When God said, "Let us make man in Our image" an integral part of that image included the capacity to be in relationship. God is three Persons in one Being, intimate in relationship like none other. The Trinity is the ultimate picture of persons united in being, purpose and care – absolutely one in mind and heart. When God made man, He noted that man was alone and knew that, like Himself, the man needed a relationship with someone intimately connected to him – a woman designed to complement, help and complete him. For a brief time they enjoyed free, uninhibited intimacy – mental, physical, verbal, vocational, spiritual and emotional.

When sin entered the world, the man and woman’s capacity for intimacy was broken. Trust was broken, blame erupted, self-preservation kicked in, responsibility was dodged and, to this day, the human race has lived with the fall-out of their decision.

The struggle of human nature

So, I propose that one of the reasons why we struggle in intimate relationships today can be traced back to our participation in human nature. We are inheritors of the tendency to look out for ourselves first, to deny our need for God and others, to attempt to live outside the order that God established, and to blame others when things are not the way we would like them.

At the same time, we retain the image of God in us as well. That image is what compels most of us to seek relationships. Most of us want, with all of our being, someone to love and be loved by. This is a godly desire, imprinted on our natures even more deeply than our tendency to be self-centred. It is what moves us to care about other people, to feel compassion, love, commitment and grace. Even the most ungodly person displays glimmers of this image of God deep in their soul.

The effect of brokenness 

Sin and its effects take many forms in our life. For some, this includes great brokenness in their ability to achieve the intimate relationships they were designed to enjoy.

Abuse is a sin that wounds many people. People who have experienced physical, sexual, emotional and/or verbal abuse have had their relational boundaries violated by disrespect and extreme forms of selfishness. Consequently, they find it difficult to trust even those who are trustworthy. They feel a great need to protect themselves from vulnerability. If the abuser is someone who should have shown them care (a family member, friend, pastor, teacher, leader), the survivor is left with profound pain that requires gentle, loving, godly care to restore their ability to be intimate.

Masking pain with addiction

Instead of working through their pain, those who have been abused often mask their pain with addictions. Addicts find it very difficult to maintain intimate relationships with people because they develop a dependency on their addiction instead of being emotionally available for relationships. Although the addiction is a poor substitute, it often seems more reliable than depending on people. The underlying unspoken attitude is that the bottle or the dirty picture will "always be there when you need it," unlike the person who may have "better things to do" than attend to my needs. This makes intimate relationships with addicts extremely difficult.

Cyclical nature of sin

Another factor that intrudes is the cyclical nature of sin. When sin entered the world, Adam and Eve produced offspring who were parented by people who were no longer able to model intimacy as God intended. Our parents’ inability to model healthy relationships, perhaps because of their lack of such models in their homes, results in generations of brokenness, not simply through homes and families broken by divorce, abuse, abandonment, addictions and selfishness, but also through passing down patterns of behaviour that don’t build relationships, such as cutting off relationships with people instead of working through issues, or pretending all is well when it is not.

Broken relationships of any kind leave gaps, wounds, uncertainty and hurt. Some children have experienced this before they are old enough to talk or understand what has happened, but the hurts have still occurred and need repair. Another person may have lived a grace-filled life for decades before, in their senior years, they are suddenly traumatized by an event that results in fear and hurt. Most of us are some age in between, but few of us have escaped relational pain sometime, somewhere.

There is hope

So, are we doomed to a relational wilderness? By no means! The exciting truth is that, in Christ, we have been freed from the need to repeatedly live under the influence of sin. Though that nature remains part of us and the temptation to live there still beckons us, Christ calls and empowers us to experience something better!

We are invited into a new form of intimacy: life in Christ, where old patterns can be broken and new ones substituted. Whether we are hampered in relationships because someone stole our innocence as a child, because someone modelled ungodly relationships until we knew nothing else, because someone abandoned us when we were too young to even know it, or because someone betrayed our trust in some other way, we are able to find healing if we choose to seek it.

Relational brokenness requires relationships for true healing. Cultivate a relationship with God. Find a healthy church where you can experience acceptance and nurture. Seek friendships, romantic and otherwise, with people who have capacity to give love as well as receive it. Determine to give love to children freely without seeking to have them fill your needs. If you are having a hard time finding healthier people to relate to, consider Christian counselling as another place to find a warm, nurturing relationship that will equip you to have greater levels of closeness with others in your life.

© 2010 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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