In HOPE 10.5

back to home

David Timms

 Prayer for Today

Lord, so much of my life is governed by false or unhealthy expectations -- expectations I have of others, of myself, and of You. Grant me the wisdom, I pray, to understand what really matters. I am susceptible to fantasies. Ground me afresh in the wonderful reality of your gentle, abiding Presence with me. Amen.

For Further Thought

How does this notion of "space" impact the value we place on various events or groups within the church? Is it reasonable to change the expectations of our small group ministries? Would it be OK to have a walk with Christ that was 50% public space, 40% social space, 8% personal space, and just 2% intimate space? What would that look like? 

Other Writing

David Timms, Living the Lord's Prayer (Bethany House, 2008) -- Now available in paperback with a Study Guide (Jan 2010)

David Timms, Sacred Waiting: Waiting on God in a World that Waits for Nothing (Bethany House, 2009)


Our Space

Many 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.

In 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.

Each space has its own characteristics and implications for the church and our walk with Christ.

Public 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.

Social 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 it.

Joseph 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.”

Personal 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.

Finally, intimate 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.

What does this mean for us?

Even 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 other).

Apart 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.

Most church small groups function between the social and personal space—and appropriately so.

Perhaps 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 spaces, too.





Want to chat more on a topic? Hit "Reply" and share your thoughts.
I'm always happy to explore these issues further.

You can find back issues of "In HOPE" (2005-2009) at .

David Timms serves in the Graduate Ministry Department at Hope International University in Fullerton, California. "In HOPE", however, is not an official publication of the University and the views expressed are not necessarily those of the Administrators or Board. "In HOPE" has been a regular e-publication since January, 2001.