Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Almost a year ago now, when I was moving into the house in which I am currently living, one of my roommates had a friend come and help her move.  I'd never met this person before, so we knew absolutely nothing about one another except for what our mutual friend had told us.  My roommate told me that while they were sorting through stuff, her friend came across a side table I had placed in the living room.  Not knowing whose it was or if it needed to be "unpacked," she opened up the drawer to the table and discovered two cat figurines that my grandmother had given me years ago.  She told my roommate, "Wow.  So this Ruth person must REALLY like cats."

Thus, before this lady ever met me, she already had ideas about who she thought I was.  And over the course of several months, after she had actually met me, my roommate's friend made a couple comments to me about how much I liked cats.

And I do like cats (though not nearly as much as she assumed--and certainly not enough for that to be the sum of  my entire identity), but it was extremely frustrating to me for this stranger to have already decided who I was before she ever met me, especially based on a couple of cat figurines I had forgotten in a drawer.

Maybe it's the way I feel I have to be honest about everything, but I don't like it when people think they know me and really don't.  Back in college, I remember being on a ministry team where the leader thought he had me figured out really early on.  I'm quiet around strangers, and it takes me a while to get used to new situations.  But when I was ready to really start getting involved in the ministry team, I found that I couldn't.  I'd already been labeled as, more or less, dead weight.  I offered my talents, but had no opportunity to use them, because the other people on the team thought they had me figured out.  And they wouldn't give me a chance to move beyond their ideas of me.  So, after struggling with that for a few weeks and praying through it, I quit the team. 

And since then, I really haven't liked it when people have incorrect ideas about me.  I am sorely tempted to go to this extreme where if I people don't know me for the real me, I don't want them to know me at all.  

But lately I've been thinking about how I perceive other people, and about how my perceptions are most likely skewed somehow.  I've been thinking about how aside from family and close friends, most people really have no clue who another person really is.  And even within family and close friends, no one really, really, really knows another person.  In fact, we probably don't even know ourselves too well.

And even when we do start to know ourselves, it's still pretty complicated.  We're always changing.  We're letting go of past things, reaching towards new things, experiencing new pains and joys.  We're never the same.  It's no wonder it seems impossible to be known, sometimes.

I took that a step further and started thinking about every relationship I've ever had ever.  And by "relationship" I mean friendships, I mean family, I mean coworkers, I mean acquaintances, I mean parents of the children I watch, I mean those people I often talk to on Facebook but seldom talk to in real life, I mean people I see on a regular basis working at the post office, I mean people who wait on me at the Walmart, I mean the guy I waved to while driving out in the country where everyone waves to one another, I mean people who I've only met once ever in my life.  What if every one who has ever met me has an idea of me in their head.  

Now, I figure I'm actually pretty forgettable to a lot of the people I've only met once, but there might be a few of them who have some kind of lasting impression somehow.  Maybe I smiled or said thank you to someone and made their day; maybe I frowned or said thank you in a way that made them wonder if I was being sarcastic and made them grumpy; maybe they remembered the way my hair was sticking up; maybe they thought I was cute or awkward or weird or nice or whatever.  

But let's say I've met five thousand people in my life (it's probably been WAY more than that, but let's just say five thousand people actually remember meeting me).  If each of these people has an impression of who I am, then there are five thousand versions of me floating around in people's minds.  And I don't think anyone sits around and thinks about me constantly or anything, but I'm there--or a version of me is there--in someone's mind.  And maybe none of them are completely accurate, and maybe some of them are waaaaay off.  And maybe there are people out there who are almost complete strangers who think I'm a crazy cat lady based on a couple figurines in a drawer, or a quiet person who has absolutely nothing to offer.  And there's really nothing I can do about it.

(Sidenote: What if there are a lot of different versions of me? But I digress...)

And in the end, I think it's true that God's the only One who really, really knows us.  As I said before, we probably don't even know ourselves that well.  We don't always know how well we're going to respond to a situation until we're in the midst of it.  And sometimes we surprise ourselves by being a lot braver or nobler or stronger than we knew we could be.  And sometimes we disappoint ourselves by being more cowardly or crueler or less faithful than we thought we really were.  And we're all in a state of flux, never consistently being the SELF that we think we should be, always growing or declining, never being complete.

And that's perhaps why God is the only One who really knows us.  He knows us, not just the person we were, not just the person we are, not just the person we will be.  Given the name of this blog, it's no surprise that one of my favorite passages is 1 Corinthians 13.  I like the "love verses," and really, the whole passage is about love, but I like the verses towards the end of the chapter more than the descriptions of love.

"For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.  When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known." (1 Cor. 13:9-12 NASB)

Right now, we don't have the full picture of who we are (and so how can we be expected to have a complete picture of who others are?).  We're not going to have a full picture of ourselves, of others, of God, of anything until we've moved past this life and into eternity.  

My desire to be known by other people is a desire that I think everyone has.  We want to be understood.  We want other people to see us.  But the expectation to be fully known by other people is unrealistic.  It's simply not possible on this side of Heaven.  And recently I've realized that I've made an idol out of wanting to be known and understood.  I've gotten angry when people have made assumptions about me.  I've gotten really hurt by people who have flat out misunderstood me.  But I had those emotions because I was expecting other people to do for me something that only God can really do.

Because He knows me.  He knows who I was without Him.  He knows who I am while I'm striving to know Him more.  He knows who I am in completion, though I'm not there yet.  He knows I'll be there one day.  He sees me that way, as I should be, but He loves me and guides me while I'm not as I should be.  It's a mystery, but it's a beautiful mystery.  And when I stop trying to promote myself so much--the SELF I don't even fully understand--then, I realize that I already have what I'm searching for.  I've had it all along.  

And while it's always going to be a struggle, and I'm always going to want to be understood, and I'm always going to want to be known, it's a comfort to know that I'm already known perfectly.  It's a comfort to know that one day I'm going to know as fully as I am known.  

I said in a previous blog that I probably should just learn to like the fact that I'm misunderstood.  I don't know if I'm there yet or if I will ever be there or even if I should be there.  I'm not supposed to be too comfortable here, because this isn't Home.  It's easy to forget that.  But I need to remember that more and forget myself more.  It's funny how you're probably more yourself when you're less conscious of self.  

I figure I'll get there eventually, on the other side of the dark glass.  For now it's just a poor reflection.  But I think there's grace that we can see at all, no matter how much the image is distorted.

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