Psalms 34:5 “Those who look to Him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.”
It is said that shame is a function of the eyes, that it involves a public exposure of my inadequacy. In its simplest form, I am seen, and not wanted. And since, it seems, I have been created to be told who I am, how I am, from some Source outside of myself, shame can feel like a setup. If the thing I crave most deeply is witness, sooner or later my desire will lead me to some costly exposure.
For the life of me, I have tried to make a world for myself where exposure is not a requirement, and I bet you have too. This is the way of lonely perfectionism. This is the way of safety, but safety without witness. And I have never been able to sustain that, because my longing, my Father, drives me back to wanting to be seen.
From our beginnings, the day we are named, we are seen. Birth-weary mamas and dads, adoring grandparents, and a throng of people come to meet us. We get seen and named by our colicky or calm natures as babies, our emotional and social intelligence, compliant or rebellious behavior as kids, physical beauty and athleticism as teens. All of this seeing and naming follows us. Some of it we choose and contrive, while other names are handed to us.
What does it feel like to be seen well? It meets the ache inside for just a bit. It makes it just slightly safer to be more fully me, to relax and be generous. When you see me well, even if you see something I do not really want you to, because you are for me, I consider change and growth. There is a transaction between us, often informed by the many miles you’ve walked with me and my junk, and waited to speak into it. This solid footing of shared history, shared love, shared perspective, invites me to come out of hiding and let you poke, because you love me, and I believe that.
What does it feel like to be seen by someone who is not for you? The first thing we notice it is that we want to scramble. Back under, under anything that covers. Even before I become aware someone is criticizing or exposing, I feel a rush to build a case about my rightness. “See me in the right light!” I demand. And then I get really busy. I work to defend my defects, or claim how you are just projecting onto me, or try to diminish your voice in some way. I am not free in this space; in fact, I am compelled to disarm you.
What if you and I were free enough to receive the grain of truth in what even our worst enemy has to say about us? This would require such grounding within us. This would require grafting in- to family, to a name, and to a secure inheritance. I am only free to see truth inside unloving criticism to the extent that I am assured of the Father’s unwavering, delighted countenance toward me. I crave a Witness that sees the truth of me, yet continues to cup my face and look me in the eye. I crave a Witness who looks at my darkness with a twinkle in His eye, because only then am I free to not be totally scandalized by my own broken habits.
The dignity He gives, has given us since before the day our parents named us, props us up, plants and grounds us, to receive truth even from the most bent voices. The dignity He gives is beyond threat, and one day we will trade in the dim mirror and be face to face. Until then, I want to walk radiant, receptive to the truth of my need and my darkness, as well as to the truth of God’s deep affection.
Meredith joined The Barnabas Center staff in January 2009, upon completing her Masters in Counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and her Bachelors in Religion and Psychology from Furman University. She counsels, leads women’s groups and teaches a seminar called “Hope in the Darkness” for those walking with individuals suffering from depression or bipolar disorder.