Two of the biggest reasons people push for marriage is intimacy and companionship. In addition, one of the biggest challenges Christians face in today’s Western culture is the trend toward over-sensualization. With a high technological and sensory culture, one of the blurred lines is an understanding of intimacy. Today, if someone says of a friend (regardless of gender) “we’re intimate friends,” the connotation is “we’re sexually active.” With that line being blurred, Christians have gone on the defense regarding any kind of close relationship with the other gender.
Relationships are messy. For church leaders, it is easier to instruct people toward avoidance of deep relationships than to model and teach how to do it well–(The modelling is often due to leadership’s incompetence in the area). When we build excessive guidelines about relational interactions, we are doing 2 things: 1. recreating another method of legalism-which is a natural result of disconnection. 2. We operate out of fear rather than a powerful life.
In my opinion, this has born negative fruit in terms of Christian lives empowered by the Holy Spirit. In this post, I’m not talking about speaking in tongues, prophesying, or miracles. I’m talking about a life that sees the goodness and purity in things; a life that bears the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” This kind of Spirit empowered life does not need parapets around parapets of “guidelines” regarding relationships. But this doesn’t come naturally. It needs to be modeled and taught.
The first time I heard a speaker teach on the need for intimate, non-sexual, non-romantic relationships across gender barriers, I was at an inner healing seminar. It was taught by Christian psychiatrists. When they talked about it, something inside “clicked.” It was after that I began to realize when we confuse intimacy and sex, we limit our ability to be intimate with people to those to whom we are working toward sexual exchange.
Due to the confusion, as Christians that means we have reduced the amount of people we are intimate with to our spouses. A combination of factors such as emotional immaturity, insecurities, fear, church taboos, and “guidelines, has caused us to be overly suspicious of being close to people outside our households. So where does this leave singles in the church? If intimacy is necessary for emotional well-being; If intimacy = sex in the minds of Christians and you can only be intimate with a spouse, it would seem a single is doomed in terms of healthy relationships.
However, if we took back the meaning of the word intimate and rightly divided it out from the concept of sex, the church could start a revolution in healthy relationships. Where the world would continue to descend into disconnection and sensationalism, Christians could be building a fortified community that reflects the kingdom of heaven. It would be evidence of the power of God restoring relationships. How would we describe such a revolution? That is where the title of the post comes in: Platonic Intimacy.
As this series of posts is related to singles in American Christianity, Platonic Intimacy is going to be an absolute necessity for healthy, emotional well-being in singles. As an aside, Platonic Intimacy would go a long way in bringing married people into greater relational connection. So what is Platonic Intimacy, and how can we get it?
Platonic Intimacy is going to be very close relationships people have that are of a non-sexual, non-romantic nature. The idea of sex and romance is off the table. Think this is an impossibility? Think of a healthy relationship between a boy and his mother, or a sister and her brother. These kinds of intimate relationships can be present with non-family members as well. Surrogate parents are a prime example of this. If a person comes to faith as a teenager, but their parents are non-believers, it is possible a couple in the church may work with them in their spiritual development.
It is possible to have this kind of relationship with peers as well. Though it takes a degree of emotional maturity, namely the self-control and fortitude to not consider the relationship in a romantic or sexual way. That is where a fuller working of the Holy Spirit comes into play, especially in our overly sensual culture. Emotional support need not always turn into romance. Like I said earlier, relationships are a messy deal. So in order to model this well, people need to be committed to healthy boundaries and for keeping the Platonic nature of the intimacy.
It need not always be cross gender. In fact, I would be concerned if a man’s only intimate friends were all female. It would tell me he probably isn’t able or willing to connect with other men. But having Platonic Intimacy with a handful of people (Jesus only had 3 & 12), helps us grow and experience the world in a fuller way. We are emotionally connected. We have people we can be real with. We can be open and vulnerable (which is critical for true well-being and real intimacy).
In order to more fully integrate singles into the church and be more reflective of the scriptures in our practice, we are going to need plenty of Platonic Intimacy. It will take good boundaries, good will, and a dedication to help each other grow. It is said “It takes a village to raise a child.” I would say it also takes a village to keep someone emotionally healthy. This is going to take church leaders modeling this kind of intimacy in healthy ways. And leaders who are not willing or able to put these efforts into practice and teaching in order to create an environment for singles to flourish, probably shouldn’t be leaders.
Why such a radical call to change? Because our highest call on earth is to live in accordance with the Kingdom of Heaven and to create an environment where anyone who wants to be a part of that is welcome (singles included). As the greatest commandment states “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself,” the Gospel mandate is about right relationship with God and with people. That means healthy relationships, healthy boundaries, and emotional connection. Platonic Intimacy is a vital part of that mandate because it puts forth a model of relational connectedness that isn’t driven by ulterior motives.
How do you find yourself reacting to this post? What are your reflections on the concept of Platonic Intimacy? Let me know in the comments.
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