Growing up in church I found myself a young person being encouraged to know God, but for some reason I found myself floundering in my faith for a decade wondering why I was always struggling? Why did rejection and shame seem to get the upper hand in my mind regardless of how much I tried to “know him”.
In the past few years I have discovered greater freedom by switching my focus from just merely knowing God to allowing myself to be known BY Him. Allow me to explain the difference.
Knowing God: A focus not only being right about him – but getting everything right to please him. For me, this focused my life much on “should’s”: I should go to church, I should pray more…. These should’s ironically only led me further away from God while I drowned in shame. I chose to run from him because I clearly couldn’t get this faith thing down good enough. How could I face him?
My striving to know God became an obsession with believing the right things and held a strong emphasis over my behaviour. The outer appearance of how I was doing was of utmost importance driving my approval-addict to go into overdrive. I became so fixed on truth and getting it right that there was no room for grace for myself or others inside or outside of my belief system. When someone messed up, I believed it was because they didn’t know God enough. When I faced my own failure, I sank into two years of distance from God. Clearly I didn’t know him enough either and felt He could feel nothing but great disappointment with me.
Shame was a large motivator in my faith.
Shame is crafty. We all know about Adam, Eve and the fruit. The serpent tempts Eve with the fruit, she eats, Adam eats and now we’re all screwed, right? That’s not the whole story. Notice what the serpent says to her: “Did God really say?…” Do you see what he’s doing here? He’s using shame to whisper doubt to her about her relationship with God, and her value. He makes her think God is keeping something from her which makes her question not God himself, but what she believed about their relationship. Maybe he wasn’t as close as he said he was? Note, she didn’t think about talking about this with God himself who she had access to. No, she chose to go this alone, independantly away from him, focusing on what she knew about him. She would reason this out herself. Shame always seeks to isolate us and break us from connection from him.
The only way to break shame is through face to face relationship, allowing ourselves to be known, not through hiding.
When Adam and Eve ate the fruit they were not supposed to from the garden, their minds instantly became aware of shame. Shame revealed to them they were naked. What was God’s response? Was it, “You FOOLS!” or “How could you have done this?”. No, His response was “Where are you?” He knew exactly where they were externally. His question was intentionally directed to “Where are you” internally. Where did their connection go? Here lies God’s heart for us to be known BY Him instead of striving on our own. His heart is always to restore the relationship, not reprimand behaviour. He was saying; “Why are you running? Don’t hide from me, come to Me and allow yourself to be seen, even in your mess”.
Allowing ourselves to be seen by God may be the bravest thing we will ever do. It means coming to the light and allowing Him to peer into every crevace of our soul that has attempted to look good, as well as the parts we have not yet tried to redeem, or the parts we have chosen to ignore. Standing before Him in our nakedness, allowing Him to gaze right into our eyes despite whether we feel we’ve had time to fix ourself up for Him. Coming to Him as is; imperfect, incomplete, broken, hurt, angry, confused, addicted, bitter and inviting Him INTO all of it.
Why do we find this so hard? Because we’ve become experts at self redemption. We want to fix our issues and then present ourselves to God confident that He will accept the great job we have done with our clean up job. The problem is that in our attempts for perfection lies the greatest imperfection. The root: shame and fear of BEING KNOWN. The great deception is that we can save ourselves. We need to understand that sin isn’t “being bad”, it’s missing the mark; it’s rooted in all our attempts at saving ourselves. From focus on building our own kingdoms, to doing this in the name of “being a good person”, to drinking ourselves to forget our misery. All of it comes from the same root – but it all has the invitation to come to the light and take a tall, cold drink from Him. A drink that we’ve truly thirsted for.
Faith is not about being right, it’s about being known.
Jesus did not come to make bad people good, but to make what is dead in us come alive. Jesus is God’s answer to “Where are you?”. In Christ we find out who we are and what we are living for. He becomes our author, our definition. A faith rooted in ourselves will always struggle with personal worth and calling, but a faith that is based on allowing God to cover our lack, remove our shame and fear and make us whole is a faith that makes one truly brave. It’s where we allow ourselves to be found.
When Jesus rose from the dead, he broke shame’s grip and restored connection with God. Down went religion, knowing the “rules”, knowing about God to actually being invited to be a part of him. Jesus removed every obstacle for us to see that for all our efforts to strive to know him, he removed it all through Jesus to reveal he’s been seeking us the whole time.
Jesus doesn’t want you to invite Him into your life – He is inviting you into his. It is Christ, not religion that restores us. We focus our thoughts on how we feel in God’s presence, but have we thought about how He feels in ours? Jesus takes the concept of “seek Him with all your heart and you will be found by Him” one step further. GOD SEEKS YOU. He pursues you. He comes and prepares a table for you to come and find Him and rest for your weary soul.
What is the secret? What is the key? Have faith to just receive. That’s it. Allow yourself to be seen, be known by the One who already knows you. Almost seems to good to be true, but that is the gospel: Cease striving and know that he is God. Lean back and surrender to grace.
I will close with an illustration from something I learned through our son’s psychologist. When our son with special needs would scream, hit, or be out of control we would send him to his room to “get it together”. When he was ready to be a good boy he could come out and join the family. This is the way I was raised. She, however, told us that we were breaking connection with him – the one thing that could bring healing to his troubled mind. She said instead of sending him away, we were to bring him closer in those moments and tell him nothing would break our connection with him. The reality of “being known” by God became real to me through this. God doesn’t send us “to our rooms” to get it together. He holds us right there in our mess; when we’re hurling profanities, kicking and screaming. He will never break connection with us, and just as my arms would soften my son’s rage, His arms break the ground of our hardened heart. The warmth of His arms allows us to be brave to sink in and surrender to his embrace once again.
Being known by God. Take a breathe and allow yourself to be seen. May you be found in Him once again.