The public world can’t grow the private me.
It never could.
I was fifteen and full of dreams with a brand new Bible I’d highlight in the late hours after friends went home, before the days when those friends were always accessible to broadcast my every thought to them. I was introduced to God before hashtags and tweets and the ability to make your most profound moments public. I scoured His Word those nights, alone — it was fresh to me.
He fed me … for just me, then.
But not too long after that summer, when I stayed up late nights on the swing in my backyard rapt in His Word like a love story, I learned I could tell others about this God who’d fascinated me. There were others, just like me, hungry. And they were all around me.
It was birthed as earnest zeal. What I knew, I had to share. It was changing me — who else wouldn’t want to know?
So every Thursday night I filled my car with warm bodies — receptive or not — and brought them to a Young Life club. This ministry gave me a mold for telling other brace-faced teenagers about a God who had a voice into their adolescence. We sang songs and did skits and heard about this God-Man. Every week the gospel was made accessible to friends who’d just barely sobered up from last weekend and were already planning the party for next. More than a beautiful interruption in the week of a teenager, it was a beautiful interruption to the lives of scores of teenagers.
I was young though. Pages of my Bible were still stuck together. I had a little bit of zeal, a lot of ambition and whole internal life that had yet to be examined. This awesome evangelistic opportunity that showed up every Thursday became the way I defined myself in God.
Were the friends, whom I loved so much, receptive to the Jesus presented each week? grew to be: Was my car full of people?
These weekly meetings culminated in a week-long summer camp. This was brilliant for teenagers stuck in a rut of broken families and broken relationships and broken ways of relating to the world. Get them away for a week, out in nature, where they could hear — night after night — about the love of this God-Man, for them.
I spent months praying and dreaming about which of my friends might have their lives forever changed, just like mine was. Concurrently, my unexamined heart latched on to this as an opportunity to claim my worth. Who will You bring to come to know You this week, God? became How many of my friends can I get to sign up? The number of friends on that list — who came “because” of me — might serve as a placeholder for the part of me that desperately needed His validation.
Subtly perceptible dissonance, but massive on my inside.
My successful public world could prevent me from examining His internal work.
Over a decade later and we show up at a dinner party, not meant for kids, but one to which my kids were invited. Just months home from Uganda, with girls still unsure if they were orphans or daughters, I was hesitant to break out of our little nest. We prepped them as best as you can former-orphans when you have a short tap on just what might trigger fear or insecurity. Within seconds of walking in the door, as the guests gathered around in their dinner-party attire to meet our new crew for the first time, one of my girls stood on her tip-toes, with her mouth next to my ear — and screamed.
I froze. What do you do with that?
We prepped them for looking adults in the eye and introducing themselves and not running around the dining table, but never did I consider that they’d need to be cautioned against screaming. In. my. ear.
I graciously apologized, hoping the lighting was low enough to hide my pink cheeks, and then I devolved on the inside. So much for handshakes and “thank you for having me” and “it’s so nice to meet you” from my crew.
I was fifteen again and my children were my car full of kids on the way to Young Life. In both I was seeking for my outer-life to do what was only meant to happen on my insides.
There are always two stories: the one we see with our naked eye and the one He is writing on the inside. True beauty — the kind of beauty that makes a lover of God out of a person in flesh — can only be birthed on the inside.
Mamas at home in their sweatpants and janitors staying late when the meetings are over and the person whose name is smattered all across the internet for that one percent of their story that caught the public eye — they all have a chance to hear the words from Him that make a big girl out of a child:
I see you.
The person who fumbled over their speech and the ministry leader whose ministry dried up — the mom with a wayward child and the one who got voted out — all have the opportunity to close their door to the world outside and hear words from Him that will rivet their insides:
I see you.
When the outward life is pressed, the one seeking God is then given the chance to ask of Him the question that *only He* can answer: who am I?
And better than asking the question is sitting in the still, quiet, when-no-one-is-looking-and-no-one-is-“liking” space and hearing His answer:
I see you. I know you.
Almost always, some part of our external life has to be suppressed in order for us to open ourselves and hear His whisper about the part of us that no one sees.
In the day of fingertip access to the world outside our door, anyone can craft an outward experience — a personality, a mission, a life-that-is-liked.
It is a rare treasure to be alive on the inside because you know Him when no one is looking.
That thing you’re bucking up against — that moment that has mortified you, the friend who misunderstands you, the board that just fired you or the child who continues to embarrass you — they are hand-picked by God. (Remember, anyone can configure “success” in today’s world.) In His kindness He wants you to hear words that were meant only to come from His mouth when no one is looking.
The little girl who knows she is seen by God and He knows her, there in the private while some part of her public-life suffers, can leap over any mountain.
Are you her? Or him? This moment you’re hating may very well be gold.
For Your Continued Pursuit: Isaiah 55:8-9 | Psalm 139 | 1 Samuel 16:7 | Romans 8:5-6 | 1 Peter 2:4
Photos compliments of Mandie Joy.