How Do You Overcome Fear of Intimacy?

IMG_4137An older gentleman approached me and took the sandwich I offered him. His face bore the familiar red scarring found among those who’d fallen asleep drunk during a Siberian winter. The gray, dull-eyed babushka limped forward for her sandwich. One by one, the older folks received their meager meals.

In the distance, two boys circled our group with seeming indifference. Their breath rose like smoke under Russia’s frigid conditions. The taller of the two picked up a vodka bottle from the rubble, tipped it forward, drained it then tossed it.

I asked my Russian pastor friend, “Why don’t those boys come eat?”

Pastor Yuri said, “They’re afraid.”

Trust is essential to developing an authentic relationship with another person. If we don’t trust others, we can laugh with them, eat with them, drink with them, and spend time with them. But we can’t let them get close enough to be genuine friends. And we certainly can’t develop any semblance of intimacy.

If I’m afraid, I won’t get close. Not to you. Not to God. Not to anyone.

IMG_4158And therein is the problem. We, like the two boys, are afraid to draw close.

We’re hungry.

Food is available.

But we’re tipping empty bottles for a single drop.



Because we’re afraid …

And we can’t trust …


So what makes us afraid?

Past Experience. Those two boys kept their distance for a reason. Something in their past taught them to remain wary around adults. The present pleasure of food couldn’t close the distance created by past painful experiences. They were hungry, but not desperately so.

Spiritual Dullness. My dog cringes if I take off my gloves. She cowers if I pick up my reading glasses.

She’s intelligent, playful, and sweet as she can be. But if I have something in my hand, she becomes skittish and wary. No matter what I say to calm her fears, she’s too dull to understand two things. She’s loved and she’s safe.

What then can we do to overcome our fear?

Admit we’re afraid. In Judges 7, Gideon prepares to lead Israel into a battle against the Midianites. God instructs Gideon to whittle down the army by asking, “Is anyone afraid?”

The Israelite soldiers had to acknowledge their fear. In fact, God encouraged them to do so in order to face their enemy.

Voicing our fear is like turning a light on. Suddenly those monsters under the bed aren’t so scary anymore.

Whenever I’ve spoken about my fears with Ellen (fear of failure, fear of lost dreams, fear of not living up to expectations), I’ve experienced an amazing thing—intimacy. She has accepted me, loved me, and encouraged me.

Embrace the truth. Jesus said, “… you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

Fear may start with the truth (those two boys in a Siberian garbage dump knew some adults were dangerous) but it ends up believing a lie (no adult can be trusted, even ones offering hungry boys food).

I may start with the truth—I have failed—but I end up with a lie—I am worthless. If I embrace the lie, I fear facing God, my wife, and anyone else who gets close to me. And that’s painful.

I fear being found out.

I fear being fooled.

I fear being hurt.

Until I’m willing to admit my fear and embrace the truth, I remain distant and unknown to God and others. Or, rather, God remains distant and unknown to me.

I’m curious. Where does fear mess up your relationship with God and others? Where have you learned to trust God?

Recommended links:

Jon Stolpe’s Love Works Wednesday Link Up Week – Trusting

Jer Monson’s The First Secret of Getting in Shape

Kari Scare’s Financial Fast 2013

IMG_1336Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes

Two men. Two eternal destinies.

One common hope.

A poignant and compelling portrayal of heaven and hell, with a powerful look at redemption from the perspective of both the lost…and the saved. Well done!–Susan May Warren, best-selling, award-winning author of You Don’t Know Me.

“Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes” was a compelling read for me. The vivid descriptions challenged and ignited my imagination. Tom skillfully laid out a clever story that caused me to think and made me want to read to the end.–Ron Fruit GM, WRCO Radio

Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes can be found at:

WestBow Press

Barnes & Noble

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About tnealtarver

I've traveled and spoken around the world but always love to come home. There I eat exceptional meals, drink coffee to my heart's content, and get loved like nowhere else on earth. I believe a community centered in Christ should be all that and so much more.
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13 Responses to How Do You Overcome Fear of Intimacy?

  1. jonstolpe says:

    Thanks for the mention, Tom. Tomorrow marks the next installment in the Love Works Link Up.

  2. How is it that every time I read your blog I find that God is confirming what He is showing me through it?! Thank you for this post, and in response to your question at the end, my answer is found in my most recent post, Conversations on Redemption. Keep the good stuff coming my friend.

    • tnealtarver says:

      I enjoy the connection and am glad when you write as well. Those conversations tend to sharpen our understanding of our faith. That’s why I value community so much. It stretches and deepens my faith.

  3. Kari Scare says:

    Fear of messing up in social situations messes up my relationship with God and others. While I have learned to trust God more in this area, I am still learning. Great post!!! (Thanks for the link too.)

    • tnealtarver says:

      Social situations, especially where you’re unsure of the rules, definitely messes with your heart. We’re cautious of what to say or do, so we hang back and hold our tongues (or we jump in and talk too much).

      As for the link, you’re welcome. You wrote about something I thought others might find helpful and challenging.

      • Kari Scare says:

        Being an introvert adds to the social struggles too. So, I am on the extreme of hanging and holding. God is working on me though, and I am slowly learning to be who I am within social situations instead of thinking I have to become and extrovert.

        I hope that it is both helpful and challenging to others. Thanks again!

      • tnealtarver says:

        Sunday I preached on the 3 things John the Baptist knew based on his “He must increase while I must decrease” statement. One of those things was he knew his identity, “I am not the Messiah but am the one who comes before.” He could point to Jesus because he was comfortable with God’s call on his own life. Since he knew who he was, he could say and do things consistent with his personality. God knows who we are and, although He does stretch us, He doesn’t ask us to be who we aren’t.

      • Kari Scare says:

        So very true, and a great example. Wish I could have been there to hear the sermon. I have definitely learned to focus on who God made me to be and on being that person and no one else. It’s a progressive work, and I am so thankful that he stretches me but also allows and encourages me to grow in who I am. This has been a tremendous growth area for me, and one that I am so thankful has happened.

      • tnealtarver says:

        Would have been way cool to have you in Wisconsin.

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