Last week, because I am extremely cool, I found myself watching an informational video about a local health insurance provider. I watched contentedly as the presenter explained all the many benefits of having a policy with her company: dental, dental emergency, consultant’s fees, chiropody, physiotherapy…the excitement was almost too much to bear.
She spoke of the free Doctor Hotline I could use if I needed a second opinion and the Professional Advice Hotline I could use if I had a legal question about pet ownership or wanted to know how to change a lightbulb. She told me about the exciting discounts I can get at Boots and Frankie & Benny’s if I take out a policy with her company. She then whipped out the coup de gras, the Big One, the grand finale.
“The Department of Defence even uses this feature,” she beamed. “It’s sort of like Facebook…a place for you to vent your worries, your frustrations, your anxieties, and a place for you to read about the worries, frustrations and anxieties of others, but without the fear of being discovered. Your name isn’t associated with your account, you are simply a randomly generated serial number.”
She went on to explain the benefits of being able to pour out your true feelings without being discovered. “Your colleagues will never know it’s you,” she cooed.
The music swelled, and then she said it: “Here…you are anonymous.”
The video carried on. But I couldn’t. Anonymous? Is that what we should be? Is anonymity going to solve our problems? Is casting our true thoughts and feelings, fears and concerns into the ether really going to help?
Ours is a world riddled with anxiety, fear, isolation, self-loathing and shame. Dr Jean M Twenge of the American Psychological Association has noted that the average teenager today exhibits the same levels of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the 1950s. Do we really think that a pursuit of anonymity is what’s going to fix that?
Isn’t the answer instead to be KNOWN? I tuned out the rest of the video as my thoughts drifted to how grateful I am to have a God who knows me—inside and out, frailties, faults, failures, fears. I’m so grateful that when I need to pour out my true feelings, I can speak to someone who knows everything about me (past, present and future) and loves me anyway. Isn’t that actually what we need? To know that we are accepted, valued, even cherished, even with the faults we try so hard to hide?
Maybe that’s something to consider as we engage ourselves in mission both in the UK and around the world. Human beings aren’t designed to be anonymous. We aren’t designed to be isolated. We were made for community, for relationships. We have been lulled into a counterfeit sense of community via social media, but there is simply no substitute for looking into a person’s eyes, face to face, and saying, “I know you. I care. I’m not going anywhere.” This is what will solve the problems of anxiety, fear, isolation, self-loathing and shame. It is knowing that someone knows your faults and accepts you anyway. Knowing that you are loved and fully included even with the quirks and oddities that make you, you.
If we, as Christians, enjoy a relationship with God based on knowing and being known, how then can we not mirror (and model) that relationship to friends, family and untold millions scattered across the globe? I love it when summer rolls around and our Pioneers field workers come back for their every-two-or-three-years home assignment. They arrive at the office with their arms full of stories of the work they’ve done, the lives that have been changed, the people they know. They are in the trenches, so to speak. They are in life-on-life relationships with people in far flung lands…showing them that they are known and loved in spite of their frailties, faults, fears and failings. This, friends, is true ministry.
That’s what I want for my life too, right here in the UK. I want to be the person who digs my heels in and says no to anonymity and the anxiety and isolation that come with it. I want to make sure the people around me know that not only do I know them, but also that God knows them. I hope no one I know ever feels the need to vent their feelings to the unseeing, unknowing internet. I want to look them in the eye and tell them that they’re known and loved.
No more anonymity. No more shame.
Photo by Jeremy Cai.