Yesterday’s sermon was . . . .
- named after an ABBA song;
- drawn from a vertical “aside” towards the end of a horizontal chapter;
- centered on a real life “Bag O’ Secrets” that I filled midway through and emptied at the conclusion;
- punctuated by this bottom line: Only when you are fully known can you freely love.
Maybe you have heard of that guy who after being married for 21 years went through a bitter divorce (isn’t that phrase a bit redundant? Still listening for the first person to say, “Oh, I went through such a PLEASANT divorce!”). This particular divorce was punctuated by a lengthy court battle involving kids, assets, you name it. Some of you have been through the same thing and bear the same scars. Well, the man then decided to do what a lot of you have also decided to do: engage the services of an online dating site. And he put in all his info regarding temperament, likes, dislikes, and interests. The website put in all his information, loaded up the algorithms, and spate out a few candidates as they do. Including one they believed (these were the early days of the site) would be the ideal date. Who was it? His ex-wife, who OBVIOUSLY unknown to him, had signed up the same service. Now I don’t know if precisely THAT has happened to you!
And I just think that is such a sad story. Not an indictment of eHarmoney or match.com, but sad because the couple coulda, woulda, shoulda gotten a handle on love but couldn’t get it. And I have to wonder if fundamentally – this is for couples but also includes ALL relationships – if the missing piece had to do with missing communication. Because here’s what I’ve noticed and here’s what I’ve read about and here’s I’ve read about and here’s what I’m tempted to do & it could be a guy thing but anyway: there are a good many people who, even in their CLOSEST relationships (marriage & parenting) want to be ADORED but not KNOWN. They want to be ADMIRED but not UNDERSTOOD.
It’s so interesting … I read a lot of biographies & you know who this is true of? Folks want to be adored but not known? Presidents. Like of the USA. Especially both FDR (AV) and Ronald Reagan (AV) – you didn’t think I was just gonna slam one party, did you? Both of them loved to tell stories, loved to be the center of attention, loved to entertain … but both struggled mightily with interpersonal relationships. Both of them had children who found them oddly cold and distant (FDR’s 4 kids had 16 marriages!). People who tried to get close found an invisible wall. (To be fair, RR let Nancy in, while no one ever called FDR “old faithful.”) But more to today’s point, I have to believe that what is true of those alpha males of yore is also true of some betas males & females of now. Those among us, in this space, who like to be seen and admired from a distance – even by our spouses, even by our kids – but resist any kind of emotional proximity. Who resent vulnerability.
It’s almost like people get into marriage by presenting themselves not as they REALLY are but as who they WISH they were. As if any potential mate who would know the REAL you, the wart-filled one, wouldn’t love you anymore. As if knowledge of what really makes you tick – hopes & ambitions, anxieties & compulsions – would breed contempt. And so what we do in so many households is carry around a Bag O’ Secrets. (BRING ONE). What goes in? Secrets. That trauma from the past. That financial decision that was so costly. That doubt about God. That guy who is flirting with you. That girl you are flirting with. That compulsive behavior. And you don’t share any of the secrets in your secret sack because you’re convinced if you do, then you’ll lose whatever handle you had on love to begin with.
This is why some of you got into a marriage & brought debt with you, hid it, and then BOOM! Surprise! That rarely ends well. It’s why others of you REALLY want to change your career but you can’t quite work up the nerve to tell the one you love. It’s why still others have decided you want to give radically to God, you want financial peace, but you know when you bring up money there’s an issue. So you hold it in, put it in your secret sack and that’s that.
All that background, from FDR to the guy in the early days of eHarmony to you here, today, is why this little comment, this biblical aside, this vertical acknowledgement in the middle of a horizontal chapter in I Co 13, intrigues me so much. Because Paul has been speaking masterfully about love here and then he builds to the conclusion by contrasting the partial & the complete; the now & the then. Look at 13:8-11:
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
So the stuff we do will one day fade away; the love that propels us to do it will not. And then Paul gets to the vertical nugget that, remember, is embedded in a chapter all about the horizontal:
12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
Some of you may heard that translated as “now we see through a glass darkly” which sounds cool, too. But you need to know that mirrors were NOT GOOD in Paul’s day. Rough. So the sense is of something obscured, lacking clarity. Visisble but not SEEN. Full of mystery. That’s us and God NOW. But THEN (at return!) we will see face to face – all clarity & no mystery. THEN we will know fully. Our adoration AND our insight will be equal. We will know God’s power AND God’s character.
