In the days following my last post about our engagement, Aaron and I both received messages saying congratulations and how sweet our story is and how it reads like some kind of fairytale. I’ll be honest – I agree! Ha! It’s been crazy beautiful, super exciting, the gushiest kind of love. We have had some of the very sweetest moments together and it’s easy to share those with you. But as Aaron and I talked in the days following, we were both really quick to want to tell people that it hasn't all been rainbows and butterflies and constant bliss. I'm not trying to squash this moment of joy, but I want to tell the truth of how this current sweetness was birthed out of gritty, dirt-under-our-nails kind of heart work.
Several months ago, Aaron and I came to a crossroad as we found there were things we had been keeping from each other. Certainly as we began talking back in January and got to know each other better, we revealed little by little the intimate details about ourselves, choices we had made, grief we lived through. As a friend wrote on Facebook the other day, as adults at 29 and 32, Aaron and I have seen some things. It's likely you have too. We’ve lived some things. Hard things. Great things. All the things in between. And intimate relationship requires - demands - honesty and openness and living in the light. But there were pieces of our individual stories that we had still held back from each other.
Have you ever had that experience where a thought or an idea or a phrase just keeps coming up in different circumstances with different people? I feel like those are the things we really need to pay attention to and see if there's anything to be learned because there’s usually a reason it keeps coming up. There’s a reason you can’t seem to escape it. A few months ago, Aaron and I started talking a lot more about the idea of being fully known and fully loved. It came up in one of our conversations and then came up in the book I was reading and came up in the sermon I listened to and came up again with Aaron later. After one of our first conversations on the topic I even journaled, “I feel like God is trying to teach me something here and I want to be listening.”
I realized shortly that I had those feelings for a reason. I was being prompted and pushed and constantly pursued by God to rip the lid off the box I had so securely nailed shut with all the parts of me I didn’t want anyone to see. The one where I had staple-gunned the edges just to be sure they were safe and hidden. I felt God was quietly asking me to drag that one out of the back of the closet and dump it out all over the floor in front of Aaron.
Maybe we all fear that moment. There’s the one thing you’ve kept safe in your heart. One thing you don’t want to tell anyone. One thing you’re worried about other people finding out. You think that if they know, they won’t love you. If they know, they’ll run away. If they know, then you’re out there on your own and you’ve done the final thing to tip the scales. Or maybe it’s not one thing, maybe it’s a lot of things, and they’ve compounded over the years, adding more and more to the top of your pile so the lid doesn’t even shut on your box anymore. Maybe the only thing people know about you is the façade you’ve presented – the one you want them to know and believe more than anything. It’s the version of you that you think would be best and safest and least messy for all involved because if they knew that you really thought ______ or did _______ or believed ________, then surely, surely there would be no one left by your side.
I realized over the last several months that I’ve never been fully known. I’ve never told someone all there is to know about the darkness of my heart and the places that still throb from wounding. I’ve never been fully honest with one single person about the things that really messed me up in my thinking about God and authority and sex and relationships. No one really knew the ways in which my heart was broken and then put back together piecemeal and jagged and no longer naive. I don’t know if I even knew the extent of it all. So when I decided to empty this little treasure trove of secrets on the floor and I was left feeling like a pile of bones and I realized what God was teaching me about being known and loved, it was like this tidal wave of grief and pain but also sweet relief.
While we looked at my junk, I told Aaron, “I think I’m the only one who is a wreck of a person.” Of course he laughed at me and said that was ridiculous. “Maybe other people are good hiders, too,” he said. Maybe they are - maybe we all are. But sweet Aaron, he looked at the junk dumped on the floor, then sat on the floor next to me and said, “I love you.”
I don’t know what I thought relationships were or how these bonds were formed but I can tell you that through the mess and the sorting of it all, we forged a bond that wasn’t there previously. There was no capacity in which it could form because our boxes sat stacked between us like this leaning tower of Jenga pieces and while we tried to reach around it and caught sight of each other in small glimpses, like peering through the peephole of a door, it was nothing like the moment of knocking the tower over and staring at each other, vulnerable and exposed, and saying, “Well, here it is.” We broke down the barriers between each other, between us and God, and between what we thought to be true all these years and what’s really true about who we are and where we stand.
