Familiarity breeds Intimacy, Part 1
Aesop said, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”
I think Aesop is wrong. If contempt is to be understood as some form of disdain, scorn, or treating something as worthless or unwanted, then familiarity alone can’t breed contempt. As familiar as I am with them, I’ve have never in all my life had contemptuous thoughts towards a chocolate chip cookie. People are very familiar with their pets–often spending more time, money, and emotional energy on them then on the people around them, yet there is not a hint of contempt towards them. Why? What is the difference between the dog and the spouse, the cat and the neighbor, the fish and the family member?
Q: If familiarity doesn’t naturally breed contempt, what does?
- Contempt is birthed when Conditions are placed on relationships. As soon as love is attached to an “if,” (I’ll love you if… I’ll do this if you do _______), the possibility for scorn is born. An operating system of score keeping and dutiful rule-following manifests itself in a tired experience of never meeting expectations. In Genesis 16, Sarah created imaginary conditions the greater love she desired, “If only we had a child.” These conditions created an unhealthy circumstance and ignited some disastrous consequences (Genesis 16:1-3). Conditional love breeds contempt.
- Contempt matures when Comparisons are made. When the possibility and the promise of the other, better, easier, more beautiful, more satisfying way or a short cut towards meeting our desires arrives–disappointment and dissatisfaction take up residence in the heart. Back to Sarah, when she began to compare herself to Hagar, now with her husband’s child, she began to despise her (Genesis 16:4-5). Comparison breeds contempt.
- Contempt is fully grown when Criticism is levied without compassion. Disrespect begins to grow when our relational goals consist of striving to make others exactly like us or having others serve our purposes at the expense of theirs. Once again, in a tumultuous and contemptuous place, Sarah’s all-inclusive criticism included her husband in her indictment, making him responsible for her problems (Genesis 16:4-5). Criticism breeds contempt.
- Contempt ushers a relationship to death’s door when Callousness trumps heartfelt care. When an uncaring spirit or a “take it or leave it attitude,” rules the day, we will begin to despise the one who is treating us so. Each familiar hour spent with this person will drive a wedge deeper and wider between them. Finally, Sarah’s hardened heart dismisses out of hand her servant who had tried to please her by following her orders (Genesis 16:6). Callousness breeds contempt.
From time to time I’ve found myself on various rungs on the downward spiral of contempt. And as humbling and embarrassing as it is to admit, sometimes I find myself with these thoughts and feelings of contempt towards God!
I put conditions on God and complain like a spoiled child when he doesn’t write the story of my life according to my screenplay, “If you really loved me, things would be going according to my plans!”
I begin to look at the circumstances of those around me, examining what God is doing in my life compared to theirs and cry-out, “Why does everyone else have it so easy? Why do I have to struggle so much?”
I develop a critical spirit towards God and everyone else, concluding that no one really cares about me and my life.
And the final stop on my downward spiral–I grow cold, distant, and pull back from all of my relationships.
It doesn’t have to be this way! Even though Sarah’s story continued in a sad way, our story is still moving forward and there is hope for us to find a better destination!
Dream with me for a moment – wouldn’t it be great if a parent loved their 16-year-old more then when their child was six? Wouldn’t it be amazing if it were the norm and not the exception for a couple’s love for each other to be greater and more passionate at their 50-year wedding anniversary than on their wedding day? How do we get there?
In part two of this series, I’ll talk about the positives – how familiarity can actually breed intimacy, and how the common place can become a beautiful and necessary part of a healthy relationship.