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December 13, 1996

I Want To Be Known

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We want to be known. By God. By ourselves. By others.
We don’t just want to be known, though. We want to be known AND loved. We want someone to look at us, see who we really are, and not only accept what they see, but to find it pleasing. When we feel this, this twin emotion of vulnerability and embrace, we somehow feel greater than ourselves. We feel a sense of connectedness, of mutual knowledge.
This is the emotion we feel when our child or spouse expresses their love. When the people that know us best, that have seen our worst, love us well it’s like a surge of adrenaline. It give us an unbelievable confidence – that someone who knows us so intimately could still love us so profoundly. What an enormous shot in the arm, to be known by someone else, to feel their love and to live in that reality!
This is what we all desire—to be known, to be loved.
And yet, at the very same time, we also want to revel in our uniqueness—that very thing that we desire others to cherish with unconditional affection. We want to somehow rise above the apparent sameness of the world and be ourselves. So, even though we crave to be known and loved by others, we also thirst for a kind of self-love, that kind of love that sees and celebrates ourselves as unique.
This, however, is where things get dangerous. The forces and influences of the world say, “Be yourself!” And so we do just that…and we glory in it. Therein lies the problem – not in the ‘being’ but in the ‘glorying.’
When we begin to glory in our uniqueness, we unconsciously begin to neglect the outward direction of love’s movement. We drift from the underlying principle that propels those who know us and love us well – the unconditional nature of their love. We begin to love ‘because’ of things. As odd as it may sound, we even begin to love ourselves because of what we have to offer.
When I start believing my own bio or admiring my own resume I begin to drift into a place that is all Steve. Work becomes a great place for me to flex my entrepreneurial muscle. Family becomes a place for me to dominate and be the center of attention. My community becomes a theatre for the Steve Show—what can I do to show others how great I am.
Regardless of how noble my intentions may be, when I start working from a place of, “Hey look at Steve,” I’ve lost the reins on my motives.
In his autobiography, Surprised By Joy, C.S. Lewis tells the story of his early life and his conversion to Christianity. The narrative, which he frames as a pilgrimage, necessary explores the ongoing tension we are discussing, the tension between a love of self and a love that moves. For Lewis the journey to Christianity wasn’t a simple, or quick, one. Rather than simply diving into his faith as a young man, he grapples with it for years, before slowly moving to a place of total devotion. A major part of Lewis’s journey involved his previous belief in an ‘Absolute.’ This absolute was just essentially a concept; there was no person at all, let alone Jesus Christ, attached to it. “This quasi-religion,” writes Lewis, “was all a one-way street, all eros steaming up, but no agape darting down. There was nothing to fear; better still, nothing to obey.”
We often say we desire an agape love, the kind of love that darts down, as Lewis puts it, a kind of love that is defined by the action of sacrifice. In reality, though, we are usually far too comfortable with an eros kind of love; a love that steams up and makes us feel good about ourselves, a love that focuses on us and our feelings and our well-being.
A cozy, feel-good kind of love, however, is neither sustainable nor fulfilling. Life simply does not expand into a constant crescendo of ooey-gooey eros. On the contrary, it dips and rises like the beat of a heart. We need a love that is able to sustain us through these highs and lows, not a love that ignores reality and simply gives us a shot in the arm.

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