I stood in front of the mirror a few seconds longer, trying on a few different facial expressions to see which one was my “best look.” Not that it made such of a noticeable difference; I looked the same way that I looked every day: athletic shorts, flannel shirt, backwards hat on top of tousled blond hair that had been naturally highlighted by the glorious Colorado sun. Despite the fact that I had both showered and shaved for the first time in a week, nothing really looked that special about me.
But today was different. Today I needed to be different. Because today, I was hanging out with Josh.
Ruggedly handsome and ridiculously cocky, Josh was my coworker at summer camp that year. I spent my days camping and hiking with tweens and teens all week, and he spent his days planning events and meeting with group leaders. I had fallen for him hard, and every opportunity to spend time with him sent my heart stuttering, my stomach clenching, and my thoughts turning supremely self-conscious.
Though every part of me was crying out to know and be known by him, I generally hid myself behind constant smiles and laughter, faked nonchalance, and pretended bravery. The desire to be known by this boy was trumped by my need to avoid rejection. I was sure that rejection would hurt less if there was less of me to reject, and that rejection itself would be a less probable outcome if he didn’t really know who I was. So even while we drew closer, I found myself feeling less and less known.
Fast forward nine years, and that ruggedly handsome boy and I got married and had four children in quick succession. And here I am again, standing in front of a different mirror, fighting that all-too-familiar craving to be known with a steady dose of self-protection.
This time, when I come up against him in a disagreement or a tense situation, I pull out new weapons of warfare: instead of wielding shyness and nonchalance, I brandish anger, sarcasm, frustration, and exhaustion. I butt up against his defenses, rather than lowering my own. We come away from our conversation both seen and heard, but not known. Because in order to be known, you must share your secrets. You must reveal your weaknesses. You must lay down your weapons—and yourself be exposed to attack.
As I stare in the mirror, blue-green eyes glassy with unshed tears, the same tousled blond hair now tied up into a mom-bun, I know that I have to go back out there and be vulnerable with him. But my fears are holding me back:
What if he laughs at me?
What if he runs away, or pushes me away?
What if he thinks I’m silly or stupid?
What if…he doesn’t care?
Six years of marriage, and the doubts are still here. We have never walked out on each other, said that the other one’s thoughts or ideas are stupid, or led each other to believe that either of us didn’t care. We have spent six years building trust with each other, and yet the insecurities are still rising up my throat. Because maybe there is no amount of time that can erase our fear of being known.
Which is why the dare remains for us all, every day, to let ourselves be vulnerable enough to be known. To let others into our hearts, even though they might hurt us. To dare to see someone, even if they don’t see you back. It is undeniably risky to lay down our weapons and our defenses, and to reveal our own weak and messy and delightful selves. But if you decide today that risking rejection is not worth it, then you will risk something even more valuable: losing out on being known and loved for who you are.