To See and Be Seen

I’ve been going through career counseling recently as we try to make a decision about our next missions assignment, and after all the tests to figure out what jobs would best suit my personality and strengths, we’ve made a discovery: I’m an odd duck. (Friends and family, you may all now say in unison, “Well, duh!”) My unusual combination of personality traits makes me an even odder duck in an organization of odd ducks (because, let’s face it – missionaries aren’t normal). This hasn’t come as a surprise to me. I’ve always felt a little out of step with the world around me, wherever I am.

But I think I’m not alone. I’ve been asking around, and I’m finding something I’ve suspected for a while. Most people have a sense of being different. Most of us have facets that we feel other people might not understand. In other words, it’s typical to feel atypical.

And I think it’s because we are.

This is a little hard to swallow for a recovering people pleaser who has always wanted to blend in. In elementary school I stuck out, standing head and shoulders above my classmates. When I quit growing at eleven, I was relieved for a time, but then as everybody else kept growing I became the short girl. When I was with my fellow missionary kids in the Philippines, I was pudgier than the rest of them. When I was with my Filipino friends, I was the white girl and everyone wanted to touch my blond hair. And then I grew up into a philosophical artist who thinks in color and poetry. I can’t blend in even if I try.

Identity can be slippery thing. Who am I? Why am I the way I am? I’ve seen people I love wander off and get lost in search of themselves. And I’ve taken a few steps down that path myself. It’s unsteady ground, a fearful road that shifts and turns in the swell of the comparisons and expectations laid on us by others and ourselves. It’s easy to find emotional quicksand and go down.

I think we struggle with identity because we don’t understand it.

When I was little, we had a 15 foot tall papaya tree in our back yard. Our neighbors asked us to watch their German shepherd while they were away, and being new to the tropics, we decided to hook her leash line to our papaya tree. The next thing we knew, that dog was running free, the papaya tree bouncing along behind her.

What we didn’t know is that papayas have almost no root system.

A self-concept that is built on, well, self is easily yanked up and dragged purposelessly along.

It has no roots.

We humans are a fragile lot. We send down tiny searching tendrils, seeking nourishment, seeking anchor. We dig deep into sandy soil that holds just enough to keep us searching. We wrap tight to any hint of steadiness we find – recognition, reputation, relationships – just to find them as flimsy as we feel.

We’re fragile because we think we’re the source of our identity.

We don’t understand who we are until we understand who we’re made to be. And we can’t understand who we’re made to be until we understand who God is.

When our feet touch the bedrock of who He is, we can stand.

He is good. We can stand.

He holds us forgiven. We can stand.

We are so very loved by Him. We can stand.

And when we can stand, we can see. We can look with shameless gratitude on who we’ve been and who we’re becoming. All of the funny little ways He’s put us together – that dry sense of humor, that lopsided smile, that tendency to get lost in thought, those thighs, that cowlick, those crow’s feet, those dreams and hopes and things that tip our hearts hard into eternity – all these little bits of Creation swirl together to paint another layer into our understanding of the depths of God.

And when we get that, really get it, we are finally free to see other people.

An identity rooted in being completely known and completely loved isn’t threatened by opinions or differences in others.

Because the God who searched me down and caught me up into restoration can do the same thing for everyone I love. I don’t have to see the hows and whens. I can let people be where they are in their journey, let truth settle into their hearts as slowly as it needs to. I don’t have to be right. I don’t have to be understood.

I don’t need you to be like me or me to be like you. Our atypicalness doesn’t have to match for us to find His reflection sparkling in each other, to welcome wide and love large even when we don’t understand each other.

And we see as we are seen, and the fear falls like scales from open eyes.

“I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” ~Ephesians 3:16-19 (NLT)

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