Our greatest need is our greatest fear: To be known

Our greatest need is also our greatest fear:

To be known, to be known fully as we are.

This is our greatest need. And our greatest fear.

This insight is courtesy of Frederick Buechner, who was a wonderful writer in our Jesus tradition.

We need to be known, we desire to be known.

The need to be known is the need to be loved, and to be loved simply as we are.

But the fear, is that if we are known but not loved. Rejected, shamed, reviled, or worse.

Being known means becoming vulnerable. That takes trust. And whom can you trust?

So, we can put a lot of work into avoiding being known for who we truly are. We can put up appearances, we can tend to find certain roles for us to play that we know play well to our audience, or at least keep our audience at a safe distance from the naked reality behind the mask.

For some of us that safe role is a small role. For some of us that safe role is actually a very big role. Sometimes the most famous people are doing the most running away from themselves, terrified of having their true selves be known. Desperate to be loved, but at arm’s length, in a way that would not expose the soft, vulnerable underbelly.

Now, it’s wise to be careful about with whom we are vulnerable and how. Because people can be terrible, right? Humans put a lot of energy into judging each other. People can be really vicious about taking advantage of vulnerability. Or even just often negligent of others and self-absorbed.

It takes trust to begin to let down our masks.

So, our need to be known is a legitimate need, and our fear of being known is a legitimate fear.

But I think we also have a fear of knowing others. It can feel safer to keep other people at a distance not only for a fear of being known, but a fear of what it would mean if we dared let their reality into ours. That may shake up our reality, especially if they’re someone who’s life experiences are quite different from our own. It can feel safer to just make comfortable assumptions about them. It can feel safer to be self-absorbed.

The other challenges is that someone else’s vulnerability can remind us of our own in a way we can find uncomfortable.

That’s why if someone is going through a hard time and coming to us for help or support, it can sometimes take discipline to keep the focus on them and their needs, and not shift the focus to ourselves.

That’s just a way of avoiding joining our friend in their heartbreak and fear and tenderness of love, as a way of avoiding feeling our own heartbreak and fear and tenderness.

To know and to love another person requires us to ourselves be vulnerable enough to be known and loved.

And we can do it, thanks God! We can be up to the trust, and so can others.

Read Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg’s full sermon from May 5, 2024, here.