Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2017.
Above all else, the human heart cries out, Am I loved? We’re hardwired for intimacy. Our search for love forms our desires and core identities, shaping our lives.
Yet many people, especially singles, feel deprived of true intimacy. You see couples holding hands and imagine how your life would be better if you had someone special. The longing for romantic love can even tempt you to settle for less than the best, to put up with being mistreated or to meet your sexual needs in ways you know are wrong.
I know this from personal experience. My frantic clamoring for love as a single person allowed an “idea virus” to take root in my heart and lead me to destructive actions.
Searching for romance drove me away from true intimacy.
Growing up, I knew I was cared for, but I also ached for affection. College offered me the opportunity to find the intimacy I had desired, at least sexually. Sleeping around made me feel wanted. It enhanced my status among my fraternity brothers. And when I didn’t have a partner, pornography was always available.
Rather than orient me to the truth, my college courses just affirmed my actions. This world is all there is, my professors implied, and our bodies are all we have. Since our sexual impulses are our strongest biochemical reactions, sexual expression is how we become real.
In seeking intimacy through sex, though, I got my girlfriend pregnant. Not wanting the responsibility of having a family, I didn’t object when she floated the idea of getting an abortion. In fact, I paid half the fee. Our relationship ended soon after that. It took me a while to realize that my sexual actions had hurt a loving person and ended a budding life. At the time, though, I just felt relief, as if I had somehow narrowly escaped the consequences of my actions.
But consequences are not so easily dismissed. A fear of intimacy began reproducing itself in my heart. Feeling that I might hurt someone if I got too close to them emotionally, I whipsawed between intimacy and isolation. Ultimately, I chose to be chaste until marriage. But I chose that because I was running from the problems brought on by intimacy, not because I wanted to pursue purity.
In other words, I chose the right path, but for the wrong reasons. It took me a long time to realize I had been pursuing romantic love in a way that kept me from finding the deepest love of all.
True intimacy doesn’t come from sex.
Our culture seems convinced that intimacy and sexual activity are the same thing: sex equals love. If that were true, humanity should be feeling very loved by now. In the United States, 46 percent of high school students have had sex.Kurt Conklin, “Adolescent Sexual Behavior: Demographics,” Advocates for Youth, February … Continue reading That figure rises to over 70 percent by the time students are in college.”American College Health Association–National College Health Assessment II: Spring 2015 Reference Group Executive Summary,” American College Health Association, 2015, … Continue reading This leads to both physical and emotional consequences.
Physically, sex without lifelong commitment has created a national health nightmare. In the 1950s, there were only two significant sexually transmitted diseases — syphilis and gonorrhea — both of which were treatable with penicillin.Ray Bohlin, “The Epidemic of Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” LeaderU.com, 1993, www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/epid-std.html. Now there are more than 24, and half have no cure.For these and other statistics, see Meg Meeker, Epidemic: How Teen Sex is Killing Our Kids (Washington, DC: LifeLine, 2002).
Emotionally, promiscuity generates a mocking twist: pursuing intimacy through sexual transactions defeats the very thing most people say they’re after — someone to love and be loved by for a lifetime. Engaging in sex prior to marriage is closely connected to increased depression, sexual unfaithfulness and marital disruption.
Pornography makes it even worse. A Princeton University study showed that viewing pictures of scantily clad women activated the “tool use” part of men’s brains, causing them to view women as objects.Doug Eshleman, “Men View Half-Naked Women as Objects, Study Finds,” Daily Princetonian, February 17, 2009, … Continue reading
And porn doesn’t just change what people think about; it changes the anatomy and physiology of the brain itself. Neuroscientist William Struthers has said that porn is like crack cocaine, causing the brain to become neurochemically dependent.William Struthers, quoted in Janice Shaw Crouse, Marriage Matters: Perspectives on the Private and Public Importance of Marriage (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2012), 71. This is especially startling given that more than 40 percent of the world’s internet users view porn, including more than 40 percent of 10- to 17-year-olds.“Pornography Statistics,” Family Safe Media, accessed March 27, 2015, http://familysafemedia.com/pornography_statistics.html; “Study: Rising Number of Kids Exposed to Online Porn,” Fox News, … Continue reading
Given these trends, it seems that we’re further from finding true love than we’ve ever been. Yet recognizing this is the starting point for a whole new way singles can think about intimacy.
Love is found in intimacy with God.
“There is no way God can meet my need for intimacy,” I told the counselor.
“Because …” I paused, hoping some good rationale would come to mind. It didn’t. “OK, what about sex? How am I supposed to experience intimacy with … God? That sounds weird.”
The therapist was quiet for a moment. “I don’t think it’s my place to convince you,” he said. “Why don’t you take some time tonight to explore what the Bible says?”
I nodded, but I suspected that my sexual needs were purely physical. God couldn’t meet them. That night, though, after a couple hours of sleeplessness, I opened my laptop and typed into Google: “How can God meet my deepest needs for intimacy?” Lists of Bible verses popped up. Evidently, a lot of people have wrestled with this already. I spent much of the night reading Scripture.
