All my life, I have heard humble men talk of being “known.” They say that all people want to be known, that everyone yearns for it. I scoffed in my arrogance. That is just old guys getting too wrapped up in themselves. I mean, isn’t it the hormoney teenager that cries to be understood? I don’t need that, I’m perfectly happy just doing God’s will and going on my merry way. I’m good, everything is fine. I don’t want to get emotional here and put a burden on you to care for me, so let’s not talk about spiritual things. Let’s not talk about this dull uneasiness I feel. All this insistence of the importance of community is just hype over a buzzword.
What a fool I am. I did not have the faintest idea what it means to be known. To be known is to be next to someone who sees your very being, naked before you. Someone who has done the work of life with you for years and years and sees your past and what makes you who you are. Someone who sees you. They know how profoundly selfish, stupid, and weird you really are, far surpassing your knowledge of yourself. At the same time, they know how strong, kind, and important you want to be. They have no illusions about you. They have seen you grieve, and they have seen you laugh just to laugh. And they are not repulsed or intimidated by you, but rather choose to continue being your friend, even brother.
This is obviously what we all want. We want someone to look into our deepest parts and smile. Then why is our culture so alone? Why is it that in the age of connectivity, we rarely disclose ourselves? Why are we so terrified to bare our souls and gain this powerful bond? In hard times, rather than weeping with one another and showing each other our valid, fathomless pain, why do we say we are doing fine?
The reason we cannot show anyone who we are is because we are ashamed of who we are. There are probably many causes of this. One is that we are, in fact, worthy of shame. Emerson, Sartre, and Osteen would have you think otherwise, but our hearts have hidden echoes of the Fall that we will never fully uncover for our entire life, and we know it. We are afraid that if someone knew the real us, we would not be liked, so we hide who we are.
Sometimes, though, it is different. We are doing God’s work, and we have been for years now. But something isn’t right; the work is empty. We are tired of it. The joy is gone. But we carry on, amidst this unknown suffering. If loving God gives joy, then where is it? We are terrified of this pain, because we look at everyone else and they are just so happy and we are not. We even begin to doubt the Gospel. Was Jesus real? Is God there? So we bury it, we bury it deep, where it festers. But this is not the way! We are still being ashamed of who we are!
So how can we overcome these paralyzing shames and break through to genuine community? How can we allow ourselves to be known? We begin by understanding that the foundation of our shame is pride. This is the ultimate Christian cliché; pride is the root of our sin. But listen. When we are ashamed of who we are or what we are experiencing, we put up a façade so that others will think better of us, knowing that our fragile self-image would be ruined by being honest. We are exchanging the truth for a lie because the lie supports our pride. But the truth is what sets us free! It sets us free from being dependent on an unreality so that we may live in accordance with reality, so that we may live authentically. Therefore, while we are ashamed of who we are, we are slaves to our pride. And while we insist on self-righteousness, we are missing the very beginning of joy! Of course we do not deserve love, but we have it anyway! While we were sinners, Christ died for us! It is so, so hard, but we have to let go of the pride that chokes us. And listen, everyone is a failure. Everyone is a struggler. If we know that we all are sinners and yet God loves us without hesitation, we can confess our souls to one another, no matter how messed up we feel. There is nothing more freeing than truly understanding that we are forgiven sinners. We are sorrowful because we want to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, but we fail. Or, we look into the world and can’t help but see brokenness everywhere. This sorrow is good! Earnestly desire to serve God! Be sad at sadness! But our identity is more than our failures and our hope is more than this world, so we do not have to be paralyzed by shame. God gave us community so that we can bare our souls, and re-experience the Gospel, and find rest, and be known, and that is only the beginning. Brothers and sisters, this is beautiful.
True confession, though, still requires immense trust. To be known is to be exposed and vulnerable, and to be vulnerable means to have the possibility of great pain. In baring your soul to another, you are giving him the power to hurt you. You are lowering all your defenses. In fact, you’ve probably been burned before when you thought you were safe. In order to be known, you must completely trust the one who is listening to you. Therefore, we must be people worthy of the deepest trust if fellowship with the afflicted is to exist. We cannot insist on constant happiness. We cannot insist on constant perfection. We lead towards those goals, but it is vital that in everyday, normal life, we show others that our love is unconditional, however that looks.
Being utterly known and loved is what all people desperately desire and fiercely avoid. Being known is the end of unending aloneness, but it is the most humbling experience we can imagine. It is cataclysmic and painful, but when it is over and life stays surprisingly the same, we will know real community. So the question is, are we willing to daily sacrifice our pride to gain true brotherhood?