of us think that intimacy is the ultimate goal of life and the essence
of belonging. We want intimate marriages, intimate friendships, and
intimate small groups. But we may have misunderstood our basic wiring.
the 1960s, Edward T. Hall concluded that our sense of belonging—feeling
connected to others—requires that we comfortably fill four
different spaces in our lives: public, social, personal, and intimate.
space has its own characteristics and implications for the church and
our walk with Christ.
space speaks to the broadest connections
we have with people. We may not know them by name but their presence
(worship service, sporting event, shopping mall) is important. Imagine
the strangeness of always being alone in worship centers, sporting
arenas, or department stores.
space represents the next level of
belonging. It’s where we actually chit-chat with folk about life,
hobbies, weather, work, and other generic topics. This space, too, is
invaluable to us feeling connected to others. We need it, and plenty of
Myers (The Search to Belong, 2003) writes: “We denigrate social
belonging as superficial. We surmise that nothing significant takes
place in social relationships. However, if you don’t think much of
small talk, try living without it for a while.”
space involves more vulnerable and
transparent conversations. It’s where we share our private experiences,
feelings, and thoughts. And the number of folk in this group of our
lives is usually quite small. It’s our “close friends” space.
refers to that closest space where we can be “naked and not ashamed,”
metaphorically speaking. Indeed, shame is the experience of the
intimate self exposed in an inappropriate space. This space includes
perhaps just a spouse and one or two others in our lives.
does this mean for us?
marriages don’t function at the intimate level all the time. That would
be oppressive. They also involve personal space (sharing how we felt
about the day), social space (chatting about the kids, house, and
home), and public space (sitting comfortably across a room from each
from the time that we need alone (sleep, privacy, and solitude), the
ratio of time we spend healthily in each space is perhaps 50:40:8:2.
church small groups function between the social and personal space—and
we could helpfully frame even our walk with Christ in these terms. It
might help us to realize that intimacy with Christ in every moment is
neither likely nor necessary. Our walk with Him involves all four