As if for the first time, I realized that God cares for me (1 Peter 5:7). He rejoices over me with singing (Zephaniah 3:17). He will never leave me (Hebrews 13:5). Nothing can separate me from His love (Romans 8:39).
We need others. But no person can fulfill our deepest intimacy needs; it’s unfair to even ask them to try. That sleepless night convinced me that my core identity is formed through intimacy with God, not by my sex drive. So what does this look like in everyday life?
Five ways to experience true intimacy with God.
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett told a college audience that the only thing that matters in life is being loved by the people who you want to love you.Kathleen Elkins, “The Way Billionaire Warren Buffett Defines Success Has Nothing to Do with Money,” Business Insider, September 25, 2015, … Continue reading It sounds good on the surface but think who the object of this love is. It’s the self. It says, “I want to be loved by the people I want to love me.” This kind of selfishness defeats the whole point of love.
A Christian worldview says our need for true intimacy is met at its deepest level through a selfless love story penned by the Creator of the universe. Selfless love calls us to do at least five things differently.
1. Experience forgiveness and offer it. If Jesus can forgive the thief on the cross, He can forgive you and me for the ways we’ve hurt others while trying to get what we want. And we can forgive others for how their demands have hurt us. Selfless love relaxes our drive to figure out what we get in return. God meets our needs, so we just go ahead and love.
2. Let God take care of the timing. In my work with singles, I’ve found that many make frantic decisions about dating relationships. They are in a hurry to put an end to their feelings of loneliness. Selfless love shows us that no person can ultimately meet our deepest needs for intimacy. Only God can.
3. Don’t just give others what they want from you. Loving selflessly doesn’t mean being a doormat. If someone is hurting himself and others, it’s not loving to enable him. Selfless love does what is right for others.
4. Be chaste. Given our culture’s failures, isn’t it time to rethink the “sex equals love” equation? Chastity is an old-fashioned term that means saying yes to sex — but within the boundaries of God’s design for a marriage between a man and a woman. Biblical standards of chastity seem strict, but Harvard professor Armand Nicholi discovered that Christian converts “found these clear-cut boundaries less confusing than no boundaries at all and helpful in relating to members of the opposite sex ‘as persons rather than sexual objects.'”Armand M. Nicholi Jr., The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life (New York: Free Press, 2002), 158.
5. Stay focused on God’s perspective. Ask God to show you how He sees the situation. He thinks long-term and doesn’t meet every desire, sometimes on purpose. Unmet desires remind us, as C.S. Lewis wrote, that we were made for another world.
Each of these five points is based on Scripture and millennia of writing and thinking from Christians who struggled just as we do. The search for true intimacy is not a simple, one-time action; it involves a lifelong search, yielding greater and greater rewards.
In “The World, the Flesh, and Father Smith,” Bruce Marshall’s Father Smith character meets a famous author of erotica who claims that religion is a substitute for sex. Father Smith says, “I still prefer to believe that sex is a substitute for religion and that the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.”
Father Smith nails it. The search for true intimacy begins with a search for God and leads down the path of purity and selflessness. That’s precisely the message a lonely culture crying out for love desperately needs to hear.
Content adapted from chapters 3 and 4 of The Secret Battle of Ideas About God by Jeff Myers, copyright 2017 Summit Ministries. Used by permission of David C Cook. May not be further reproduced.
|↑1||Kurt Conklin, “Adolescent Sexual Behavior: Demographics,” Advocates for Youth, February 2012. www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/publications-a-z/413-adolescent-sexual-behavior-i-demographics.|
|↑2||”American College Health Association–National College Health Assessment II: Spring 2015 Reference Group Executive Summary,” American College Health Association, 2015, www.acha-ncha.org/docs/ncha-ii_web_spring_2015_reference_group_executive_summary.pdf.|
|↑3||Ray Bohlin, “The Epidemic of Sexually Transmitted Diseases,” LeaderU.com, 1993, www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/epid-std.html.|
|↑4||For these and other statistics, see Meg Meeker, Epidemic: How Teen Sex is Killing Our Kids (Washington, DC: LifeLine, 2002).|
|↑5||Doug Eshleman, “Men View Half-Naked Women as Objects, Study Finds,” Daily Princetonian, February 17, 2009, www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2009/02/men-view-half-naked-women-as-objects-study-finds.|
|↑6||William Struthers, quoted in Janice Shaw Crouse, Marriage Matters: Perspectives on the Private and Public Importance of Marriage (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2012), 71.|
|↑7||“Pornography Statistics,” Family Safe Media, accessed March 27, 2015, http://familysafemedia.com/pornography_statistics.html; “Study: Rising Number of Kids Exposed to Online Porn,” Fox News, February 5, 2007, https://www.foxnews.com/story/study-rising-number-of-kids-exposed-to-online-porn.|
|↑8||Kathleen Elkins, “The Way Billionaire Warren Buffett Defines Success Has Nothing to Do with Money,” Business Insider, September 25, 2015, www.businessinsider.com/warren-buffett-defines-success-with-love-2015-9. Buffet went on to encourage students to give love away because that way they’ll get more.|
|↑9||”Armand M. Nicholi Jr., The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life (New York: Free Press, 2002), 158.|