Companionship vs Intimacy

It’s been awhile since I posted about Benedictine hospitality and my hope of understanding what it means to live a life of genuine openness to others. I’ve been reading a book called Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love, which has some good things to say despite its unfortunate quality of writing (which makes sifting the good stuff out of it a little challenging).

Yesterday, however, I came across a chapter that has been resonating with me. The chapter is titled “Companionship and Intimacy” and begins by making the claim that we no longer have clear definitions of either of those words and live our lives confused about the varying levels of closeness in relationships. The authors (Father Daniel Homan, OSB and Lonni Collins Pratt) explain their belief that our culture gives the wrong idea about the importance of intimacy: that spiritually healthy people are those who constantly “connect to others in a profound way.” (130). They go one to make the claim that despite our need for “relationships of depth,” in order to live hospitable lives we have to learn to be a simple companion to everyone we come in contact with, without forcing depth into every relationship. We learn how to fully listen, be present to the people around us, and show that we care, without always being fully known (130-131).

I’m ruminating on this. Though Homan and Pratt claim that “Media” is the culprit for teaching us the necessity of intimacy in every relationship, I’m not sure I buy that. I do, however, agree that we really don’t know how to pursue simple companionship. And I’m wondering if my need to “go deep” (to use some Christianese) with everyone I come in contact with is more a result of the Christian culture I live in than in the Media’s lies. (My humble opinion: the “Media” gets blamed for every cultural failure we know of…at least in every freshman Writing 105 paper I graded when I taught college writing. What do we even mean when we say it’s the Media’s fault?)

How often do I automatically consider intimate connections when I think of having significant relationships in the church or in life? I know that I’m leery of building relationships here in San Francisco because I feel like a failure at keeping up with the friends I already have in the other places I’ve lived. To be a friend to more means to fail more. It means more emails I won’t reply to for months. It means more people eventually giving up on a phone relationship with me because I’m a phoneophobe (is that a word?).

I love people and I believe in meaningful relationships, but is it possible that I don’t know how to simply love and care for those around me without building relationships of depth that I can’t fully commit to? And is that a selfish thing to be thinking about? Are Homan and Pratt getting at something that makes me nervous because I feel like it’s wrong to build a relationship that is not a complete commitment of myself?

To quote Homan and Pratt: “Discretion requires you to respect someone without trying to be their best friend. Hospitality is not a call to unquestioning intimacy with the whole world…Hospitality is a call to revere what is sacred in every person ever born” (139).

I’d really like to know what you think about this. In order for us to truly be people who are open to the needs of others, we have to be willing to meet the surface level needs of those around us, without forcing depth. What is your response to these definitions of “companionship and intimacy”? Do you find yourself pursuing both kinds of relationships or only those of depth? And where do you think these definitions fit in the larger discussion of hospitality?


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5 Responses to Companionship vs Intimacy

  1. Tracy Defina

    Micha -

    I am just loving reading your blog though want more time to respond! Today, I had to. I struggle with this as well especially since my job in a church is to connect with people and get them connected. For me, I love deep but recognize it is not always the end result of every relationship I develop. I once heard somewhere, maybe you did too, that some people come into our lives for the long haul and some just for a brief encounter and others the whole range in btween. I try to trust God with his intention and I think that eleviates any guilt that could arise from my not being enough to any given person or hurt from not getting enough from someone. There is then a freedom in letting people in for however long. Last weekend we invited strangers stranded from England over for dinner. There’s a good chance we’ll never see them again but boy did we have laughs and connections! I’m glad I didn’t miss out on that opportunity. If I had calculated the net of the relationships I probobly wouldn’t have bothered. I try to get my inspiration from being obedient to God’s call to love rather than my feeling like it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t and I think that’s ok too - I’m trying!

    • Tracy, so good to hear from you! Thanks for your thoughts. I love what you had to say about there being a freedom in letting people in to your life, when you can trust God with his intention. Sometimes I feel like that is the hardest sort of thing to trust God in, because relationships are so sticky and never clear cut (and it’s easy to blame myself for whatever does or doesn’t transpire). But I’m inspired by your reminder of God’s call to love, whatever form that relationship takes…

  2. Rebecca

    I’m a phoneophobe too.

    I loved this : “Discretion requires you to respect someone without trying to be their best friend. Hospitality is not a call to unquestioning intimacy with the whole world…Hospitality is a call to revere what is sacred in every person ever born” It resonated with how I go about my relationships. It’s always nice when someone else puts into words what you are thinking.

    I am left feeling sometimes that I could be a better friend to people, but I don’t push it, and that can leave you friend with everyone and intimate with no one, and that feeling can leave you feeling would anyone really notice if I didn’t show up anymore.

    I don’t think it is a matter of companionship vs intimacy but making sure you have a balance of both.

  3. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I read it yesterday. My immediate reaction was “Oh thank goodness I don’t need to be intimate with every relationship!” It takes far too much work. Even though I do know I can do better at some friendships, I know God has ordained which friendships I have and how deep its roots will grow. I also, like you, am not a phone person, so I recognize that having 45 minute conversations with friends is just not going to happen. But, that said, it doesn’t mean friendships aren’t intimate in the absence of phone calls. Doing something special for a special occasion in someone’s life can mean a lot more than missing out on occasional connections for a few months.
    Working at a church teaches me this. I know half the community by face, another fourth by name. (Everyone else knows me, and I just smile, nod, say hi, and rack my brain with the question, “Who was that??”) Being a youth minister has taught me that I have to reach 100+ kids, in the confidence that even though I will not have intimate relationships with all of them God will reach them through a surface relationship- one that points them more to Him and the Church.
    I do pursue both kinds of relationships because I think that God has given us both kinds. I have friends I see every week when we play soccer and know nothing more but their name and if they will forgive me when I kick the ball out of bounds instead of to them, and others I see once or twice a year but know everything about their lives. I like both kinds of friendships. Maybe, because I don’t feel pressured in either. No pressure gives a freedom to enjoy what God has given us for the moment.

  4. Micah,
    I have been thinking about friendship a lot these days too. I have had a lot of guilt that I am a bad friend and that I need to do better with the ones that I do have before pursuing new friendships. We have these neighbors that live next door to us and when we moved in I had big plans for how we would become really close to them and then we didn’t’ really see them as much as we had been and those plans went away. I think it’s the “intentional” and “relational” pressures that come from the church and ministry that have put me in that position. I don’t believe the media is making me feel that guilt. I think that I have been taught that I need to be everything to everybody but it’s distorted- What’s wrong with saying hi to my neighbors and loving them as I have opportunity but not pushing them into depth and spending lots of time together?

    Thanks for your post- They always make me think!

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