Who knows me? Who understands me? If everything I did, everything I am known for, and all of my dreams of the future suddenly disappeared one day – who would stick around?
I think one of the most challenging aspects of moving or transitioning is that your community shifts and changes. You suddenly find yourself in a new place with new people you need to somehow convey yourself to. People joke all the time about how hard it is as adults to make new friends; you can’t just walk up to someone new on the playground and start a game of tag anymore (I mean technically you could… anyone game to try it out and report back?) But beyond the lack of accessibility of new friends, (everyone is hiding out in their office buildings or Netflixing alone in their homes!) there’s also the fact that as we grow older our needs change. No longer is the pinnacle of friendship defined by finding someone who also loves Barbie’s or Pokémon, suddenly we find that our expectations of relationship have expanded.
What I mean by that is simple: I desire friendships with people who track with me, are on my level… or in other words, people who know me.
This goes for more than just friends, too. Obviously it extends to significant others, to family, and ideally coworkers and beyond. Personally, one of the biggest struggles I have faced all my life is being misunderstood. It’s happened time and time again. I’ve been judged for my appearance, my personality, my clothes… you name it. I’ve had assumptions made about me based off a long list of things that have absolutely nothing to do with my heart. It’s literally my greatest pet peeve and my biggest frustration. Not to throw a self-pity party, but it’s happened so often it has also likely become my single greatest fear.
They don’t really know me.
I apply it to my bosses, my co-workers, and my friends, both new and old. It’s an insecurity (some would say rightfully so) based of my past negative experiences. It’s created a really big ol’ need inside me to project my most genuine self to the world. (That’s probably why you’re all lucking out reading my extreme vulnerability in this blog, lol). I so desperately want people to understand my heart that I will bare it on my sleeve as often as possible. It all sounds great and foolproof, right? Wrong. Misunderstanding still happens all the time! We’re humans, we’re flawed, and we love to judge. I still have to have tough conversations with people that clarify, “what I really meant when I said x,y,z… “ or something along those lines.
Here’s the funny thing. I desire, above all else, to be known for who I am. If you ask me to tell my truth, I will do my best to answer in all honesty. Yet I too can put on a mask. When that insecurity button is pushed or when someone makes a comment that causes me to think they don’t “get me,” I easily slide into self-protection mode. What does that look like, you ask? It looks like the exact opposite of what I desire most of all. It looks like becoming afraid that I will be truly known.
I tell you all this because I don’t think I’m a lone wolf experiencing this phenomenon. I honestly believe that one of the deepest foundational desires of humans is to be really, truly, fully known. But at the same time I think we all have some deep-rooted insecurities when it comes to showing off our true selves. It’s like the things our hearts want the most in life are the very things we work so hard to fight against. So I guess the million dollar question becomes this: Is it even possible to be really truly known?
Let me back up a bit and explain how I even got thinking about this in the first place. There were a few thoughts that began building in my head until I could finally put it down on paper/ laptop. One of the biggest moments that got me on this thought-spiral was an overheard conversation. I walked in on my Dad processing a talk that had challenged him on his own journey of healing and freedom. Now, normally I can tune my dad out fairly easily (if you know him, you know he loves to talk). But my ears perked up when he relayed the question he himself was asked:
“Do you know how loved you are?”
That line changes everything. Do any of us? Even if we did, are we able to receive that love and walk in the reality of being loved?? But it didn’t end there.
Follow that up with this zinger, “You actually fear being fully seen and fully known.”
Well dang, I remember thinking. Hell yes I do! If I am fully known, then everyone will know I’m not perfect! Then this balloon of an artfully curated life I’ve achieved on Instagram (for example) will be popped. Everyone will know I’m a fraud. Here’s the thing I’ve come to grips with: we are all frauds to some extent.
Why do we feel the need to answer, “I’m fine?” every time we’re asked how we’re doing? Why do we put on masks of self-assurance when inside we’re getting beat up by insecurity? Why do we constantly spend money on new clothes (we can’t afford)… we do it all to keep up appearances. I don’t think there is a more “cringe-worthy” a phrase to me.
