naked affection

Posted: August 9, 2017 in Uncategorized

In August 2011, after nine glorious months living in intentional Christian community in Chicago (understood perhaps more simply by the word “commune”), I moved back to the Quad Cities and returned to my previous job.  This wasn’t MY idea…my intention and favorite plan was to stay in that community for the rest of my days here on earth.  The return to the QC happened because my boss at the previous job asked me to pray about coming back, and I said I would, so then I had to actually pray (I figure God has a dim view of folks saying, “I’ll pray about that” and then not doing so)…and those prayers eventually led to a clear call for the move.  I’ve been back with that boss ever since; it turned out to be a good plan, despite feeling at the time like the cancellation of a many-years-long dream for my life.

The first six months after the move back were hard.  I lived alone in an apartment at the senior housing facility where I was (and am) employed.  The end of the day meant retiring to my own space, without another human being in it, to eat supper by myself and find ways to fill the hours before sleeping, and then to climb into my great big bed in my too-quiet bedroom (none of the sirens and screams I’d grown accustomed to in the Chicago nights) and wait for sleep to kindly eat up the hours.

In my intentional community, I always had the option to choose sufficient “alone time” to satisfy my introverted ways, though sometimes that required creativity…but I also always had the option to have as much company as I wanted.  In my room, in my hall, on my floor, across the entire building were other people with a vision at least somewhat similar to mine.  Everywhere I looked were folks who were weird in at least some of the same ways as me.  I congregated with friends in the little kitchen on our floor, in the big dining room downstairs, in various living rooms on various floors, outside in the “side yard,” at my job at the homeless shelter run by the community, and out on adventures all across the Chicago area.  We got together for tea or coffee.  We ate meals together.  We went for walks.  We talked and laughed and were quiet together.  We had deep conversations about real things that mattered, not just small talk, which I loathe, largely because I can’t do it.  We went to music shows.  We did community service projects together.  We did Bible studies together.  We had an exercise class.  We met for “bardic circles” to tell stories and jokes and sing songs and read poems.  We had house meetings.  Our church was inside our community, though people from outside also joined us.  That intentional community was home to me before I got there, while I lived in its midst, and really in some ways will always be home to me – I feel a strong longing as I write about it, though I love my life here and feel no need to fight against being where God has placed me.

Every evening at home alone in my nice apartment was hard.  I played on my computer while I ate, to distract myself from the deep loneliness.  I was meeting with a couple of my female friends, which filled maybe two evenings a week, and I visited my parents and my prayer partner on another night,  and met with some friends for Bible study yet another night.  That sounds like a full week, and today it really would be, but at that time, the other days – the ones with no plans outside my lonely apartment – got long.

I spent too much money on unneeded things, trying to fill up the aching space in my life.

I rode my bike a lot to fill the hours.

I talked too much about Chicago when I was around others, yearning to be back where life had made so much sense and been so comfortable.

And on Sundays I shopped around for a church to call my own – a task that got harder and harder as each Sunday went by.  I got weary of being the new person, weary of pasting a smile on my face, worn out from trying to figure out the “elevator speech” to give about myself upon introduction in order to give folks some idea who I really was.  I got sick of the discomfort of being new to the ways and routines of each new church I visited.  I just wanted to BE somewhere, to BELONG somewhere, to be known and to know others and to have an idea of my role and to be able to contribute something.

I visited a church with a warm, friendly greeter.  She was interesting and interested.  We shared common values and interests.  She lavished me with her undivided attention before church, and then invited me out with her and some other ladies the next week when I saw her.  Lonely Karen soaked that up.  I had gotten used to the naked expression of affection at the intentional community – friends who were openly overjoyed to see me, actively interested in what I had to say, downright gushy in their expression of fondness on a regular basis.  After leaving the community, I’d been struggling to be more chill, more distant, more cautious like everyone else around me seemed to be, and I was missing my community friends HARD.  This greeter unknowingly pushed all those buttons with her warmth and attention; I found myself gushing to her on email that I was so glad to know her, so glad to have found a potential real friend, looking so forward to spending more time with her.

Cue the crickets.

Looking back, I’m pretty sure it was mostly just that she was a career woman and a wife with a very full life and plenty on her plate already.  And maybe she was feeling cautious about me as I probably read as a needy woman.  (There is also the distinct possibility that she just wasn’t really “an email person” – I can’t understand that, but it’s true about a lot of people.  Maybe she never even got around to reading my lavish message.)

At the time, the silence in response to my extended affection was devastating.  It felt like a corrective slap.  I pulled back, re-calibrated, reminded myself that outside my intentional community, people didn’t do naked affection so much.  I was embarrassed at my display of strong affection and open need – the silent response made me feel like I’d been childish and inappropriate.  I worked to “suck it up” when I saw her after that, playing it friendly but cool, asking for nothing, not striving to cement a friendship.  Don’t be a leech, Karen.

I didn’t hold it against her at the time, nor do I now.  Who knows…maybe I was just being weird.  Certainly I am gifted in social awkwardness.  It was a time of massive adjustment for me, and everything felt “off” in the process.  It has left me careful ever since, trying not to press myself excessively on others, not to demand more than people might want to give.  And also careful not to inadvertently put someone else in a position of feeling rejected.  I guess in the long run it has made me a slightly more distant person, when it comes to new people in my life.

I’m still a fan of naked affection, though I don’t know how to lead others into it – I only know how to respond when others extend it to me (THANK YOU, people who love loudly and boldly!)  I love visiting my intentional community friends, who are still as naked as ever in their gladness when we meet again.  I have a couple of friends here in the QC who love with the same unashamed abandon – I revel in the mutual gushing that happens whenever I get to see them.  I know that level of emotion and affection aren’t comfortable for everyone – but I’m really glad to have some people who are all about it.

May you know naked affection from someone in your life, even if you never choose to go and immerse yourself in it via intentional community.  It’s a beautiful, life-giving thing.


  1. Lyn Moomey says:

    I love your writing. I have felt that many time between YWAM and missionary stints. Neither life is better than the other but way too lonely in between.

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