When I was in sixth grade, I made my first “neighborhood friend.” Katie and I spent the summer biking the six or so blocks to each other’s houses, peeling ourselves out of bed at the crack of down to fish for crawdads in the storm culvert, and getting slushies, hot dogs, and candy from our local gas station. At the time, I thought that my friendship with Katie was pure magic. One of my favorite things about her was the wild stories she told—about her grandparents’ Montana farm where the wolves howled at dawn and dusk, and about her pet horse, Star, which was boarded at some fancy stable outside of the city. These stories struck me as awe-inspiring, especially considering her negligent parents, the state of the house her family lived in, and the fact that we were both from a neighborhood that was rapidly becoming “lower middle class” by the time Katie moved into it.

It wasn’t until that summer came and went that I learned about some contradicting stories that had come out with mutual acquaintances. I started to awaken from my bedazzled friendship stupor, and realized a hard truth: Katie had lied to me. She’d been lying for most of the summer. There was no horse, and no Montana farm; she’d admitted all of that to some of our other friends. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that our friendship had been built on lie after lie, most of which made Katie seem more wealthy, well-rounded, and fortunate than she really was.

This revelation drove a wedge between us; Katie couldn’t bring herself to admit to my face that these stories were a lie, and I couldn’t fathom continuing a friendship that didn’t operate on a foundation of honesty. We drifted apart soon after, but it wasn’t until recently—over a decade later—that I realized there was a phrase for what Katie and I really shared that summer: an imitation of intimacy.

Sure, we’d had fun together…but had we ever really been close? How could we call ourselves friends when most of the things she told me about herself were lies?

I think this imitational relationship happens more often than we know—though not always in full-blown lies, like I experienced with Kate—but often in subtler ways.

Have you ever had a friend that you white-lied to, trying to endear yourself toward them in whatever way you thought they wanted you to be? Have you ever finessed the details of your career or degree to make it seem a little more appealing in a certain circle of acquaintances have? Have you ever been in a relationship where you just went along with whatever your significant other wanted to do, because you felt that would bring you closer together?

In cases like these, we’re not really being true to ourselves—expressing our hearts, or having what the Greeks would call koinonia (full sharing). Instead, we are baring a sliver of ourselves and masquerading the rest…imitating the true intimacy of a trusting relationship in order to have approval or calm, unruffled waters to sail along.

Sadly, the imitation of intimacy is not relegated to the human realm alone. Growing up, I crossed paths with so many people who prayed deep, powerful prayers in Church and fellowship—yet they turned around a moment later and lashed out in anger toward their families, indulged in substance abuse, or engaged in sexual sin. As a child, I remember wondering how they could pray so powerfully and then do those things; yet with time and age, I discovered that this was another imitation of intimacy…it wasn’t that those people meant to be hypocritical, per se. They truly longed for closeness with God; but because of the sin in their lives, they had already “written themselves off,” though God never had; they saw themselves as unworthy, and the moment the prayers left their lips, they had already decided in their own hearts that God wouldn’t hear them. In anguish of that, they then turned back to their sin to mask the hurt. And the bitter cycle continued.

So, what can we do to combat the imitation of intimacy in our lives? I believe one of the first things it to honestly admit to ourselves the areas in which we’ve settled for the imitation, rather than the true intimacy. Here are just a few questions that can reveal the imitation of intimacy in our lives:

  • Have we resorted to casual flirting over lasting romance?
  • Have we forsaken deep, personal friendships for shallow chit-chat?
  • Have we lied or embellished to make ourselves seem more important?
  • Have we gone along with something we didn’t want to do, for fear of being rejected if we spoke up?
  • Have we let rote prayers from a Sunday pew replace a true relationship with God?

For every person, the area of imitation will look different. Once we each identify the places in our lives where comfortable imitation has taken hold, then we can begin to break down whatever walls are keeping us wedged in those places. Whether it’s a sense of unworthiness, fear of judgement, feelings of self-condemnation, guilt, grief, shame regret, loss, panic…these things can be healed.

But the depth of true intimacy begins when we realized we can have an intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father—and when we fully embrace that intimacy. When we are at a place where we are no longer putting on airs with Him (useless, anyway—He sees everything, even straight through our facade), we can begin to draw our true sense of worth from His vast love. Through that love, which doesn’t fail even at our darkest, we can attain healing in whatever area has stymied our ability to relate wholeheartedly with others—whether that’s lies, acquiescence, addiction, or any number of other things. And when we understand our value in the eyes of the One who created us…that’s where we can begin to fully share, in all of our relationships, the priceless uniqueness of who we are.

When we know that we are good enough—worthy enough, valued enough, and loved by God in spite of however much we sin—so much of that fear of rejection, judgement, and condemnation can be resolved. This allows us to drop the imitation, and to truly engage with those around us.  This sort of freedom and trust in God allows us to have full sharing with our friends, families, and significant others. It starts with God, and branches out from there.

And once we embrace true intimacy with the Maker of all Life, who formed and fashioned us…anything is possible.The Imitation of Intimacy