Keeping up appearances. It just sounds like constantly running on a hamster wheel… and all for what? What is so dang appealing about misleading people who genuinely want to care for us?
Funny story that I think relates. At least, it opened my eyes to how subtly this tendency to project an “I’m fine” appearance on others shows up in my life. I was shopping for a few quick groceries for a youth event the other day, and made the clutch mistake of thinking I didn’t need a shopping basket. (Don’t tell me you haven’t been there). There I was, carefully balancing a 12 pack of La Croix, 3 cans of black beans, and a bottle of hot sauce on my arms…(we were having a taco party, obviously) all while holding onto my phone, wallet, and keys. It was a feat for the ages. Important detail: I was already struggling to balance all of this BEFORE I picked up the fizzy waters (v heavy, by the way). As I was trying to lean down and grab them, a friendly sales guy saw my predicament and asked, “Need some help?”
“Nope, I’m all good!”
I responded without even thinking!! The sales guy looked genuinely confused (probably because I obviously was not “all good”). Then I proceeded to awkwardly bend down and add a 12 pack of waters to my cumbersome load, all while the sales rep stared at me in pity. I staggered my way to the checkout and definitely broke a sweat. Overall, it was not a good look. It wasn’t until I got home that night I thought about that moment. It’s a stupid little incident, barely memorable in the grand scheme of things. But it hit me how stubbornly “fine” I am. No matter how I’m really doing, like any true North American… if anyone asks me, “I’m all good.”
We are not all good.
We are all carrying stupidly heavy, awkward loads in life. All of us are processing through transitions, heartbreaks, life-changes, or even victories. Why are we cheapening our life experiences by claiming they are all good? They aren’t! No one is promised a good life, and despite what some of us grappling with faith may believe, that still applies those of us who love God.
Now wait for this profound statement… I have found that real relationship only grows in places of realness! (It sounded a lot more philosophical in my head). Our hearts come alive when we let others see our true selves, and when we actually engage and interact with others who are also being authentic. To further prove my point, and before we address the fact that our reactions to vulnerability corporately kind of suck, lets look at social media. (One of my favorite things to pick apart, and incidentally also my favorite thing to waste time with). There is no perfect person on this earth, and I guarantee you there’s no life that measures up to an edited photo-collage version of it. Here’s my proof.
A couple days ago I was in the gym here on Maui and recognized an “insta famous” couple. (I’m talking a casual 1.4 million followers kind of famous). There they were, slumming it out in the overcrowded 24/hour fitness sweat- shop with the rest of us common folk! Naturally, when I returned home I creeped them on the ‘gram. Imagine my surprise/ delight/ frustration/ annoyance when I watched their “stories.” *For my older generation readers, Stories are simply a way to video/ photograph and share what your life looks like in the present moment.
Or, I assumed, you shared the present moment. I quickly realized that’s not what everyone does. Their “stories” portrayed them boarding airplanes, walking through airports in an exotic destination with their young kids, all under the premise they were “on their way home to Hawaii.” In other words, they were posting delayed videos of what had already happened.
Now I’ve known for a while that social media is distorted. I’m not totally media-illiterate. It claims to showcase real life, yet there is really nothing all too real about it. What hit me was the fact that even these minor celebrities own real lives weren’t good enough for Instagram. Instead of documenting their present reality; working out and settling into their new home (all very normal and average pursuits)… what was shown was specifically curated to appeal to their “traveling” lifestyle aesthetic.
This really rocked me. Again, not because I previously believed Instagram to be all things holy and good and true, but because it was my first time seeing the blatant misrepresentation of truth happening before my very eyes. Yes, I know that people doing social media for their careers must live by their own set of rules in order to make a living out of it… and no I’m not trying to bash this. But I find it intriguing that usually the basis for manipulating truth is fear. We fear that the world will discover all of our little secrets, our “behind the scenes” selves, or our vulnerabilities.
