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Monday, July 15, 2013

The Heart That Longs To Be Fully Known

I have a good friend who, from time to time, puts his own thoughts into writing as he is grappling with a biblical understanding of who he is and how God relates to him. Occasionally his thoughts end up in my inbox and the inboxes of a handful of other friends and family members. Each one is entitled “Fully Known,” and follows with a topic-specific subtitle.

The reference to being “fully known” comes from 1 Corinthians 13. “Now we see as in a mirror darkly; then we shall see face to face… then we will know fully, even as we are fully known.”

Life circumstances lately have prompted me to evaluate this idea of being fully known. It’s scary stuff. Do you really want someone else to know all there is to know about you? If I’m honest with myself, and with you, I’d have to say, “No way!” A one-time favorite song offered this take on it: “If only you knew what’s inside of me now, you wouldn’t want to know me somehow.” I get that. There’s some truly unlovable stuff down in there.

But walking through this life covering up all the time is dreadfully wearying. And opacity and pretending at perfection can lead to the prolonging of deep hurts, far beyond their common life-expectancy. Mark 4 and 1 Corinthians 4 tell us that everything hidden in darkness will be brought to light. It will be fully known. Yikes. Am I the only one who just cringed?

Do I want to be fully known? The honest answer is both no and yes. No because it’s not all pretty, and I fear that with knowledge will come revulsion, rejection by those who don’t have the same ugliness inside, or who cover it up far better—maybe even hiding it from themselves. I think of Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men: “You can’t HANDLE the truth!” Can you? Can you handle the truth? Can any of us fallen creatures truly handle the truth about the depth of our sin, the blackness of our hearts, the actual distance that condition puts between us and the only standard of goodness?

Clearly, that answer is no. We couldn’t handle our condition ourselves. And because of that, the answer to “Do I want to be fully known?” can still be yes. Yes, I do—but by whom?

I remember it was when I was a young teen that I first began to consciously address this question. I was a naturally smart child who had been taught to be respectful of rules and people. Because of that, I gained a reputation at school of being far and away more “good” than I really was. It wasn’t a blessing. It felt like a burden. I knew it was opaque and dishonest. I knew that the “me” they saw wasn’t the “me” I really was. I wasn’t fully known—nowhere near it—and I felt like a fraud and a counterfeit.

So one time I decided I had to begin to break out a bit and become more real. I had saved some of my own money. I went clothes shopping on my own. Instead of the normal conservative blue oxford, blue crew-neck, navy or khaki pants prescribed for me typically, I chose an entirely new outfit.  It wasn’t distasteful, but it was different. Tailored black pants. A sleeveless white sweater. But here was the kicker: red beads, red sash belt, red earrings, and even red shoes. (They were my first “pumps,” with all of a 1-inch heel.)

My mother despised the color red in clothing. She thought it was too attention-getting, and associated it with “floozies.” Was I trying to be a “floozy”? I have to say that honestly, no, I wasn’t actually trying to be naughty or provocative in any way. I was simply trying to be honest.

I wasn’t a perfect person. I wasn’t always good. I certainly didn’t go around playing “The Glad Game” and seeking ways to spread cheer and happiness like flower seeds. But while I was suppressing and trying to manage my imperfections, somewhere in there, I was also way more alive and vibrant than I had ever felt free to be. I was also suppressing my vitality. I was so very totally normal, and my new look was a cry for someone to know me—to know that I wasn’t so one-dimensional. “See me for who I really am!” I could have cried out, but I would have added, “And love me both for it and in spite of it!”

Isn’t that what we all want? To be seen and accepted too?

My favorite line in James Ward’s song “El Shaddai” says, “to the outcast on her knees you were the God who really sees.” Beer Lahai Roi—The Living One who sees. That’s who Hagar depended on when she had been mercilessly and helplessly cast out for being the slave woman. I know that state. If only you knew what’s inside of me now, I too would be the outcast on her knees. Because none of us can handle the truth. Not on our own.

But it wasn’t even enough that The One Who Sees should look from afar and know fully. And that’s where this story gets crazy wonderful.

I once saw an award-winning independent film short at a film festival. It was done all in black & white. It showed a view from above of a piece of rotting meat, infested with squirmy, twitching maggots. A wretched sight, those quivering slugs on the grainy, flickering film. The camera zoomed in slowly, and as it got nearer to the subject matter, the viewer sees that the maggots aren’t all simply maggots. Many of them are pale, uncovered, squirming, twitching humans, there among the decay. Helpless. Naked. Hopeless, really. Flinching meaninglessly and desperately on the rotting matter.

If only you knew what’s inside of me now… Would you turn away?

In all his holiness, his perfection, his sublime character, The One Who Sees had every right to look upon the quivering masses of humanity and turn away. He sees fully, and in his sight we are fully known. There’s no opacity there. It’s wide open and bare and stark and brutally honest. He sees to the depths. But even so, he didn’t turn away. He didn’t stay away. Because he loves. Let that sink in:

He loves. He loves enough to be present. To console. To fill the empty space beside the broken, the wounded, the damage, the straying.

Instead of staying at a distance, he entered in, came into this rotting, sin-infested place from glory, to reverse the decay, to conquer it, to claim those who are his own and restore. To create new hearts, to clean out gangrenous wounds. Because he knows fully, because he sees, he is the only one who can repair. His cleansing is like a fire that consumes but does not destroy. A purifying fire. His work is permanent and guaranteed for completion. And because of it, we can be fully known and at the same time handle the truth of our own condition.

It’s too big for my mind to grasp. But it’s a promise. Love never ends, and one day I will know that fully, even as I am fully known.


Carolynn Markey said...

I long to be fully known by God! Its hard to "fully know" others-take my husband, I don't think I want to know everything about his past, and I most certainly don't want him to know every exact detail about mine. The human brain can only take so much. But I do know that I love him no matter what.

Interesting post. I try so hard to be honest with who I am and what I want. But I know I fail a lot.

--Rebecca said...

You're right about how we can take only so much. On our own, no, we can't handle it all. And as for the failing, I hear you! I think the honesty and transparency (with God, and under the right conditions, with select other people) is one of those things we have to keep revisiting, keep reminding ourselves of the need to do. We can be totally honest with God, and that's what he wants. That's when he is faithful and just to forgive and to cleanse, don't you think?