“I have come to believe that by and large the human family all has the same secrets, which are both very telling in the sense that they tell what is perhaps the central paradox of our condition – that what we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else.” – Frederick Buechner

I’ve heard the story told of an old Russian priest who early one morning was walking through snowy woods toward the cathedral. The fog made it hard to see, but he could hear someone approaching in the distance. Finally, a guard appeared and called out: “Who are you? Where are you going? Why are you going there?” The priest’s response was unexpected. He came close to the guard and replied, “I’ll pay you 50 kopecks (Russian money) a week if you’ll ask me those same questions every single day.”

This priest desperately wanted to be known. He wanted someone to show an interest in him and his story. He wanted somebody to care. We all identify with the priest to some degree. We long to be known by others as we really are. At the same time, the prospect of being known also scares us more than anything. It causes us to shut down and shrink back from entering into meaningful relationships with others. This tendency represents a significant barrier to authentic community. How can genuine community form if we are unwilling to open up and share our real stories with one another?

The reason we resist being known is that each of our stories is marked by beauty and brokenness; dignity and depravity; glory and shame. We invest a great deal of energy into covering up the negatives – the brokenness, depravity, and shame. More than anything, we want others to believe we have it all together so sharing our whole story seems counter intuitive. Why would we share the very things we try to hide? Why would we share the things which make us vulnerable? So out of self-protection we keep our stories to ourselves. We don’t open up and allow others in. Even though we want to be known, we decide the risk just isn’t worth it. The longing to protect ourselves proves to be stronger than the longing to be known by others.

This is why the story of Jesus is so relevant to community. The fundamental question is who or what makes me safe? The gospel (good news) tells me that I’m far more broken and flawed than I ever dared to admit, but that I’m also more loved and accepted in Jesus than I ever dared to dream. In other words, trusting in Jesus makes me completely safe with God. God looks at me in the midst of all my ugliness and twistedness, yet still accepts me. I’m both fully known and completely safe with God. This means I don’t have to obsess over winning the approval of others because I have the approval of the One whose opinion matters most. Because God approves of me, I’m free to be the real me. I can look without fear at who I really am. I don’t have to justify my existence by performance or by lying about myself. Knowing I’m safe with God enables me to open up and share my story with others. Since my identity isn’t dependent on what others think of me, self-protection no longer has to enslave me.

When the gospel brings this kind of freedom to our lives, community is enhanced. As Dan Allender says, “Stories obligate.” Truthful storytelling enables us to learn each other’s joys and struggles, strengths and weaknesses, dreams and fears. Stories obligate by reminding us that we’re all in this journey together, that we have an obligation to know and be known. Only the gospel creates this kind of community because only the gospel deals with our fear of being known. What do you think?

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