Have You Realized the Power of Being Known?

As a young student, I spent kindergarten through eighth grade in three different rural schools. These schools were tiny–one in particular, where I attended half a year and was the only third grader in the entire school (yes, I’m serious). I joined up with the first and second graders. Our classroom picture shows seven smiling kids, the total for all three grades.

The next school I attended felt significantly larger–about 60 scholars in the whole school. We had two grades per classroom, with 10 to 15 kids in each room. And I graduated from eighth grade with four other people.

Like I said, tiny. I didn’t appreciate how tiny until my family moved and I found myself in an urban school, surrounded by a couple thousand strangers.

You may assume my educational experience suffered without hundreds of classmates; it didn’t. This was a great–and fun–way to get an education. Every student had individual attention, self-pacing, and an automatic spot in extra-curricular activities. We learned in an authentic kind of community I’ve never had since. It was pretty much impossible to fall through the cracks.

Thanks to school consolidation, the school where I celebrated eighth-grade graduation is now a community center owned by residents of the town of 200. Happily, it’s become a place to sustain the kind of community it fostered among its students.

A few years ago, the town hosted a 125th-anniversary celebration, including a banquet for school alumni. I wasn’t there, but I spotted a picture from the event on a friend’s Facebook page–a snapshot of 1980s alumni who attended. It was fun to recognize faces after nearly 30 years. It was also weird to look at adult versions of people I haven’t seen since I was 13. They were immortalized in my memory at what I now recognize as an awkward age.

I also felt a kind of nostalgic sadness at seeing them all grown up, with no idea what intervening chapters had been written in the lives of these people I had once known so well. I felt a twinge of longing to know them and their stories as I once had—and to be known myself. To have the kind of community I took for granted as a child.

Behind this longing was a desire we all share–to be known and loved in a way no community could truly satisfy. In a way that means we don’t have to explain ourselves, wonder whether we’re being misunderstood, or question whether we fit in.

Ironically, we are masters of disguise, skilled at blocking the very thing we want. We manage our images, hide our intentions, and cloak our desires in subtle manipulation. We want to be known, but we are bound by fear of unendurable rejection. We can’t live with the possibility of others’ pity, disrespect, or horror at our true selves.

The ultimate irony is in hiding from God. We all believe we can put our best soul forward, keeping parts of ourselves hidden from him. But we are known to him–comprehensively, devastatingly, stunningly, without limit. Better than we could ever stand to know ourselves. God knows us as we were, we are, and we will be. We’re longing for something we already have.

The Bible shows what happens when people find themselves known by God. Way back in the beginning, Adam and Eve were the first to discover shame, hiding from God when they felt their sin (Genesis 3:7-10). When God called her by name, Hagar found the fortitude to submit to her jealous mistress and raise her son in light of a hopeful future (Genesis 16). Jacob, patriarch of Israel’s 12 tribes, committed himself to a God who called him when he thought he was all alone (Genesis 28:10-22). Moses, disguised as an anonymous Egyptian in the wilderness, was transformed into a courageous and powerful leader when God called him by name (Exodus 2:16–3:10). Because God knew his heart, the young shepherd David became a great king and a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 16:1-13; Acts 13:22).

A young virgin, Mary, became history’s most blessed mother when she was called by name and told she had God’s favor (Luke 1:26-39). Nathanael became an instant disciple when he realized Jesus knew him (John 1:45-49). The woman Jesus met at a Samaritan well changed her village when she told them, “He told me everything I ever did!” (John 4:16-42). And Saul was transformed from oppressor to apostle (Acts 9:1-31) and the world’s most effective missionary.

God exposes us and validates the guilt we feel over sin. Yet he accepts us and validates us by removing our shame at his own expense–no one else can do that. God’s knowledge of us does not remove our need for relationships with fellow pilgrims. But it can take the edge off our expectations of other people. Armed with the assurance that we are known and accepted, unveiled and loved, we can let others in on chapters of our true stories, knowing we have great hope in the community we’ll enjoy someday. For “now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

  1. Melissa Landers says:

    I really like this post and I definitely agree that it’s really easy to hide from other people and from God. This makes me think of one of Brennan Manning’s books, Posers, Fakers, and Wannabes. It’s easy to don a mask of perfection and hide the things we struggle with. I think at some point, I’ve learned that it’s better to smile before most people than it is to admit to any kind of pain. The reason, I think, is because people either generally don’t know how to respond or they want to tell you what to do. So it’s better to hide that because sometimes, there’s nothing you can do except go through the valley and smile before others. There’s even this Bible story of a woman going to Elisha (I think) and hiding her pain from her neighbor. It makes sense because people don’t get hurting people.

    One of the struggles that I find is that while it’s getting easy to open up to God, it’s hard to open up to people about pain. I’ve seen so many people run from others when they admit to anything wrong going on in their life. The easier option, from what I’ve seen, is to walk away and not deal with it. So isolation seems the easier answer because it means not getting hurt and rejected.

    Yet this is not healthy. The Bible talks about how we’re called to love each other and confess our sins to each other as a community of believers. And this seems a healthy model. Yet how do you reach that level of transparency with anyone and not fear being judged or ostracized? What does it take to love sincerely even when you’re hurt? There’s this article that talks about millennials retreating from others and not socializing. And I guess what I’m wondering is, with all this human tendency to hide, how do we form authentic community as adults?

    • Amy says:

      Great questions, Melissa. It would be interesting to hear what others think. One thing I will say is that I’m not sure you can reach the level of transparency you’re talking about without fear. There is inherent risk in being authentic and opening up to people, and I think it will always be a scary thing while we live in this world. The process of forming authentic community is going to look different for different people in different settings and circumstances, but I think it always has to start with authentic people coming together. Authenticity attracts authenticity. So taking those risks and becoming the person you want others to be is a great place to begin.

© 2016 Amy Simpson.