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Knowing and Being Known [**]

Have you ever been to a party or large gathering where you felt like you knew everyone? You showed up and looked around and realized that you recognized every face? You then made your way around the room getting involved in nearly every conversation? Have you ever experienced all this or something like this and then realized that you didn’t really know these people and they didn’t really know you? If you were, for example, to tell one of them what you did as a hobby and what you liked about it, would they be totally surprised? Would they be surprised to learn your greatest fear or deepest desire? Would they be surprised to know that you were a Christian who regularly read your Bible and went to church?

I attended a relatively small private Christian high school for four years. By the time I was a senior, I “knew” almost everyone in the school from freshmen to senior and they “knew” me. I could get into a conversation with just about anyone about just about anything: music, sports, teachers, homework, dating, etc. I did all of this without really letting anyone know me. Even my “best friends” in high school didn’t know me and I didn’t really know them. That would probably explain why, although we haven’t completely lost touch, we haven’t talked in several years.

I am going to tell you all a little secret about me that almost no one knows. Once this is posted, of course, it won’t be a secret anymore, but I think that making my point is worth sharing my secret.

I have a birthmark on the back of my left thigh. It is a triangle-shaped cluster of freckles that is about the size of a U.S. quarter. I became very aware of it around the time that I started middle school. By the time I had reached high school, I learned to dress and move around in such a way that no one would ever see it. I would wear long shorts and would avoid doing things like hanging upside down. I was fortunate to not have to grow up during the 1970s when everyone always wore those really short shorts! I was, however, on the cross country team for one-and-a-half seasons and we all had to wear short shorts then. Doing stretches with my teammates without revealing my secret was tricky, but I worked around that by placing my arms in strategic locations, crossing my legs in certain ways, and standing in places where no one was behind me. One time, I even went as far as wearing longer spandex shorts under my racing shorts, but that actually just made matters worse because it didn’t properly cover my birthmark and they were uncomfortable!

During my senior year of high school, I played a few games of cards one night with one of my closer friends. We sat with crossed legs on my bedroom floor and, because it was Summer time, we were both wearing shorts. As I always did, I kept my arms positioned in such a way that he couldn’t see my birthmark. After a while, I thought to myself, “This is one of my closest friends. Surely, I can let him know about my birthmark.” I didn’t want to just come out and announce it though, so I decided to simply stop hiding it. If he saw it then he saw it. If not, then not. So I stopped hiding it. We continued playing cards for several minutes more before his eyes grew large and he exclaimed while staring at my thigh, “What the heck is that?!” I played dumb, partly from embarrassment. “What is what?” I said as I followed his eyes to my thigh. “Oh, you mean my birthmark.” “Is that what it is?” he asked, still in an excited voice, “Does it hurt? Is it from an accident? How long has it been there?” He eventually ran out of questions and other things to say but he couldn’t take his eyes off it, so I found myself reverting to my old ways of hiding it. He never saw it again. Neither did anyone else in my high school.

Letting people into your life, into your secrets, can be difficult. In my case, there was nothing I could do to fix my birthmark apart from hiding it or having it removed via costly surgery. I chose to hide it. The same can be said for sin. There are some sins that are so powerful in our lives that they are almost like a birthmark. They have just always been there. They are ugly and we don’t want others to know about them, but we can’t seem to get rid of them either. Outside the church, this often isn’t a big deal. Many non-Christians openly flaunt their sins. I have met a number of very promiscuous people, for instance, who claim to not struggle with sexual sin. There is no struggle because they avoid God and church and accountability. Inside the church, however, the smallest sexual sin (or any sin for that matter) can become a huge deal. Like in my story where I revealed my secret to my friend, we can get a sense of judgment and condemnation. And so, many of us who call ourselves followers of Christ find ourselves publicly walking in Christ’s footsteps, saying and doing all the right things, all the while hiding some deep and destructive secrets from those around us who should best be able to help us.

Here is the crux of the matter. If we are ever to have true community with one another, to really know and be known, we must accept each other’s ugly spots. I don’t mean that we should condone sin, per se, but I am saying that we should leave the judgment and punishment and all that stuff up to God. It is not our place to point fingers and stare. Whether or not you are one of those people who has one of those secrets that you simply aren’t comfortable sharing in a church environment, I have some advice for you. Instead of focusing on hiding your own issues, ask God to help you be more accepting of other people’s issues (especially those of non-Christians). The next time someone lets you know about a secret or not-so-secret sin, do not pick up the metaphorical stone to throw it at them. On the contrary, if the situation permits it, let them know that you understand because we all sin. Then ask them if they would like to pray about it, together! Over time, you will eventually find that you have developed for yourself a community where you know others and you are known.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Romans 15:5-7 NIV

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.

Romans 12:16a NIV

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