In the summer of 2017, just as my star was rising in my hard-fought career in sports, I found out I was pregnant. My pregnancy was unplanned, and though my husband and I had been married for four years, we had not yet talked about starting a family. We both knew I had big career ambitions, and I had this fantasy in my head that i would be settled into the perfect job, with the perfect supervisor, in the perfect location before we would even consider having a kid, nevermind that pregnancy and giving birth to and caring for a tiny human terrified me as it was.
I started seeing a therapist shortly after that because I knew I needed to acknowledge the anxiety that I was also carrying in my body and begin doing the hard work of being a healthy person, a healthy… mother.
“What is it that you fear?” she asked.
…there was a long silence
“What if I don’t connect with my baby?” I finally said.
There it was.
In a not so great season of my marriage, my husband once said to me: “you’re just not an intimate person.”
Ouch. And he wasn’t wrong.
And it’s not that I wasn’t an intimate person per se – I did want to be intimate, I just didn’t know how to be intimate with another person. And in this context, I’m defining intimate as emotional connection.
I later learned from a psychologist that I tested quite high for having a personality trait that they call Alexithymia. The core characteristic of Alexithymia is a dysfunction in emotional awareness, social attachment, and interpersonal relation.
I do experience a great depth of emotions but I have an extremely difficult time getting out of my own head and expressing those emotions or making them known to others. I would keep holding onto them inside of my body, which meant no one would have ever known that about me. Not even my husband.
I tell you this – not because I think this is unique to me – but because I’ve since learned that more often than not intimacy and connection take real, legitimate work. No matter what our personality traits are. I’ve found that some of us expect connection and intimacy to be natural. And unfortunately it becomes suspect, whether it’s in parenthood, a friendship or in a romantic partnership, when intimacy doesn’t ‘just happen’ when a connection doesn’t ‘just click’ right away like we’d like it to. I could have decided that this is just the way I am, try to justify my being that way, and continue to suffer in silence. Instead, I committed to take ownership of my emotional wellbeing and take the necessary steps I needed to take for my own health, and also the health of my relationship and my faith.
When we avoid the deep, hard, uncomfortable things, the emotional things, the vulnerable things, we end up suffering alone. And we miss out on real intimacy with the people we love, with the people who love us, who are craving connection with us.
So… obviously I did not die when I gave birth to a healthy baby boy who is about to turn three years old. I did, however, change, as one does, mostly for the better. And I did, to my great surprise, bond with my baby and establish a healthy connection and attachment with him.
In fact, one of the things I had dreaded the most about having a baby, became one of the most spiritually rich experiences of my newfound motherhood.
I know not every mother has the option of breastfeeding their infant, and even some mothers who are given the option don’t. And I respect that, that was a decision I almost made for myself.
But by the grace of God, the connection I feared I wouldn’t have with my baby came through all of those long hours of nursing. All of the nights of rocking back and forth back and forth, singing lullabies and hymns. I kept a folder on my phone where I collected images of both ancient and modern art depicting Mother Mary nursing baby Jesus. I found a lot of comfort in scrolling through those images while nursing, and those collective moments became hours and hours of contemplative worship and spiritual intimacy.
The realization that even Jesus, was once this little, with tiny hands that clung to a woman’s breast, like mine, who was once dependent on a woman’s milk, like mine, before ever becoming the giver of spiritual milk and salvation to us.
There is already a profound intimacy in the nursing experience, and this was perhaps the most intimate I had ever opened myself up to be at that point in my life. Emotionally or physically.
You see, Intimacy in any form takes intentionality. Self-intimacy and relational intimacy require commitment and emotional responsibility, as does intimacy with God. And just as our bodies can be a part of creating intimacy with our babies or with our partners, our bodies are the perfect place to experience a profound intimacy, too, with our very creator. With God, who is described throughout the scripture as a nursing mother themself. God, whose immense love for us led to their own embodiment in the form of Jesus Christ.
Since I’m no longer breastfeeding, I’ve found a few other practices that help me to increase connection and intimacy in my life: I do this through mindfulness, meditations and slowing down and learning to pay closer attention to my feelings. I do this through journaling. And I do this through dancing. I go to a dance fitness class a couple times a week and I often find myself at the point of cool down becoming quite emotional, with tears swelling up in my eyes – not because I’m sad or upset or out of shape – okay, so I am out of shape, but I cry because it feels so good to express myself with my body like that. It’s become apparent to me that my relationship and healthy emotional connection with myself, cultivating intimacy with me, myself and I, is critical to maintaining and deepening a healthy connection with anyone else.
What has your experience with intimacy been like?
How do you experience connection and intimacy with yourself?
…with your partner?
…with your friend?
…with your child?
Or do you?
At the time I’m recording this, we’re almost exactly one year into the Covid-19 pandemic, and it’s not lost on me that many of you who are listening have not actually experienced physical intimacy of any sort with another human in a long time. That must be really, really hard. And I’m sorry. My hope and my prayer for you is that you would be especially kind to yourself, and treat yourself with affection and love. Know that God can meet you in that place while we wait to once again be physically reunited and reconnected with the people we love. I hope for you that we can do that again very very soon.
Now let’s respond to a tender, loving God who, like a mother who comforts her child, will comfort us.
Lectio Divina is an ancient liturgical practice for praying the scriptures. It is a Latin phrase that means “sacred reading.” It is a way of praying and listening for the still, small voice of God speaking through gentle reading or listening of scripture. Lectio Divina has also been known as “listening with the ear of the heart.”
As you settle into a place of loving openness, in a posture or position to listen more deeply, I will read from Isaiah 49 three times. After each reading, there will be a moment of silence.
In this first reading from Isaiah 49 , listen for a word or a phrase that draws your attention.
In this second reading, consider how this passage touches your life today.
In this third reading of the scripture, consider if there is an invitation for you in this coming week.
Shout for joy, you heavens,
rejoice, you earth;
burst into song, you mountains!
For the Lord comforts his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
the Lord has forgotten me.”
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
Jesus, who was born of a woman like me
Help me to draw close to you
And help me to draw close to my people
Give me the courage to be vulnerable
The audacity to know and to be known
Be near to the lonely ones, God
To those who are craving connection
Who are starving for touch
Who are holding out to be hugged
Draw them close to you, God
Comfort them in their longing
Remove the barriers that are keeping each one of us from the gift of an intimate relationship with you.
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