The paradox of the human condition

Almost every week it seems I meet with someone who is caught in what writer Frederick Buechner calls the paradox of the human condition: More than anything, we hunger to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often what we also fear more than anything else.

I’ve fought with that my entire Christian life.

As we step into 2021, I do have a couple of thoughts that might help push us a bit more in the right direction of being more fully known:

  1. Commit anew to be known better. There has to be some want to if you plan to be more authentic and more transparent. I hope that is something most believers might want. So we ask what it might take in the new year to be more willing to take a risk and tell someone the truth about who you are? This we know for sure: No one ever is “just fine,” regardless of what they might say. “Fine” is a grade of sand paper, not a way to describe how you are doing. “Just fine” often is a deflection. At the start of the new year is a good time to, say, give everyone a do-over, or better yet, a fresh start. The new year is a good time to give everyone a chance to be more human, more authentic, more transparent.
  2. Acknowledge your own brokenness and to NEVER belittling anyone. St. Maximos the Confessor in the 7th century said: “The person who has come to know the weakness of human nature has gained experience of divine power. Such a person never belittles anyone. … He knows that God is like a good and loving physician who heals with individual treatment each of those who are trying to make progress.”
  3. Be ruthlessly realistic. Expect trials and temptations.
  4. Always think good of everyone. Be gentle with people. That includes yourself. Everyone is fighting a great battle, most of it internally. If you’re thinking good of others and yourself, you’re bound to feel safer to open up and be honest and transparent about who you really are.
  5. Genuinely listen to people who are opening their heart to you. What a sacred honor when someone opens up and lets you see into the window of their soul. When that happens your job is to listen and not try and fix them. Those are times we give no advice, unless we are asked, and even then we don’t say much. Don’t ever say, “Boy, let me tell you what happened to me.” Don’t make it about you. No, just listen when some one takes the risk of being authentic and transparent. Because you know what? If a person feels that you truly listened to them, they will feel loved. They will hardly be able to tell the difference. So if someone is open and transparent with you, the best thing you can say, “Thank you so much for sharing that with me. That took courage and I don’t take your trust lightly.”
  6. Read the obituaries. That’s right. Saint Gregory of Sinai in the 13th century said, “When the death of Arsenius drew near, the brothers saw him weeping and asked, ‘Truly, Father, are you afraid?’ ‘Indeed,’ he answered them, ‘the fear which is mine this hour has been with me ever since I became a monk.'” … Indeed, at the moment of our death we will see with utter clarity and know the outcome of our life. We all only have one life to live. When people are surveyed at the end of their lives and asked about their regrets, over and over one answer people give is: “I wish I had been less afraid to let people see the real me.”

Here’s to everyone being more brave, more self-aware, more transparent, more authentic, more genuine, less guarded … and more the person we are created to be.

This coming year just might be one where we say less and less: “You don’t know me yet.”