We all want to be known. To be known makes us feel like we belong. When we are known, we feel acknowledged in our personhood. It says we are more than a name and last name. It recognizes we have a story comprised between another time and right here. To know someone is to make them feel seen and heard. See their life and hear their voice.
The longer the gap between another time and now, the harder it gets. My husband and I immigrated in our early 40’s. For the past six years we’ve called Canada home. It has been an inexpressible blessing and longed for answer to prayer. It has also been one of the hardest things we’ve done.
Immigration is a “starting over” of sorts. It’s moving to a new address, times 20. In a new setting, you become a stranger surrounded by strangers. The experiences that have up to this point filled the pages of your life, feel suspended with a to be continued. You are an accent and a nationality. Beyond that, there is no point of reference or previously existing connection. You literally must start all that process over. Build points of reference, create connection. All the while adapting to a new everything – culture, geography, language, climate, customs, etc. Right in the middle of your lifespan.
The things that make us known, I’ve realized, have to do with others. In your setting, you are someone’s long time neighbour, this person’s daughter, that school’s alumna, or their friend. And the people with whom you have shared your life through the years know these things about you, because they were there with you. They are witnesses to your life, they know your story, and they are part of it. And you are part of theirs.
Over the past month we’ve had the joy of meeting up with several different friends passing through Canada. It’s been a tremendous gift to share a bit of our new life with old friends. It always makes the new feel more like home. Just this weekend, the couple who taught the college Sunday school class when I was a college student, visited Montreal from the US as part of their summer travels. We met up on Sunday at the church we attend and after service we took them to one of our favorite places for lunch.
We laughed at old stories and found new ones to share. We talked for hours about anything and everything. We had seen each other over the years, but to see them here, that was a special gift. It was a conversation as rich as it was familiar. The richness of sharing a plethora of common interests and the comfort of familiarity that makes long clarifications unnecessary and awkward pauses inexistent.
That comfort– it says I know you and I know your story, we only need to pick up somewhere and the words just flow. When we are known, don’t we feel like we fit in? To feel and be known, I need others. Self-sufficiency is of no value here. When life’s joys, hurts, trials, and growth have witnesses who knew me then, have known me since, and know me now, I don’t feel alone because I am not.
When you are a stranger, you don’t know anyone, and people don’t know you. It’s hard to feel like you belong when you feel like a stranger. I think that’s why it is almost a primal need for us to be known. The two are intimately connected in the human heart. It hits me then; God wants me to know Him, that I may see how deeply known I am: “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:15-16 (NIV).
All the days, including the previous 40 years spent elsewhere. And all the days after. Including those part of my Canadian life. In my life I have been blessed with extraordinary friendships. I know that well. So being far from them is very hard. They’ve known me for 20 or more years. They know all the messy details.
So does God – “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” Psalm 56:8 (ESV)
I’ll admit having the comfort of a human voice who I’ve known for the better part of my life is what I want to have always near me. As with any lack for something good we’ve had and want more of, it becomes an invitation to trust the Lord. To get to know Him, His character, His promises. To believe Him. He has provided and blessed me many times over. But what I need the most is to know the God I belong to who knows me intimately.