Christian reflections

Fully Known, Fully Loved

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I once rode a hospital elevator to visit a friend recovering from surgery and this really good looking guy got on. This was back in my single days, so I entertained a brief fantasy about how his name was probably Sean and he’d notice my stylish leather jacket and ask me to dinner and we’d go eat Italian food and then it would start to rain and he’d walk me to my car and open the door for me and kiss me on the cheek in a very respectful yet drop-down sexy sort of way and that’d be the start of a whirlwind romance leading to marriage and… and then the elevator dinged at his floor and he looked over his shoulder for one quick second and said, “Have a great day, Courtney!”

I gasped. As the doors closed I strained my eyes watching him go. Did I know him from somewhere? Had I forgotten? How could I have forgotten? How did he know me?

Then I made it to my friend’s hospital room and she greeted me with, “You do know you have a name tag sticker on your coat, right?” I’d been at a conference earlier that day and had forgotten to take off my dorky stick-on name tag. So much for Sean and my love-at-first-sight.

In the Gospel of John, chapter 4, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at a well. He hasn’t met her before, but he knows her. She isn’t wearing a name tag. She isn’t sporting a scarlet “A.” She has no badge that says “HAS HAD FIVE HUSBANDS.” Yet somehow Jesus knows her and all her secrets.

One of my college professors used to say that because of Jesus we are “fully known and fully loved.” Think about that for a second. Fully known. And fully loved. From the moment this Samaritan woman has come to talk to Jesus, he has known her past. He has always known it. Sure, there are social cues, too – she’s at the well in the middle of the day, when no person in her right mind would go because it is SO hot. Only the social misfits, the outcasts, and the unclean go to the well in the heat of the day. Yet Jesus knows more than this. He knows her shame. He knows her failures. He knows her regrets.

He knows yours, too.

If you were to sit down with Jesus at a well today and he asked you about your life, what would you have trouble naming about yourself? You’d lead with the good stuff, obviously. What you’re proud of. What you’ve accomplished. What you’d happily tell anyone. But what would you leave out?

I’m unemployed.

I’m single.

I’m so lonely.

I’m living with a guy, and my parents don’t know.

I’m so deep in debt I can’t see my way out.

I feel like a failure almost every day.

If you knew who I was…

If you knew what I did…

If you really knew me…

Yet here’s the thing: Jesus does know. He knew the Samaritan woman’s deepest secrets and chose that well at that time so their paths would cross. He wants you to know that he already knows. That he already loves.

I am the Samaritan woman. Sure, I’ve only had one husband, but I’ve carried plenty of shame. We all have. The shame of our sins, big and small. The shame of the sins done against us, big and small. The shame of being broken people moving about in a broken world and falling short, falling short, falling short.

Our selfie-obsessed social-media-run culture can make this shame worse. You might be feeling frustrated by your lack of tidiness at home, but load up Pinterest and you’ll plummet to new lows. Not only have you not dusted in six weeks but your ottoman isn’t homemade and doesn’t look like it’s from Pottery Barn! You might be ashamed that you yelled at your kids this afternoon, but turn on Facebook and you’ll feel even worse because Cynthia and her seven kids went to the library today to research dinosaurs and eat vegan paleo gluten free granola and smile beatifically for the camera! You might have been brought low by a poorly-placed pimple (on my nose?! at age 33? REALLY!?!), but Instagram will show you that your high school friend Kyle just got voted sexiest ninja beach body, yay for Kyle!

Sure, the Samaritan woman may have had a whole hockey team of ex-husbands, but she didn’t have to deal with SnapChat.

Yet there is power in naming true things about ourselves. Admitting to sin as sin. Calling a spade a spade. Letting Jesus in to those dark, hidden, shameful places because he already knows.

It’s tempting to use a euphemisms: gentler, kinder explanation of our sins so they don’t sound so bad. We do this in regular life all the time. You didn’t get fired, it was corporate restructuring! He didn’t die, he just passed away. . . You didn’t spend all night barfing, you were driving the porcelain bus! Yet it is through acknowledging the truth that the Good News of Jesus becomes Good News.

Jesus puts it this way, in Luke’s Gospel:

Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? [1]

We want to run from sin and shame and pain and suffering, to cover them up with Band-Aids, empty promises, or beautiful selfies. Yet the way to wholeness, to becoming our true selves, is by embracing the way of the Jesus. The way of the cross. The way of suffering where we can admit our sin and our failures and our need because Jesus is standing right there and he already knows and already loves and he hasn’t left and won’t ever leave us.

But he will unburden us, if we will let him.

The Samaritan woman, awed that Jesus knows so much about her, isn’t ready to fully commit to him yet. She tries to sidetrack Jesus in a discussion about worship practices.

Jesus won’t be sidetracked, though. He bobs and weaves around her questions and finally lays it on her. He’s him. The Messiah. The one spoken about in the ancient prophets who would come to rescue the people of God once and for all.

She’s not totally sold. She’s not yet all in. But that’s okay. She is pondering the eternal question. Who is this Jesus? And she is pondering who she is in light of his revelation.

If he knows everything about her and still spends time talking openly with her at the well, what does that say about her? It’s almost too much to hope for, but is she perhaps worth loving, worth knowing, worth saving?

Perhaps we all are.

And perhaps Jesus is the one who will.

[1] Luke 9:25-26 (The Message Translation)

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