, I acknowledge that they’re trying to help, but then I take one more step, and I walk past them.
Because I know that the love that exists on the other side of those walls of fear. Every single time I do this, and I push past the fear, it creates a deep and new sense of connectedness, trust, intimacy, and love. Clint meets me with so much grace and kindness and we get to learn this dance together of how to be fully present in our uniqueness and yet fully one and together. When we really share ourselves and push past the fear of true intimacy, we get to experience something holy and set apart. We get to actually be seen and loved, rather than just known on the surface.
Through Jesus, we get to tap into real love and belonging rather than just drifting by, hoping that one day, somebody will see us for who we really are.
Matti is a 27-year-old writer, blogger, and interior photographer currently living in Dallas, TX. She served as a Young Life leader in college, where she met her husband, Clint (Superbowl XLVIII Champ, International Speaker, and Best-selling Author of Becoming: Loving the Process to Wholeness). Matti and Clint are parents to the cutest baby girl, Zoe Rose, and love their puppy, Bear, like their first-born son. Matti shares what the Lord is teaching her, what she’s loving, and what she’s learning on her website and her podcast, Real is the New Black. Plus, she’s one of the funniest women on the internet, keeps it real, and is full of wisdom. You can follow her on Instagram to stay up to date with all of her adventures!