I have started to think that there is really one driving force in each of our lives, that there is one thing that we need, but we all express that need in different ways. We need to be known. We need to be known in a true, deep, meaningful way. Most of us never fulfill that need, though, and out of that failure arises so many of the obstacles we face in our lives.
When we aren’t known, we can’t really be loved. And when we can’t receive love, we feel desperately alone. I think that is how people feel when they decide that they can’t take anymore of this life. Alone. Unknown. Unloveable.
There is a lie that my mother used to tell me as a child. I was an adult before I realized it was a lie, and even now sometimes I hear her voice in my head and find myself believing that it’s true. I had lots of friends as a child and teenager, mostly as a means to escape my home and the dysfunctional life my parents had created for me. When my mother would talk of my friends, she would say, “If they really knew you, they wouldn’t like you.” I believed that it was true, that I was hiding my real self because if I didn’t I would be all alone.
The irony, though, is that when you have to hide part of yourself in order to be accepted by everyone else, they never really know you. And despite the appearances of intimacy, deep down you are painfully aware of the parts of you that aren’t known. And the shame of the hidden parts makes you hate yourself. Is that how homosexuals feel when they hide their sexuality for fear of rejection? Is that why addicts become master manipulators so no one ever detects their hidden secret? Is that why you often don’t see food-addicted people eating in public like they do in private?
I have to wonder what would happen if we shared our most shameful secrets, lived out in the open, struggled honestly. I believe that the skeletons wouldn’t seem so scary in the daylight. The awful, shameful things wouldn’t be so shameful if they were shared. Why don’t we do that?
I guess the simple answer is that we don’t do that because it’s hard. We don’t have the capacity to know others because we don’t know ourselves. We don’t know ourselves because often we are spending too much time and effort perfecting the image of ourselves we want others to see.
It’s hard to look back at our own story and face the painful parts. Many of us have faced such pain in our pasts that we fear if we revisited that place, we may not survive it. Except the miracle that happens when you do get to know your own story, is that somehow it becomes less painful. Somehow God reveals the beauty in your story, and when you share that pain and triumph with others it opens the door for them to share their truth as well. Then suddenly, you are known. And you know others. It’s a beautiful thing.
In my case, in order to call my mother’s lie what it was, I had to face an awful truth. She said, “If they really knew you, they wouldn’t like you.” What she was really saying was that shedidn’t like me. That was a heartbreaking realization, but what was so freeing was the understanding that I didn’t have anything to be ashamed about. There wasn’t anything wrong with me. It was her, and that’s not my fault.
I certainly don’t have all the answers in this life, but I know that for the rest of my days on this earth, I will pursue knowing others and being known by them. It’s the one thing I can point to that brings true fulfillment.