We fear being truly known.
I have never seen it so obviously displayed then when I watched it happen in front of my eyes. What would be so wrong about their 1.4 m followers knowing they were actually already at home? That they had to go to the gym like everyone else and sweat for those bikini bodies? That they likely had childcare helping them out while they live their day-to-day lives? (Since I didn’t spot their super cute, also insta-famous, bleach blonde kiddos running around).
Why are the real behind the scenes covered up? Why do we all feel this all-pervasive need to distort reality?
Can you imagine how powerful you would be if you stopped caring, even just a little less, what everyone thought of you? I was listening to a podcast the other day on body image. One of the lines hit home. Essentially, the statement was made that one of the greatest tools of oppression for women is to have them become preoccupied with their appearance or appearance management.
They posed the question, “What am I going to do with my energy if I’m not so focused on feeling like my appearance is my only way to get my ‘enough-ness’ in this world?”
It was directed at women, but you can easily adjust this statement and make it apply to any number of things without excluding men.
What are we all going to do with our energy if we stop caring so much how we are perceived?
What if we let go of this obsessive need to keep up our appearances (FYI I’m not just talking about your physical appearance. This really steeps into how much energy we put into orchestrating how we are thought of by our friends, peers, co-workers etc.) Do I come off as successful? Social? Flirty? Am I lame if I admit that I enjoy spending time alone? The list goes on and on and on. It’s exhausting. So how do we get off this never-ending hamster wheel?
I think shift needs to happen individually, but also corporately. I was listening to a speaker the other day who put it bluntly, “You can only be truly known in community.”
True community requires intimacy. Vulnerability. Nakedness.
I have also heard it said, “Find your people, find your purpose.”
We really need others. We don’t need people telling us they’re “fine.” We need others telling us how things are going, when they aren’t going ok. But let’s backtrack for a second. When I said true community requires nakedness I felt most of you cringe. Allow me to explain (and sorry not sorry for using so many garden of eden examples) but its literally full of so much insight into our world today. What did Adam and Eve do, after their eyes were opened in their futile attempts to be more like God? (Aka when sin entered the world). They immediately clothed the parts of themselves required for intimacy. They hid themselves. This is important because before sin, they felt no need to hide from intimacy. Before shame entered the world there was no inner voice telling them that they needed to cover up!
So the root of hiding, the root of cowering from intimacy, the root of running away from the very thing our hearts desire… that all stems from sin. It comes from the enemy, and he does a pretty impressive job telling us that hiding is safer. We’ve heard the lies so many times we think it’s the truth. That it’s more impressive to show others your pretty, manicured self than it is to just be honest. But I think we would see a lot more healthy communities if we all started showing up just as we are.
Imagine your friend got into a car accident near where you live. They run into your house, clothes torn, skin bloody, completely in a panic… what would you do? Shame them for walking into your house uncovered? Scold them for dripping blood on your new carpets? No. You would find them a blanket, something to cover them. You would nurse their wounds, clean them up, take care of them and clothe them. You would welcome them in all their brokenness and do your best to help them heal. You’d call others to come help as well.
That’s what coming into the presence of God is. That’s what true community, true church, and right relationship is supposed to look like. We come in humble and naked and we are clothed, not judged. Something has gone wrong along with years of religion and striving. We stopped clothing our community members and started expecting everyone to arrive in black tie apparel. That’s not vulnerable and that’s not real. This doesn’t just apply to the church. It’s an overall mindset shift that’s happened in our culture. We’ve become so image-based that if we encounter people who don’t fit our picture of success or beauty we struggle to engage.
Like I said, I think we need to change. Corporately and individually we need to address the shallowness that has become so socially acceptable. The only way to start a change is with yourself, otherwise we’re all just pointing fingers and casting blame. I know this is something I’m just learning to become more aware of.
What if we all tried to be a little more vulnerable a little more often? Who knows, we may see some big changes.