This season of our life involves a lot of travel, which means much more time in airports than I have ever experienced. They are so interesting, and oddly the same no matter where in the world they happen to be. The big airport in Houston looks so much like the one in Chicago, or New York, or London, or Nairobi, or Dubai. There are restaurants and shops, and endless streams of people shuffling in and out of lines and gates and airplanes. The bright, florescent lights are always on, day or night; muffled announcements which no one can understand play around the clock. Though there are many hundreds, even thousands, of people all around you, almost no one speaks to one another. Each person or family keeps to themselves, and makes getting on that plane their goal. Being in such a place causes such a strange sensation of aloneness and anonymity.
How refreshing it is to get somewhere, and to see people that you know and love! It is so gratifying to have a beloved family member or friend give a smile or a hug or a “how are you?” It doesn’t matter how often we have to go; getting to the place where we are known is such a wonderful feeling, every single time.
Yes, this betrays the fact that I am (not so) secretly a Hobbit, and love my home and hearth. But it reminds me of a deep truth - each of us desperately longs to be known.
The deep-seated anguish of our generation stems from a crisis of identity. So many express feelings of loneliness and emptiness, feeling untethered and adrift emotionally and relationally. People of all ages are reaching for something, anything to make them feel a sense of purpose and belonging.
It is difficult to say if this problem is new - we only know for certain what we actually experience in our own lifetime. Perhaps every generation before us has struggled with the same disconnect. But we do know that modern additions to the problem certainly include more broken families, more people changing location frequently for work, and less connection with local institutions including the church.
This day of social media adds in a further confusion: it is too easy to conflate being known with just being seen. I actually love seeing updates from family and friends - I do think there are some wonderful things about the limited connectedness social media affords. But the whole system does feed into a nagging feeling that somehow I am not measuring up to everyone else. The compulsion to constantly check in, and to be constantly doing something worthy of sharing adds to a disconnect from real, right-now living. Someone said never has life been more highly chronicled and less lived. It turns out that being seen is not at all the same as being known.
Arguably worse is the misguided idea that being recognized is the cure for feeling disconnected and unknown. This can lead to many dangerous places as people seek more and more outrageous reasons to be noteworthy, not realizing that fame, notoriety, acclaim, renown, or whatever word you call it, is fleeting at best and a deadly poison at worst. The culture feeds into the idea that every person must be the best or the most in some way. We are tempted to look for titles or accolades or attention for being the very best_________, or the most interesting___________, or the wildest ___________. Many are even succumbing to the great pressure all around to question everything about their very minds, bodies, and identities, and to do something shocking to achieve recognition. It is difficult to remain untouched and unaffected by such a zeitgeist, but even worldwide recognition cannot satisfy the deep longing to be known.
We long to be loved, and we long to be significant. Little children, teenagers, young men and women, all the way to the most aged senior can experience the pang of wondering if anyone out there really cares or even knows that they exist. It doesn’t matter whether a person lives in a palace or a slum, or whether they are married or single; everyone wonders does anyone see, does anyone care, does anyone know?
God Himself has put that deep longing within our hearts. We are hard-wired for relationship. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have enjoyed perfect fellowship and love for all time, and each of us were lovingly and purposefully created to share in this deep fellowship with God and one another forever. Many of us know the beauty of being part of a healthy community, whether it be a family or a church or a campus group. We really need one another to grow and mature spiritually. This good fellowship is rich and healthy, and is so much more fulfilling than just about anything the world can offer. Sadly, though, we can look to community for more than it can ever deliver. When we look for others to give constant affirmation and acceptance, it can become unhealthy so quickly. Even wonderful community with other people cannot satisfy the deepest longing in our hearts.
The only One who can truly know us is the same One who made us.
George MacDonald wisely noted that loneliness and longing are often signs that God is calling us to Himself. We can look for significance and fulfillment through great things like relationships and work and Christian service, but none of these things can give us what only God is able to give: a deep sense of belonging, a heart full of peace and fulfillment, a mind filled with truth and reality, and a life of gratitude and contentment.
Turn to God, the One who knows you. Revisit and meditate on the powerful words of scripture that recount how deeply significant each of us is to the Lord of All…
You have searched me, LORD,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, LORD, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
- Psalm 139:1-17
When we find our fulfillment in God, we can think rightly about ourselves and others. When we look to Jesus for our hope and peace, we can face the cares of each day with courage and confidence. When we first turn to the Lord, and find our significance in and through Him, the rest of life makes sense. You are deeply and completely known by our gracious Creator - may His presence be so real and near to you this week!
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)
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