As We Are Known




Over the weekend, our family ventured up the mountain to the annual arts and crafts fair held in my husband’s home town.  You might remember that I’ve mentioned this one-stop light community before. It’s the kind of place where you regularly run into friends and neighbors, the kind of place that publishes a weekly paper with the latest quilt guild news and pictures of freshly-named eagle scouts, the kind of place that makes you believe that the simple life is actually still possible.As usual, we ran into a friend or two, exclaimed on how big the children were getting, and caught up on all the family news--who was having babies, how so-and-so’s husband was recovering from his stroke, and affirming that yes, it was wonderful to be so close to home after all those years away. This last weekend also marked Homecoming Sunday at the church my husband pastors. And while most of those faces were new to us, for everyone else, it was a family reunion of sorts, a time of reliving old memories and making new ones.

There’s something about small towns and small churches. They offer us a sense of security--the security of being known, of not having to lay out the pieces of who you are, of knowingly exactly where you fit in the puzzle of human relationship. You’re the accountant or the librarian. You’re Jack’s mother and Bill’s daughter. You’re the girl who won the high school tennis tournament ten years ago. And somehow, knowing your place in all this inter-connectedness seems to make life more manageable.

One of my favorite authors, Alexander McCall Smith, describes this phenomenon as it plays out in a quiet Scottish village:

It was a Scotland of quiet manners and reserved friendliness, a Scotland in which nothing much happened, where lives were lived unadventurously and sometimes narrowly to the grave. The lives of such people could be read in the local kirkyard, their loyalty and their persistence etched into granite: Thomas Anderson, Farmer of East Mains, Beloved Husband of fifty-two years of…. and so on. These were people with place, wed to the very ground in which they would eventually be placed. The urban dead were reduced to ashes, disposed of, leaving no markers, and then forgotten; memory here was longer and gave the illusion that we counted for more. It was a simply matter of identity, thought Isabel. If people do not know who we are, then naturally we are less to them. Here, in this village, everybody would know who the other was, which made the crucial difference. (Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, 230.)

And yet, this need to be known is so fundamental to our humanity that even in big cities—those havens of anonymity and obscurity—we still find a way to carve out our own micro-communities. NYC has Greenwich Village, SoHo, and Little Italy. San Francisco has Chinatown, and London has Notting Hill. All in an attempt to give ourselves a sense of continuity and identity, a place where we can be known and we can know others.

And really, this is the way it must be. We are people made in the image of an omniscient, relational God—so why should it surprise us that a significant part of our souls cannot be at peace unless we are known as individuals?  Why should it surprise us that the children of an all-knowing God must, not only know, but be known?

I was thinking the other day about how many of us struggle through this particular challenge of identity, specifically in wanting others to know us as individuals, to embrace us for who we really are, not simply who we project ourselves to be. Listen to the conversation among my generation and you’ll quickly hear words like “community” and “transparency” and “honesty.” We are desperate for others to know who we are. And yet, at the same time, we dare not risk them finding out--we dare not risk revealing our deepest secrets unless they reject us altogether.

This is why ultimately only He can fulfill of our need to be known. Only the One who already knows us, right down to the very hairs on our head. Only the One who has known us since our first moments of existence. Only the One who will know us to the end of our days.  Because only this One--only He--knows us completely, and yet still loves us unconditionally.

And suddenly, in the words of Alexander McCall-Smith, “we count for more.” And when we do, our small, quiet, individual lives are invested with significance and purpose and meaning. We are known and we are loved. And this is what makes all the difference.