Fully loved and fully known

People often think I look younger than I am. In fact, every time I find myself in a high school, I get mistaken for a student. Seriously. Every time. And people say that I should be happy about this. And that I'll miss it one day. Which is probably true. And I'm not complaining, but sometimes I just wish that when people see me, they actually see me…you know?

I'm sure lots of us — maybe all of us — have those kinds of moments in life. Those moments where who we are and where we've been simply cannot be contained within the box people see us in. And no matter how much we explain it and push our way out of the confines of assumptions, there's just no way for people to truly know the depths of who we are and what we've experienced…especially if they weren't there. The thing is, even though it happens all the time, even though it's a part of life, it's kind of a big deal. Because, all too often, how people see us and respond to us affects how we see ourselves and who we become.

I know it's not rocket science, but it's a crazy thing how relationships shape our identity. It's like we were made to be loved, and to be loved, is to be known. I've moved a lot. And if you've ever moved, or lost important relationships in your life, you know that when certain people aren't around anymore, it's not even like you just miss those people. You miss who you were when you were with those people. You miss the experiences that only those people were witnesses to. You miss a part of yourself.

So here I am, 32 years old. And like anyone, I've done things, and seen things, and loved people. I've seen God move and change me and my circumstances. Yet, where are the witnesses? Who in my everyday life can remember with me, and remind me who I was and who I am today? It almost feels like it never happened….like it's just gone. It feels like such a loss. It's so easy to define our reality through whatever is right in front of us, and through the eyes of what others see. Then we often get overly concerned about our image or reputation. We try to create evidence to prove who we already know we are. And when we feel misunderstood or unseen, we question ourselves and wonder what's really true.

It's pretty tiring, actually.

Yet the Bible even tells us that all of this is a losing battle. Not that human relationships aren't valuable and important, but that no matter how much others know us, people will always see dimly and can only know in part — that until eternity, only to God are we fully known (1 Cor. 13:12). So no matter how hard we try to establish our identity upon the opinions of others or upon our own understanding, it is never a complete picture of who we are. The One who brought us up from our mother's womb (Ps. 71:6), who writes each one of our days in His book (Ps. 139:16) and records every tear on His scroll (Ps. 56:8), is the only One who can make us feel fully known and wholly embraced…the one thing so many of us are looking for.

In all my ponderings, there I was last night, rummaging through old papers and photos, when I came across a bunch of letters from former students in years past. And in that moment, I felt so much love for these children I haven't even thought about in months, as I remembered who I was to them and who they were to me. It reminded me that even our own memories cannot be trusted to contain all that we are and all that we've encountered in our lives. The world wants us to define who we are on our own, but I humbly confess that I'd rather give that job to God — the One who sees the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10), who with eyes of perfect love looks on us and sees us for all we are and were meant to be.

Praise God that He was there when no one else around me was. Praise God that He sees in me more than what others see and more than what I see in myself. Praise God that in Him we are fully loved, which means, in Him, we are fully known.

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Picking up the broken pieces of disappointment (and saving them for later)

When I first started grad school about two years ago now, I am telling you, I was so revved up.  After a seven-year hiatus from school, I was excited to be in the classroom again, learning and growing, maybe in more challenging ways than ever before.  I was excited to build these natural relationships with classmates and professors – especially in a program as small as ours (and with a bunch of people who are also passionate about relationships!).  I was excited to explore this new field that was all about helping people bring healing and restoration to their lives and families.

But now, with my cap and gown tucked away in my closet and job applications looming before me…I can’t help but feel a lot of disappointment and disillusionment with how everything has ended up thus far.

For whatever reason, it seems like in every area – academically, socially, professionally – things have simply not been what I had hoped they’d be.  And though I’ve met some stellar therapists and so many genuine, caring people in our field, I’ve also come face to face with more unprofessionalism, arrogance, and inauthenticity than I had ever planned to see so early on.  Sometimes the people who, on one level, passionately advocate for the hurting and marginalized, are the same people who, in other areas of life, are contributing to the very systems that perpetuate those things.  And sometimes it seems like helping others through therapy has just as much become a means to self-promotion and power as any other profession we know.

So as I’ve begun to process all of this, I’ve had to ask myself some really hard questions

Is this the kind of work I want to pour my heart and life into?  Does what we do really bring about lasting change in people and communities?  Will I be able to find my place in this profession, in a way that is meaningful and that truly impacts lives?

