You don’t need to be a psychologist to work out that a person who blogs is a person who wants to be known. A person who writes every week or two about their experiences, opinions, questions and fears is a person who wants to be understood.
It doesn’t just come out in my writing. After university I did an internship and the programme kicked off at Greenbelt, a four-day festival. Surrounded by a new group of people, new colleagues and potential new friends, I found myself telling stories at my own expense. As the cider went down, the stories got more personal, more outrageous, more ridiculous. They served the dual purpose of making people laugh and making myself known.
Before you conclude that I must be an utterly unbearable narcissist, I’d like to think I’m just as interested in other people’s lives as I am in telling my own stories. I ask a lot of questions. And I forget sometimes that not everyone operates in this same ‘lay everything out there’ way; that other people value privacy and take a little longer to open up and trust. So I’m aware that I cross lines of social acceptability sometimes in the questions I ask or the topics I bring up, the stories I tell and the things I hope that others will share in return. (Sorry.)
I love getting to know people, especially fascinating people. Not just people who talk about interesting stuff, though that’s good too, but people who are deeply interesting themselves. People who have histories and regrets and pain, people with weird quirks and unusual thoughts, people who seem to be able to see into souls and get what’s there.
I love getting to know people.
Sometimes it happens quickly, intensely, sitting up late one night, inhibitions lowered by the flicker of a fire and the reassuring warmth of wine and growing intimacy, spurred on by every nod of recognition and mirrored confession. One sustained look agrees that things will never be the same again. Sometimes it’s more considered, a tentative toe in the water, testing and trying and daring each other to hint at more, to ask the next question, heart stopping in the silence between each thought out, typed-deleted-and-repeated reply.
I really love getting to know people.
And as I’ve been doing it recently, relishing new and deepening connections, I’ve stopped to wonder what it really takes to know and be known.
Surely it’s not the stories. As proved at that Greenbelt a couple of years ago, I’ll happily announce them to the world. They make good ice-breakers, ways to get a laugh and kick off an initial sense of intimacy. But they’re nothing remarkable, the ones everyone could know.
Could it be sadness? I’m not the most patient of people, and not massively helpful in a crisis. But when a friend trusts me enough to share their pain, right as they’re feeling it, to let me sit with them and cry with them and rage against the world with them and collapse with chocolate and gin with them, I feel like I know them in a way that other people don’t. It’s a different level of trust.
I saw my therapist for about 8 months altogether and each week I could tell her about the things that made me sad, angry, desperate or despairing. I could tell her about things from way back in the past or in the last week that had deeply affected me. And each time, I’d tell her with a dead-pan expression, explaining the most painful details like I was explaining how to make Victoria Sponge. It took until the very last session for her to finally crack me, for me to cry in front of her – in that very last session, I allowed myself to actually feel something in her presence, to let her in on a most personal moment of pain. I felt like she knew me.
There’s one more thing though, that I’ve been thinking of recently, one more thing that sets apart knowing about someone and really knowing them. And I want to be careful how I say it, because I don’t want to suggest that if you and I don’t share the same faith, we can’t really know each other. It’s a common pitfall for Christians to inadvertently but consistently devalue the friendships they have with people of different or no faith because of the special value they give to ‘fellowship’ with those who sign up to the same creed.
So don’t write this off as cliquey-Christian-club exclusivity right away. But I think there’s something in this: if you want to really know me, know me as I worship. If you really want to let me in, let me in to your worship.
It’s not that everyone who watches me mumble along to a hymn in church suddenly gets me more than an old friend who’s not so into the God stuff. Whether chorus belted out with arms flung high or Taize chant murmured with head in hands, its not about singing or services at all really. It’s that when I’m worshipping – with my song or my prayer or my time or my words or my witness – when I’m worshipping, that is where I’m fully known.
It’s where there’s nothing hidden, no mess swept away, where every attempt at being cool or likeable falls flat and I’m there only to meet with my God, who knows every unarticulated thought, every skipped heartbeat and every unwept tear. That’s where you’ll see me as I am.
And if you know a person’s story and you’ve sat with them in their pain and you’ve shared their most outlandish dreams, then you know the significance of that worship. You can recognise the words that take more courage to sing, the importance of the silence when there’s nothing to say. You see the vulnerability as they lay themselves bare before their God. And you begin to see how much you don’t know. As you appreciate the depth of their intimacy with their creator and sustainer, you begin to appreciate the layers that you might never get to peel back, but you know that they are known.
I don’t think you have to believe the same as me to know me in my worship. There’s that old evangelistic line we use that says ‘everyone worships something’. While we normally say it to get people to acknowledge that money or sex or power is at the centre of their lives, and then turn to Jesus instead, maybe there’s something a bit less cold and more vulnerable there too – perhaps there’s a shared human experience in the complete surrender of worship, experienced in as many different ways as there are people.
And if we want to know another person, it’s not more stories about them that we need. It’s to find where they surrender, where they are known, where they are safe, where they are loved. And to sit close enough, still enough, humbly enough to share in their worship, whatever that looks like.