Last night I entered my cousin’s house, walked into his kitchen, and started making a sandwich. I overheard him talking to his girlfriend in the bedroom, and was stunned when I saw him walk into his kitchen wearing nothing but a towel. At that moment the horror dawned on me – I didn’t announce myself. Hell, I didn’t even ask to come in. And now I’m in this incredibly embarrassing situation.A few moments later I woke up. Thankfully it was just a dream. As I have been trained to do, I recorded the dream into my phone, and asked God to unpack its meaning for me.
And it hit me like a bulldozer:
Greater levels of intimacy require greater levels of permission.
When you meet someone for the first time, the method of moving from stranger to acquaintance is a simple one – usually the exchanging of names and a handshake. This may work fine for that level of intimacy, but it is a completely inappropriate method of proposing marriage. Marriage proposals involve long conversations with friends and family, significant amounts of planning, an expensive ring, and eventually a huge ceremony with legally binding contract. That is no handshake.
Relationally speaking, I grew up without any understanding of boundaries. Heck, I strived for there to be no difference between the person I just met and a close family member. This left me emotionally exhausted, relationally unfulfilled, and unprepared for the good and healthy boundaries others have cultivated in their lives.
I developed a method of intimacy progression that had a great deal in common with a charging rhino – I’m going to move closer to you at blinding speed unless you put me down or let me kill you. (Whoops!)
Once I even proposed marriage on a second date. (It didn’t go well.)
Nike’s slogan, “Just Do It,” was never intended to be relationship advice.
So how do we cultivate relational intimacy in our lives? By honoring the hearts of those around us, managing our actions with wisdom and responsibility, and verbally communicating our decisions and motives to others.
Honor in relationships often looks like respect. It means valuing another individual regardless of how much we agree, whether we look-alike, or if we’re more into Star Wars or Star Trek. (The correct answer is Firefly.)
On some level people can always tell when they’re being dishonored. How long does it take you to recall the last time someone crossed one of your boundaries? Anxiety enters relationships when we confuse dishonor (I’m going to come at you with all the love you can handle) as honor (I’m going to offer you a place of love in my heart and allow you to decide how you’ll respond).
Which one looks more like Jesus?
The Bible talks plenty about managing our actions. It’s a part of the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Paul writes about it frequently in his letters to the Corinthians. Even Rick Warren wrote a piece on it, and he’s like the fourteenth apostle.
Author, pastor, and social worker Danny Silk said it best, “Nobody controls you. If you don’t control yourself, you’re out of control.” (Read more in in his book Keep Your Love On.)
We have to take responsibility for our emotions, and how we choose to express them. For years I’ve had a crush on Kate Beckinsale (how many actresses can pull off rom-coms and action flicks equally well?), but you don’t see me driving out to her house trying to deliver love letters (she probably has security).
If I don’t act with self-control, even the people who want a relationship with me are forced to put up walls to keep me out, because I’m not safe to let in.
It may come as a shock to you, but people can’t read minds. Yet I am amazed at how many times a person in relational distress has complained to me, “but shouldn’t they just know?” While it’s not rational, it’s easy operate as though people can read our minds and assume we can read theirs.
“We’re at our dumbest when we think we know the motives of another.” Bill Johnson
We have to be intentional with our communication and this involves being vulnerable. I’m high-touch person, and a few months ago I saw my friend’s wife at church and gave her a hug and kiss on the top of her head. A couple of days later they sat me down and told me that while they love me and she loves hugs, she wasn’t comfortable with my kissing her head. It was awkward. It was vulnerable. It was glorious. Because now we have that boundary established, our trust has grown, and we can continue to enjoy our friendship.
Boundaries in relationships are a beautiful and necessary thing. They enable us to have the emotional capacity to invest in those who matter most in our lives. When we try to tear down our relational boundaries or someone else’s, we operate in a state of relational brokenness that dishonors ourselves, others, and ultimately the God who gave them to us.
Relational vulnerability isn’t charging into the house of someone’s heart. It is opening the door to ours and saying, “please come in.”
It’s time for us rhinos to know our boundaries. In this we enable others in the jungle to discover our strength and beauty.