As I’ve walked with individuals from various stages and seasons of life, there seems to be a common desire to be known and to be loved. Each person desires to be accepted as they are without having to put up a front to hide what they might deem as the ugly parts of themselves.
I also desire this—the ability to be real and to have others wrap their arms around me and say, “I love you.” It’s something I long for and, while you’re uniquely wired to receive love in a different way than I am, I bet you long for it too.
Why We Choose Not to Be Known
But something else that’s interesting is that a lot of us are also afraid of being seen. We won’t take the emotional mask off long enough to let others in. Why? Well, vulnerability is scary because, in it, we are risking people rejecting us if we no longer fit the mold of what they liked about us or felt comfortable with. For many of us, vulnerability leads to lingering questions such, “what if they think I’m a failure”, “what if they think I’m ‘damaged goods’”, “what if they think I’m just too much for them to handle”. . .etc. Underneath those questions are fears, shame, and lies about our identity. For many of us, this can cause us to feel that it’s safer to not be fully known. As a result, we live our lives feeling misunderstood, unlovable, fearful, and missed.
Unfortunately, this also tells us quite a bit about how we relate to God. In the book A Small Book about Why We Hide, Ed Welch says,
“. . .our human relationships reveal details of our relationship with God. If you hide before other people, you will hide before God. If you are not open with God, you are not open with other people.”
This may not always be the case, but when we step back and evaluate this it seems to be pretty revealing about the walls, guards, or masks we put up as barriers to allowing God and others to see who we really are.
The Innate Desire to Be Loved
I believe this desire to be known and loved is innate for all of us—even with the difference in what it looks like. God intentionally created us to crave being known and loved because it points us back to him, our maker. He knows us more intimately than anyone ever could—from our childhood dreams to the darkest regrets. He looks at us and says, “I know You and I want you to come to me.”
Psalm 139 reminds me of this. This is no surface level knowing—this is the deepest knowing possible:
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. . .Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there (Psalm 139:1-8).
How to Break Down the Barriers: 4 Tips
So how do we move toward taking these barriers down? How do we step into the vulnerability of close relational connection with God and others? That’s a big question and one that can look a little different for all of us. But there are four general steps that can help:
1. Try identifying what it is that you are trying to hide and, to a certain extent, understanding where that fear comes from
Some helpful questions to ask yourself could be:
- “What is it that I don’t want people to see or know about me? Why?”
- “What is keeping me from pouring my heart out to my Savior?”
- “What are my deepest desires?”
- “What do I fear the most?”
- “What am I gaining from continuing to hide?”
These questions help us take a deeper look into our hearts and know ourselves better. This builds an awareness that, when recognized, can help point us to our great need for Jesus and community.
2. Pray these things to the Lord
Take these fears to God—silently, out loud, or written down in a journal. Pour out your heart to him (Psalm 62:8). This will help you truly know that he is with you (Isa. 41) and that you are not alone. It’s a practical picture of what it can look like to lean into God, our refuge. Yes, God already knows your story, but it can be sweet when we purposely invite him in and share our hearts and story with him.
3. As you read Scripture, be on the lookout for how God reminds you that he sees you and knows you
I’m always reminded of this when I read the story of Hagar in Genesis 16. As you read the Bible, ask the Lord to help open your eyes to how intimately he is involved and working in our lives just as he was in the life of Hagar.
4. Get involved in a community at church or with fellow believers
Being known starts with building relationships. So, try getting to know people—doing activities together, sharing a meal or a cup of coffee, and having intentional conversations. Take a step and practice vulnerability by sharing pieces of your story (it’s okay to take it slow). As you do, be intentional about asking specific questions of the other individual as well; it’s not just about how to be seen, but how to see those God has placed in our paths.
Ask people how you can be specifically praying for them, and then stop and pray with them if you are able.
Knowing You are Loved
These four steps are not a perfect formula. The song “Arithmetic” by Brooke Fraser is a helpful reminder of that. As the song explains, our relationship with God is not a math equation. Rather, it is a journey and a story of the Lord pursuing our wayward hearts.
We can all grow in learning how to be transparent with God and others and we cannot do it on our own. We need to pray to the Lord for his help to continue turning to him without walls and know how to engage in authentic community where together we link arms and look to Jesus.