New Year, Same Fear? The Fear of Being Known
Frederick Buechner wrote: “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.”
We’re all afraid of being fully seen, exposed, or wholly known. After all, we live just east of Eden, spiritually speaking, where the very first of us turned against God and then, from our newly corrupted instincts, reacted by hiding. Sewing rough-shod clothing to hide from each other, we dove headlong into the brush to conceal who we knew that we were from the one who had made us, and knew us, and was always everywhere, for us.
One of the reasons we fear being known is our desire for acceptance. We want others to like us and marvel at who we are. We want to be funny and charming and daring and trustworthy. We hope that if we can disguise ourselves long enough, others will accept and desire us. Of course, this only sabotages our efforts. We create false selves for others to like, negating their opportunity to ever, actually, love us!
Another reason we are afraid of being known is our desire for accomplishment. We fall for the highlight reels of others around us and worry that we aren’t keeping up as we should. So, we build an ordered life centered around controlling all the people and events and appearances so that we can hide the realities of what we see in our mirror and our household and our work performance every day.
We fear being known because of our worth. When we look into ourselves, we don’t see a God-designed, image-bearing soul who is uniquely tailored and gifted and shaped to see and enjoy and point back to our creator in a way that brings Glory to Him. Instead, so often, we are disappointed and ashamed. We can’t imagine that anyone could ever really know us without turning away in disgust — in part — because that’s exactly the way we feel with ourselves.
I believe that we are afraid of being known — ultimately — because we have misplaced who should be known and what He has done. In the end, there will always be a hundred thousand reasons for insecurity when we look at ourselves. But think back again to Adam and Eve in the garden. When they reacted by hiding themselves from each other and God– sin hadn’t robbed them of their clothes. They had been naked all along. Their rebellion stole the source of their identity and joy from its rightful place in God and placed it instead upon themselves. No longer worshipping God, they were crushed under the anxieties of an identity fixated on themselves.
That’s the same battle you and I were born into today. And we’d still be sewing fig leaves together to prevent anyone from knowing who we are…
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus — Ephesians 2:4–10a
In God’s plan to restore all things to Himself, the fullness of our identity, He sent Jesus to accomplish for us what we could never accomplish, with a worth from which our own derives, to offer the very same acceptance to us which we had lost all those years ago in the garden.
If we’re afraid of being seen and known for who we are, then we need to do a few things:
1️⃣ Elevate our view of God. When we understand just how immense and yet near, how holy and yet gracious, and how mighty and still good our God is, we are more and more able to appropriately understand who we really are.
2️⃣ Believe the view God has of us. We are created by God in his image, loved and pursued by God, then, in Christ, redeemed and empowered and made alive for a kingdom purpose. God has raised us up with himself in his presence in Jesus. He plans to show us his wealth of kindness for the ages to come. We are His workmanship — His creative design.
In the end, just like at the very beginning, the more we prioritize knowing God, the more we’ll discover the way to be known ourselves. So that no matter who we are, or what we lack, or even how we’ve failed, we can echo what a woman who seemed to be hiding, herself, said to her whole community after she came face to face with Jesus: “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” John 4:29.