While running errands on a cool dusk evening in late September, I noticed an older bedraggled gentleman hunched over, shakily holding onto one side of his walker, while attempting to a hold his large cardboard sign for passer-byers to see with his gnarled fingers of the other. As I rounded the corner, I saw that he was wearing only one shoe and the other had no laces. He had dropped his sign and was struggling to pick it up. I was immediately endeared to him; maybe it was because he had a grandfather-like quality about him, maybe it was because I could see that his needs extend beyond the simple plea scrawled on his sign as I looked into his milky grey-blue eyes, I don’t know. I was running slightly behind, but decided to park and walk one of the gallon-size Ziploc bags filled with various necessities I keep in a box behind my seat, over to this man. As I struck up a brief conversation with him, he told me that he had children and it was them that he was on the corner for, not for himself. They needed milk and school supplies; neither of which were in my bag, mind you. I put my hand on his shoulder, looked him in the eye and told him I was deeply sorry for him and his family and that I would pray for him. He thanked me for my kindness as he reached out to grasp my hand for a brief moment before we parted ways. It was a sweet encounter I will never forget, but not because he was a precious old man, which I am entirely endeared to, or because I gave him one of my necessity bags. No! It was because I understood moments later that I was not meeting his greatest need—to be seen, to be known.
I realize that the territory that I am about to embark comes at the risk of sounding slightly haughty. I assure you nothing could be further from reality because after my brief encounter with this dear man, I rounded the corner, briskly walking back to my jeep pretending I didn’t see the haze of my breath drifting heavenward, and was struck, as if by lightening, by the fact that I had never asked the man his name. It seemed so simple, so little in the grand scheme of what I was attempting to do that I have bypassed this noteworthy detail dozens of times without this thought ever crossing my mind; but this night…this night I could not escape the mournful, heart-crushing pain that accompanied this realization. This level of grief was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced because with it, after copious contemplation and soul searching, I understood what it really means to be seen, to be known and the undeniable significance this is for all people (I think herein lays a glimpse into the meaning of the “Love your neighbor as yourself” commandment–Matthew 22:39). For days, and even now, when I recall this story, my soul aches so deeply, so intensely, that my prayers scarcely grasp adequate words to convey my sincere sorrow and conviction for not seeing God’s child. I did not see Him.
I have often asked the Lord to break my heart for what breaks His, to give me His eyes to see the lost, the weary, the broken, and that He would show me how to respond in a meaningful way. And all this time I thought my sensitive heart was a fractured replica of His. Maybe it still is; but I know in the deepest part of who I am that God has called me out beyond my comfort zone and into an area where I have no choice but to trust Him to lead me. It is here where real faith stands. And it’s here that I have been fearful to set my anchor.
Author, Francis Chan, reminds us that “God’s definition of what matters is pretty straightforward. He measures our lives by how we love”. The question then becomes, “How do we love?” It is not a matter of if or who, or even when, but how do we love? If we were to pull apart Psalm 139, we would see how Christ loved us. Though I will not dissect each verse for you here, I have to point out at least verse one: “Oh Lord, you have searched me and you know me”. This word know is not a mere encounter. In the Greek, “yada” is a verb meaning to “know relationally and experientially. God Knows [our] hearts entirely” (The Complete Word Study Dictionary).
“To know” can be based on factual knowledge as well as relational knowledge—and I suppose it is the later that I reference as I attempt to write out my thoughts.
I believe one of our most basic needs and deepest longings is to be known. Sure there are those of us who, on one hand, fear being really known—at that ugly, gut level that even spooks us from time to time, but on the other hand, we have a tremendously, desperate desire to belong, to feel a part of something grander and deeper and all encompassing. We know to reach this place; we must become real. As I write these words, I can’t help but to think of one of my most treasured childhood stories, The Velveteen Rabbit, written by Margery Williams:
[in response to asking if becoming real happens all at once]”It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get all loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Our fear of being known often keeps us from being real, raw, and vulnerable with others, but what if I told you that we are already known. All our flaws, fractures, scars; all our shame, regret, embarrassment; all those dreams we’ve been fearful to breathe to life, all those tears we’ve cried—all of it—all those pieces that make up the real us—what if someone saw all of us? What if…
John Piper paraphrases 1 Corinthians 8:3 beautifully when he writes, “Deeper than knowing God is being known by God”. God knows us from the inside out. Contemplating on the incredible fullness of this phrase, I understand that I not only belong to Him, but am loved, and adopted by Him. Being known, being connected to Christ, is nothing short of intimate and privileged and saving and friendship and…profoundly humbling.
This realization not only deepens my awareness of what it means to be seen, to be known, to be loved, but also the primacy of grace and the necessity of it to precede our relationship with Christ. In other words, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Without His gracious and sacrificial love for us, we would not have the ability to love Him. God is the source of our love and it is the Holy Spirit who enables us to love. When we know God, we can love as He does (1 John 4:6-7).
As Christians, we have often made our lives all about us knowing Him—but we often skim over the fact that He knows us—the real us—and He profoundly loves us in ways we cannot possibly fathom and made us His own. C.S. Lewis wrote in his book, The Weight of Glory: “To please God—to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work, or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or a burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is”.
To be known, to be truly seen by the Lord is a tremendous gift of grace. And in turn, I want to live Christ all the more boldly, all the more loudly, all the more intentionally. It is enough for me to be known by Christ. More than enough. It’s actually who I am! So I take this new found appreciation for what it means to be known, to be seen, by God and think of the shoeless man on the corner—the man whose name I will never know—and know God sees him, the real him, his needs, his hurts, his dreams—and because God is gracious, He will prompt our hearts to know how to love others the way He does. Without a doubt, there will be times our faith will be tested, where we will wonder if we are on the right path, or doing enough ,or even the right things. God sees the motives of our hearts and when we trust Him to led us in unchartered oceans, where sometimes we fear dropping anchor, He meets us there, firm and secure, and works in and through us to show His love to all people.