What’s in the box? Different things for different people. Vices and addictions. Secrets and shame and self-hate. Sin and brokenness. Lies we’ve heard from others and lies we tell ourselves on repeat. Versions of the person we were and versions of the person we want to be but aren’t. All the ways we’ve held ourselves captive to guilt and rehearsed the reasons we are unworthy. God has been slowly chipping away at my heart over the last several years, trying desperately to help me to understand who I am and what I’m worth, meanwhile I’ve done a bang up job of not listening and putting my fingers in my ears like I do when I’m watching a scary movie. But when you’re engaged in real relationship, when you feel safe and cared for and heard, there will be a time when you must lay bare all the ways you’re scared and ashamed and the ways you’ve been running reckless for years. Ann Voskamp said in a blog post recently, “Shame dies when stories are told in safe places.” And in those safe places, with that one safe person you have or the small tribe of people you know who can speak to you fluent in the language of grace and truth, let them shower you with a real love that is only possible once you’re fully known.
In the midst of the undoing, of untangling some of the knots we had tied successively in the rope of our lives over the years, Aaron shared some music with me from a friend he met on a missions trip to Sweden several years ago. The album will now always tell the story of that season in our relationship as I listened to it on repeat for the weeks following. In the song, Saved, the lyrics say,
I’ve been afraid of being honest / Losing track of how I felt / And it will put you into boxes
You'll find that hiding the truth will put you in boxes - or maybe you'll just put yourself there. You’ll shove parts of yourself to the back of the closet and present a prettier version – one that you feel might be worthy of a little love. But what are you hiding? Where the places you feel unsafe and unheard and unworthy? How is that affecting you now, even when the box is closed and hidden in the back of the closet? What lies are you believing about yourself and who can speak truth into those corners of your heart?
I read the book, Wild and Free, and around the time that Aaron and I started talking about this, I got to the chapter on being fully known and fully loved (of course!) and it goes on to talk about how we don’t live in the freedom of being fully known because we learn to love our captivity like some kind of kidnap victim with Stockholm Syndrome. We know how to operate in captivity. We know what it’s like to live with the things we’ve shoved away into boxes and pretend they aren’t there. It feels safer to keep living with our wings clipped because we know how to function within those bounds. Why do we care so much for our secrets, checking on them every day and patting them on the head for being good and staying hidden, but don’t see our freedom as something to be chased after and cherished – something much more worthy of our care and attention?
The rest of the song goes like this:
I’ve been afraid of being honest /Losing track of how I felt /And it will put you into boxes /But if you’re born wild / You can’t stay there…no way… We all need to be saved / Sometimes
You can’t stay in the box. You can’t let your box of junk keep you from deep relationship with other people. You were born to be wild and free and live under a banner of light and grace. Find someone to talk to – find someone who is safe and will listen and stay when it gets messy. I can honestly tell you that nothing you could ever tell me will shock me. I absolutely believe that given the right set of circumstances, the right amount of despair or hurt or disbelief or disillusionment, we are all capable of anything. So while I might cry with you, I refuse to pull away or say, "How could you... I would never...". If we believe the gospel in any capacity, we should all try to respond this way. We should all rejoice when someone dares to drag darkness into the light. How and when you choose to do this is entirely up to you, but you do need to let someone fully know who you are and where you’ve been and let that uncovering, the dumping out of the box, let it free you from years of hurt and struggle and believing the lies that you are not worthy.
One of my favorite songs on that same album is called Faith. The lyric that makes me cry almost every time, the lyric that speaks the most truth to me right now, the one that makes me feel like we have so much to do and so little time and so much glorious life to live in the freedom that God is calling us to – the freedom that comes with being fully known and fully loved is,
What do we do with our feet on the ground when the sky's asking us to dance?
We have such precious little time to live and love and be loved. Don't squander it in hiding. Don't believe the lie that there is no redemption for you. I know that one. I know exactly how it sounds and the way it parades as truth. But, Aaron and I stepped into the light with each other and, gosh, it was like the whole earth shifted that day. It hasn't all been fairytale and we know it won't be going forward either, but we are willing to do the work it requires to live in the light of truth and join the dance and that's our only hope for you too, because honestly, that's where things have the potential to get really, really sweet.