And though I don’t fully understand why things have happened the way they have, when I’ve finally had a quiet moment alone to reflect, and to remember what’s true, I know in my heart that the answer to all of these questions…is a resounding “yes.”

I know that every part of my journey and my heart longs to see redemption and restoration in the lives around us.  I know that, while there’s a lot of stuff in psychology we can filter out, there is also something important about this work we do, something valuable about making people seen, known, heard, and accepted.  I know there’s something so very beautiful about giving attention to the broken places in our stories, that they might become the places of strength, resilience, and inspiration.  And I know, this is what I want to be a part of.

A few days ago, as I was wrestling with such thoughts as these, I came across a familiar passage in the Bible – the one about Jesus feeding the 5,000.  But this one part that I never really noticed before struck a chord with me.  Jesus had just provided miraculously for the crowd by feeding them an abundant feast out of a few meager loaves and fishes.  In fact, after everyone had eaten, there were even baskets full of leftovers.  So, what does this God say, who with no trouble at all, can create something out of nothing?

He tells His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.”

Sometimes God provides us with more resources, more passion or hope, more gifts than we can use at the time.  And while to us, it may seem like a waste, or a disappointment, God already has in mind how these “leftovers” might be used in the future.

Who knows how our broken pieces of disappointment or unmet hopes may be the seeds of something else – something wonderful, something redemptive, something that is important and worthwhile…something God is stirring within and bringing forth at the appointed time. Maybe through some of these discouraging experiences I’ve had, He’s directing my passions and preparing me for places and opportunities I would have never expected.  Maybe it’s just not time to put to use all of the riches of His abundant provision.

I don’t know what your journey has looked like thus far, or what disappointments have arisen out of your life and circumstances, but whatever dreams, longings, or gifts remain unused, may you rest in the joy of knowing that they have been gathered up and treasured…that in the end, no thing that comes from God’s hand may be lost.

 

The Gospel Truth: Maybe cliches aren’t so bad after all

One of the things we talk about in psychology is how simply listening can be healing.  And I think we all know this from our own lives and relationships.  When I am hurting, hearing words of wisdom or similar life experiences can be helpful, but it’s really a person’s wholehearted presence that brings comfort and hope.  I want to feel seen, understood, accepted and loved.

Somehow, though, over the years (I’m not that old, so I’m not sure how many years, haha), it seems like we have become so consumed by the need to be fully understood and not judged, that we are quick to dismiss any kind of wisdom or advice offered.  All of a sudden, people have to “measure up” to these invisible standards and earn the right to speak truth into our lives.  If there’s something we don’t like about the person, or if we know of an area in their life that is not up to par, or if they say something we already knew, we feel offended by their attempts to impart wisdom to us.

Maybe this is not you, but I know in my heart, this has definitely been me.  And I think it reflects our culture these days…our obsession with tearing down any and all authorities, and with preserving our own rights, autonomy, and confidence in ourselves.  I am my own expert, and I know what’s best for me.  My experience and my feelings are not only valid, they define truth for me.  Even within the Church, these ideas have subtly become a part of our thinking.

But the thing is, the Gospel is different.  Jesus is different.  Jesus says that He is the way, the Truth, and the life.  Jesus is the same —  yesterday, today, and forever.  We believe in a Truth that transcends culture, life experiences, and even our own feelings and perspectives.  It’s not that these things don’t matter, but that they themselves cannot encompass the full measure of Truth.  And we believe in a Truth that does not discriminate; it can be found on the lips of the broken, the poor, the mighty and the weak. No matter what packaging it comes in, truth is still truth.

And if I am totally honest with myself, this is exactly the kind of Truth I need.  I need a Truth that is bigger than my circumstances.  I need a Truth that holds me steady when everything else is confusing, and blurry, and inconsistent.  I need a Truth that doesn’t rely on me, that is the same with or without me.  I need a Truth that is so simple, it takes childlike faith to receive it.

So bring it on.  Bring on the cliches, the simple Gospel truths that I have come to love. God, help me to have an unoffended heart that cares more about what You are trying to say than about who is saying it.  When I offer truth to others, I want to be one who listens first and seeks to understand.  And when others share with me, may I be one who tests everything and holds onto the good, who humbles myself enough to listen and receive Truth wherever it may be found.