Being Known

By Gwen Sellers

My pastor has been talking about Romans 12, and his sermon on Romans 12:9-21, Paul's multi-point instructions for Christian living, gave me some things to add to my previous thoughts about knowing and being known.

Paul writes, in part, "Let love be genuine. [...] Love one another with brotherly affection. [...] Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. [...] Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight" (Romans 12:9-16).

The first thing to notice is that our love for one another is to be genuine. We don't show interest in the life of another out of duty or for the sake of performance. To truly know someone, it must come from the heart. It is a brotherly affection.

When we do know others, we know their needs and can contribute to them. Obviously we can know about some needs without really knowing someone, but when we take the time to relate on a heart level, we'll be made aware of the deeper needs. In her book Lifegiving, Tammy Maltby talks about hospitality as being different from throwing a great party, providing a delicious meal, or even having a fabulous guest room. It isn't about having the magazine image or doing the society thing. Hospitality can be expressed in those things. But in its truest sense, hospitality is about giving life to someone else; it's about providing an open heart. Hospitality is about making people feel welcomed and at home. When I think of "home," I think of feeling known and accepted. It is a place where I can be fully myself, and where others know and love that self. I can seek to show hospitality to others by seeking to make their heart feel safe and welcomed in my presence.

My pastor talked about saying more when we rejoice with those who are rejoicing and saying less when we are mourning with those who mourn. He was talking about truly entering in to their experience with them instead of downplaying their joy out of jealousy or giving advice in their mourning to make ourselves feel better. Fully entering in to the life experience of another is what it means to know and be known. We are living real life with others, truly happy for them or truly hurting with them. The reason we can do this is because of our security in God. We aren't in a competition to be loved or accepted; we have been given salvation and life in Jesus (Ephesians 1:3-14; Galatians 4:4-7). We also aren't living in fear that life will overcome us; we know that Jesus has overcome and we are victorious in Him (John 16:33). When we have that perspective, it becomes much easier to fully rejoice in the blessings others receive, and to genuinely listen to and sit with them in their pain. This trust also relates to living in harmony with others and associating with the lowly. We don't have to compete or maintain a social status. There is no need for veneer or keeping up a particular profile. We are released to know and be known because in Christ we are of inestimable worth. We can give ourselves to another — both in the effort it takes to know them and in the vulnerability it requires to be known by them — because we are ultimately held in God.

Again, what I come back to is that God knows me fully and completely...AND...He loves me fully and completely. All those shame things that make me want to hide, God knows even more intimately than I do. He covered them with Jesus' blood and made me white as snow. He invites me into a new life. When I am secure in that, why wouldn't I want to relate fully with others? There is no need to hide. I can risk my heart in relationship because God is my Protector. There is no need to come across as better than another, because God has already affirmed my worth. I am also freed to gain life from relationship because I understand that only God fills my deepest of longings. Other people will disappoint me, but they will also meet the need for companionship with which God created me. It is because of God that I can also lay down my selfishness and my own self-interest and get to truly know someone else. I can pour out without needing something back because my ultimate Source is God.

Coming back to Romans, Romans 12:16 reminds me that I shouldn't be wise in my own sight. I don't need to have all the answers in life, be the one who always gives assistance and never has a need, or dominate in conversation. I can — and do — learn a great deal from other people. When I am humble, I am not so concerned with myself that I cannot see the other. Not being wise in my own sight means I'm open to know others and to allow them to know me. It means I am willing to live life with them in tandem, on equal playing ground, rather than in competition.

So what does knowing someone look like practically? For me, it looks like spending time together and a lot of conversation. Spending time together is fairly self-explanatory and also quite unique to the people involved in the relationship. But conversation can be a little trickier. I was talking with a coworker the other day about conversations with family. She reminded me of the importance of engaging with the other person where he is. It's the art of open-ended questions. It is also recognizing the difference between conversations intended to get to know another person and verbal exchanges of information. But don't be fooled, conversations meant to get to know another are not always — or even mostly — especially deep. I ran across a blog that talks about the importance of ordinary conversation for pastoral ministry. It reminded me that conversations do not always need to hold particular weight and meaning. To know someone, and to be known by someone, is to share in the daily things of life. It is to talk about our work day and grocery shopping and favorite TV shows and weekend plans and the like. It is also to talk about matters of theology, social issues, things that interest our minds and hearts. It is also to talk about desires for the future, unmet longings, past wounds and the healing process, hopes and dreams, sin struggles, faith victories, etc. It's all of it. The desire to be known encompasses our whole lives, not just the inmost parts of our being.* Knowing others practically speaking involves being open to and eager to hear what they have to say. It means being willing to spend time with them. It is engaging with them where they are. It is living real life in the real world with real people, with a humble heart that is also continually seeking after God and resting in His knowledge of and love for me.

*As you may now have come to expect with me, an important note about boundaries. The desire to know and be known is universal, and we are called to love people regardless of status. But the agape love to which we are called does not require an intimate knowing and being known. Boundaries are healthy and good. The level of intimacy in our knowing and being known varies dependent upon the relationship. We even see this with Jesus' interactions with people in the New Testament. We can entrust ourselves to God and seek His guidance on how to relate well with one another.

Image Credit: Kmeron; "Diner @ Paris-7058"; Creative Commons

TagsChristian-Life Personal-Life Personal-Relationships

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Published on 6-22-15