Invisible Strangers

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Do you ever walk right by an acquaintance and feel like you’re invisible to them? Or sometimes someone may ask you where you’ve been, if you go to church or a Bible study meeting for the first time in a while; and you may think to yourself, “Well if you’ve got about 5 hours I can begin to tell you where I’ve been.”

We often feel like invisible strangers to those around us, to ourselves, and may even feel invisible to God.  It’s the mother who goes to a party, looks real pretty and perky, but nobody except hopefully her husband knows she’s been up three nights in a row with a sick child. It’s the preacher who looks full of joy on Sunday morning but feels profoundly lonely because nobody knows he had a devastating, unresolved argument with his wife last night. It was Jesus, his deity and power hidden from the crowd, spit on, lashed to the bone, laughed at by politicians, deserted by followers, dying for people some of whom would reject him.

We want to be seen, to be known. But even in our homes and churches, those who live with us day in and day out often know only a part of who we are. How many men have I heard in my office say that they feel like their family only knows them as a paycheck provider? How many women have I handed a box of tissue as tears stream down their face because they have only been known as pretty, nice eye candy on their husband’s arm, and they don’t feel the beauty of their soul is known or loved? How many children want desperately to be heard as a significant part of the family, but feel they are to be “seen and not heard?”

But then we are also terrified to be fully known. The fear of intimacy, to use a bit of psychobabble, that infects many marriages is not a fear of sexual intimacy, although that can be a part of this fear. It is a fear of being deeply known in all our hopes and fears, all our childlike dreams and flights of fancy, all the yearnings of our heart and the pain in our disappointments and drudgery. It is above all the fear that if we are fully known, we will not be loved.

And so we hide. We hide behind a curtain of bravado, behind Armani clothes or athletic prowess, we scurry behind a replacement of intimacy with promiscuity, we hide in money or alcohol or good jobs or violence or theft. We create literally hundreds of hiding places where who we really are can not be seen. We become invisible strangers.

And we are so terribly lonely.

For we are repeating the construction of Eden’s fig leaves to hide us in our shame. Hoping that even God, even husbands and wives and friends will not see who we really are.

In Jesus Christ, we are known. And we are loved. Just as we are, having all the parts of our lives we would hide transformed into the glory of the beloved of God. God says through Isaiah, “Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice…. As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice in you” (Isa. 61:7, 62:5).

Jesus was thirsty when he met the woman by the well in Samaria (John 4). In the course of events, Jesus made the woman aware that he knew her, he really knew her. It was that intimate knowledge of this woman, with no shame and only an invitation to, in return, know who Jesus really is. And in that shared knowledge of each other, that Samaritan woman spread the news that “…this man really is the Savior of the world” (John 4: 42). For salvation can only come, only come in the process of being seen and known as we are and loved as we are. In such a way that our lives can never be the same again. For, as hymn writer Isaac Watts says, “…love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”

We can be, if we will, like the Samaritan woman, people who boldly allow ourselves to be known and loved and who in turn know and love others. It can be terrifying, because remnants of our shame remain for all of us. But it is so badly needed, because we need so deeply to know we are loved even in the shameful parts of our lives.

And when it happens–in a marriage, a friendship, a small group, a family–that we are known and loved, and know and love in return, when that really happens, we are no longer invisible strangers. We are the beloved of God.