Leading With Intimacy, Even When It Hurts, Part 2

By Matthew Dickerson

May 9, 2024

Scripture — John 13:15, 21, 38 (NRSV)

For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. . . . After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” . . . Jesus answered [Peter], “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.”


It is natural when we are hurt to withdraw from those who have hurt us and build self-protective walls rather than continuing the practice of vulnerability. Jesus, however, modeled intimacy and vulnerability even with those who would betray, deny, or abandon him. We need to consider what it looks like to imitate Christ.


Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of relational intimacy, especially practiced in our honesty and vulnerability. We saw this intimacy modeled in Jesus in his words and actions in the Garden of Gethsemane. Those who seek to follow Jesus, and especially those called to roles of leadership, should consider how we can imitate his example. This is not easy, of course. We have all been hurt by others, even—and perhaps especially—within the church. And we can all reasonably expect to be hurt again. Should we continue to be vulnerable?

The natural thing to do when we have been hurt is to close the door on intimacy, at least with those who have hurt us. I say this by way of personal experience and confession. In many ways I have sought to be vulnerable with others, especially in my relationships in my church, but also in relationships in my job in the secular workplace. And yet at times—even recently—when I have felt hurt or rejected, my inclination has been to build a little wall. I don’t think it has been a refusal to forgive, or a vindictive desire for retribution; I believe I have honestly sought to forgive the perceived hurts. But at the same time, I built that bit of self-protective barrier so I wouldn’t get hurt again. We might think of intimacy as a gift we give to others, and I have withheld that gift in order to avoid feelings of rejection. And there are plenty of voices in the world that affirm me for doing so: that tell me I ought not to allow myself to get hurt.

And yet I don’t think that’s what Jesus calls me—or any of us—to do. So I raise this as an area I need to grow, and I share it with others, especially those called to leadership, because I think it is a Biblical model we are all called to. Again, I turn back to the example of Jesus. As Jesus approaches his crucifixion, we see him model intimacy and vulnerability in several powerful ways, and all four gospel writers capture this. John 13 frames it in an important way that has recently been very convicting to me. You see, Jesus makes it clear in this passage that those who are closest to him are going to hurt him. Judas will betray him to death. Peter will deny him. And nearly every other disciple at the table with him will abandon him at his time of greatest need. As far as we know, John is the only disciple who stayed with Jesus right through his trial and his crucifixion (although even John seems to have fallen asleep on Jesus in the Garden in the scene I explored yesterday).

And yet, even knowing how his friends and followers would betray, deny, and abandon him, Jesus still practices this very powerful intimacy and vulnerability with them. The fact that they will hurt him does not make him withhold that intimacy from them. Indeed, right there in John 13 we read of Jesus doing the very intimate and vulnerable act of washing his disciples’ feet—something that in a wealthy Jewish household of that day would have been done by the lowliest servants or slaves. And then he tells them that they should do likewise! Given that Jesus has done this for those who will hurt him, I think it’s safe to assume that the “likewise” means we also ought to be willing to give that gift of vulnerability even with those who have hurt us and may do so again. The very word “vulnerable” implies the possibility of being hurt.

Now I should be clear. I am not in any way advocating that those who are in abusive relationships—physically or emotionally—should remain in those relationships. I think there are also times when God leads us away from relationships that are destructive to us, and we need to be willing to obey God in those situations. What I am addressing here are especially those in the body of Christ who, with us, are seeking to follow Christ, but who also like us are sinful humans and may have hurt us, perhaps unintentionally: those whom it might be easier for us to simply withdraw from, rather than continue to minister to as we offer to them the often-costly gift of intimacy and vulnerability. For isn’t that the way of Christ for whom a central part of his work on earth was restoring that intimacy, destroying the barriers that divide us from God and from each other?


When or how have you been hurt—especially within the church? Take some time to reflect on how you have responded to hurt.  Are you willing to enter into deeper relationships even if or when you might get hurt?

Consider also how you may have hurt others, and how that has impacted the depth of your relationships with them.


Take a step of vulnerability and openness with somebody in your church for whom such vulnerability may be difficult.


Lord, it can be really hard to be intimate and vulnerable with others, especially when we have felt hurt by them. Yet we see in the example of Jesus that he showed vulnerability even with those whom he knew would betray him, deny him, and abandon him. Give us the courage and love to follow Jesus’ example. 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: Servant Leadership (John 13:1-20).

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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