Leading With Intimacy, Even When It Hurts, Part 1

By Matthew Dickerson

May 8, 2024

Scripture — Mark 14:32-34 (NRSV)

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter and James and John and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.”


God created us to have relational intimacy with one another. That intimacy requires our honesty and vulnerability. Jesus modeled vulnerability in leadership in the ways he spoke honestly about his true self including his struggles and sorrows. This provides an example of how followers of Christ today can live and lead in a Christ-like way.


God created us to have relational intimacy. I think this can be seen throughout Scripture, starting with the Genesis 1-3 account of Creation and the Fall and continuing right through the New Testament. We were made to be in close relationship with God. We were made to have relational intimacy with each other. And God’s command to humans to name the animals (Genesis 2:19-2)—a naming process which commentators have pointed out implies a deep knowing—suggests that we were intended even to have some sort of intimacy (though of a different kind) with the rest of creation and our non-human fellow creatures.

We see the importance of these three types of intimacy emphasized in what happened when man and woman disobeyed God in the Garden. Genesis 3 makes a point of showing how all of these relationships were deeply wounded. Not only was our intimacy with God broken by sin, but the intimacy that man and woman shared with each other was also harmed. Adam’s first response to God’s questioning about the fruit is to blame Eve; to use a popular expression, he throws her under the bus—a move which I can’t imagine was great for their marital intimacy. The broken relationships only escalate from there; in the very next chapter, we read of brother killing brother. Our human intimacy with the earth and our fellow creatures was also wounded. We see this in God’s words to Adam in Genesis 2:17-18, and soon after that we learn that some of the very animals Adam had been called to name will die so that humans can have clothing made of skins (Genesis 3:21), then as sacrifices (Genesis 4:4), and then later for food (Genesis 9:3). True relational intimacy is characterized by honesty and vulnerability. Instead, we often now have deceit, manipulation, division, and discord.

Jesus worked to restore that intimacy. Through his death and resurrection, of course, he made it possible for us to come to God as those who are righteous, without any condemnation. He also sent his Holy Spirit to dwell within us in intimate relationship. These two points are at the very core of the Christian gospel! Jesus also calls his people to be in intimate relationship with one another. The New Testament teachings call us to be a single body, single building, and single family of brothers and sisters. As part of his high priestly prayer, Jesus prays first that his disciples “may all be one.” He then goes on to ask his Father, “[may they] be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:21-23). True relational intimacy is thus part of the high calling of those who follow Christ. Rather than the aloofness, pride, isolation, or self-protection that so often characterize the world’s version of leading, it is especially important for leaders in the church to model intimacy: being honest about our true selves, our struggles, our sorrows, or our doubts, even if what we reveal to others may be perceived as weakness.

All very good, we might say. The challenge, of course, is that relational intimacy is hard. It is especially hard because part of relational intimacy is vulnerability, and being vulnerable means we might get hurt. Intimacy can be hard even with those closest to us. It’s especially hard with those who have hurt us. And this is where I turned to Jesus’s example of leadership. In a devotion titled “Jesus and Vulnerability” published in Life for Leaders on January 14, 2022, I wrote of the vulnerability of Jesus expressed in the incarnation when he took on the weakness of human flesh. We could also speak of his vulnerability on the cross. But today’s passage shows the vulnerability of Jesus in conversation with his disciples.

Consider Jesus’ words to Peter, James, and John in Mark 14:34. “My soul is deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” Not only does Jesus bring these three with him in this important and deeply personal moment, which is itself a step of intimacy, but he bares his innermost thoughts and feelings to them. This is a deep level of vulnerability from Jesus, of precisely the type I described above. He speaks honestly about his true self including his struggles and sorrows. He does this not only to God, but to his friends and followers, even though there are undoubtedly many, including in the church, who would perceive such an honest revelation as weakness.

In doing so, Jesus invites the same sort of honesty from his followers, which will deepen their intimacy with him. He also makes it possible for others to walk alongside him and support him—in this case both figuratively and literally. He sets a wonderful example for what intimacy and vulnerability should look like among his followers, especially among those we are called to lead.

But what about when those with whom we might share intimacy have already hurt us in the past? We will explore this question tomorrow as I share my own struggles in this area.


What makes relational intimacy, vulnerability, or honesty difficult for you? With whom do you practice vulnerability? How have you experienced hurt in the practice of vulnerability? How have you seen relationships grow through the practice of intimacy and honesty?


Ask God to lead you to somebody (or perhaps a small group) with whom you might practice a deeper level of intimacy through vulnerability.


Lord, I thank you for the intimacy we have with you, through the Holy Spirit. We know that our restored relationship with you was entirely your work, reaching out to us. We thank you for what Jesus did on the cross to restore our intimacy with you, and also for the example he set. Give us the strength to follow Jesus’ example of honesty and vulnerability as we seek to deepen the relationships you have called us to. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Cross and Resurrection (Mark 14:32-16:8) .

Matthew Dickerson


Matthew Dickerson’s books include works of spiritual theology and Christian apologetics as well as historical fiction, fantasy literature, explorations of the writings of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and books about trout fishing, fly fishing, rivers, and ecology. His recent books include:...

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