The small room was almost full, but it could have been an amphitheater of thousands, I felt so unseen, so insignificant. The meeting began, and I listened to the volley of ideas. It was like a game of Double Dutch, and the voices slapped the floor while I watched for an entrance. Then, the uncomfortable moment when we split into breakout groups; not one woman asked my name, no one moved a purse or bag as an invitation to sit together. I left the evening an hour later unseen, and more sadly, unknown.
Haven’t we all been there? Back in the gym lineup waiting to be picked. Hoping to be called on in a group. Praying to be invited to the table at lunch. Wanting to be known. I have known it, and in my darkest hours, desired it most. It is the heart of us all: to be known.
I am comforted to feel known and loved by God. “But you, O Lord, know me; you see me, and test my heart toward you” (Jeremiah 12:3). He promises, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27) and Luke writes, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” I have felt God’s deep love for me and understanding of me. In some dark moments, I felt only His love and understanding carrying me through.
But we are relational people. We crave understanding. We engage in dialogue, write blogs and op-eds hoping to share our deepest thoughts, to be heard and understood, meet for dinner or coffee just to chat. And when we feel alone, misunderstood, ignored, we wonder how to connect. I have been there at points in my journey, and I have made it a mission to know others. In knowing others, I become known. In investing in relationships, I gain understanding and empathy, compassion and care. I believe that knowing others is how I show God’s love and devotion, how I become His hands and feet. I don’t want to be part of any group that does not aim to know people in an authentic way, to meet needs and carry burdens, to love through understanding, not ignorance.
It is also why I question groups or events or ideas that forget about people. If God has made His priority to love me by knowing me intimately and wholly, I can only know to reflect Him in that same endeavor. Knowing people, and allowing ourselves to be known, is messy, time-consuming, and sometimes disappointing. It requires risk, on both sides. To be known, I have to be honest; I have to tell my story unflinchingly; I have to trust broadly, with hope rather than fear. To know others, I have to be willing to take late-night phone calls, to reserve judgment, to bear burdens that are not my own. It is of little surprise that we are so averse to the reality of it, in spite of the beauty of the thought of it.
But I am not one to flinch from a challenge or shrink from a command. I am confident in this: I have felt unknown, and it felt much like being unloved. Had I not known the love and acceptance of Christ, I would have felt fully the despair of being alone in my struggle. As part of the Church collective, I cannot fail to reveal this love through my efforts to know and love others. God commands us to, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). He reminds us to “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). I am early on in my true endeavor to do this actively and purposefully, but I am confident that it is a step toward knowing and being known, and that in doing it, I am closer to finding the heart of God, who promised to know each of us so fully that we would understand the depth of His love for us.