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.