But here’s Paul’s kicker: even as I am fully known. So there is one before whom all secrets will be laid bare, before whom all of us who die in faith will be naked and not ashamed. Completely vulnerable now and then. And how does God respond to this depth of knowing? By withdrawing his love? May it never be! Look at I Cor 13:13: 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. He responds to knowledge by piling on more love. The more warts we have the more love he lavishes!
And I saw that and realize this VERTICAL insight happens, remember!, in the midst of a HORIZONTAL chapter. So why don’t we just practice on earth what we’re going to live in heaven. If being fully known by God results in MORE love not less, why don’t we live that same model amongst ourselves? Why don’t we stop pretending with our families? Why don’t we stop performing for the ones we love the most? No longer exchange “loved” for “adored.” Here it is, GS: Only when you are fully known can you freely love.
See, the reason so many of you have ½ marriages (13:8-11!) is because your Secret Sack is to full. The reason you can’t get through to your kids is they know Performance You, not real you. The reason you can’t get on board with your parents is that you have act like you’re on display around them. You’ve erroneously believed that they like the display and not the authentic when the reverse is true. I am giving this message – and it’s one I have been thinking about for YEARS, actually – because I don’t want lower profile repetitions of FDR & RR.
I want you to know first hand the power of ANYWAY. The incomparable beauty of having someone say to you “I know it all; I love you ANYWAY.” Say that with me: ANYWAY. That’s how it is with God! He doesn’t love a single one of us based on our performance for Jesus. He loves all of us based on our position in Jesus. Because I suspect that when it comes to our performance for Jesus, a lot of us are filled with regret, with shame, with coulda would shoulda. And what does God do? I love you ANYWAY. After all, John 3:16 says this, doesn’t it? For God so liked the world that he gave his … Oh, loved. Based not on our ability but on his character? Yep. ANYWAY. Only when you are fully known can you freely love.
What a treasure that I have in my own life to have lived this. I mean I have quirks. Quirks. QUIRKS (AV of it in all caps!)!! Peculiarities. Neuroses. And yeah, even some regret. And Julie, through it all has from the beginning: ANYWAY. So the knowing, the vulnerability, hasn’t been a source of shame but of strength. Only when you are fully known can you freely love.
Now listen: in marriage, men & women often process this stuff differently. Kind of like this tale of two diaries:
Wife’s Diary: Tonight, I thought he was acting weird. We had made plans to meet at a nice restaurant for dinner. I was shopping with friends all day long, so I thought he was upset at the fact that I was a bit late, but he made no comment on it. Conversation wasn’t flowing, so I suggested we go somewhere quiet and talk. He agreed, but he didn’t say much.
I asked him what was wrong and he said, “Nothing.” I asked him if it was my fault he was upset. He said he wasn’t upset and not to worry about it. On the way home, I told him that I loved him. He smiled a bit & kept driving.
I can’t explain his behavior. I don’t know why he didn’t say, “I love you too.” When we got home, I felt as if I had lost him completely. He just sat & watched TV. Finally, with silence all around us, I decided to go to bed. About 15 minutes later, he came to bed. But I still felt he was distracted and his thoughts were somewhere else. He fell asleep. I cried. I don’t know what to do. I am almost sure his mind is with someONE else. My life is a disaster.
Boat wouldn’t start. Can’t figure it out.
Guys: don’t use this as an excuse! But as an explanation for why this subject can be a WEE BIT more challenging for us than for females. Because I know that right now some of you are terrified, men and women. You got stuff. You got ambitions. You got insecurities. You got secrets. And you have been nursing that stuff, protecting that stash. It is terrifying to be fully known and somehow comforting to be partially known. But I want you to know the flipside of terrifying is liberating! I believe the rawest conversations lead to the deepest breakthroughs. And it always takes less energy to tell the truth than it does to lie. Always! You’ll stop needing those meds for Low T because the truth is so liberating!
Can I get extraordinarily nosy and practical? Two ways? One, this talk and the talks a lot of you couples have as a result may well lead to marriage counseling BEFORE the crisis hits. And that’s great! Marriage counseling WHEN the crisis hits can be a very iffy proposition! But you engage in it before the crisis and who knows how much drama you will prevent. We have a list of vetted professionals at our website: ESTABLISH A LINK.
Two … gulp … share passwords to computer devices and accounts. Don’t care how much you bare your soul if you’ve still got stuff on the sly. Part of being fully known is being fully known. Because here’s what I want and what I don’t want. What I don’t want is for you marrieds to go through a nasty divorce – or a pleasant one – and then be matched up with your ex. And realize how all those little secrets turned into a great big mess.
And what I want. Genesis 2:25: Adam and his wife were both naked and unashamed. Vulnerable, open, no shame. More in love. Only when you are fully known can you freely love.
Bag O’ Secret drop.