Hiding and Being Found

September 17th, 2012

The little white house on Gladstone Avenue had a driveway that ran the length of it on the right side. The gravel popped and crackled under the weight of any car coming through, sending up gray billows of dust. So we had some warning when Dad pulled his white Datsun up beside the house at the end of the day. It was the automatic on your mark, get set signal to my sister and me. We needed to get into position for a round of hide-and-seek.

Our house was small, and there were exactly three good hiding spots: behind the overstuffed recliner in the corner, behind the long curtains in the living room, or under the kitchen table. But anyone who hid under the table was nearly always found first, so maybe there were really only two good spots.

I still remember through seven-year-old-girl eyes: he walks through the back door near the laundry room, and Mom hollers out a mom-ish “I have no idea where the girls are” comment as she stands over the stove, stirring the chili. The pursuit begins. I have an overwhelming urge to laugh and wet my pants, and I hold myself into a ball and shake with excitement, both hoping he finds me and hoping he doesn’t.

Dad knows all the good spots, but he plays along and looks everywhere else first, letting us girls win at our game. And if we hear his voice close to the place we are hidden, we wiggle and squirm and retreat deeper into our hiding. We get giggly, and the play goes on a little longer.

As I grew up, I stopped playing hide-and-seek for fun. Instead, I played for survival. When you’re a kid, it’s a game. As you get older, hide-and-seek can become a way of life, and you don’t even realize you’re playing it.

I’ve done a lot of hiding in my life, but not the kind of hiding you might think. I’m not a fugitive hiding from the law or a run- away hiding from my troubles. I didn’t spend high school hiding boyfriends from my parents or pot under my pillow. I’ve never been suspended from school, stolen the answer key to a math test, or been drunk, high, or arrested.

My hiding was so clever that I had everyone fooled, including myself. The ways I chose to hide were not obviously offensive. I was nice. I was lovely and bubbly and likable. I was a good girl. But I hid myself behind my good girl image.

Like in my living room all those years ago, there are really only a few good hiding spots in the world, and we all compete for position behind them:

We hide behind our intellect.

We hide behind our sweet personalities.

We hide behind our rules.

We hide behind our comfort zones.

We take on different identities, often without realizing it. It’s as if there are voices in our heads telling us who we are:

I’m the responsible one.

I’m the nice one.

I’m the smart one.

I’m the shy one.

I’m the worried one.

I’m the good one.

I’m the boring one.

We listen to these voices, and they drive us deeper into our hiding places. It may sound weird to call these hiding spots—I’m not hiding, you may say. I’m just living. And I’m trying to do a good job of it. What’s wrong with that?

Well, nothing. Maybe. But it could be possible that you are a little bit like me—you’re living life well; you’re making smart, safe choices. But there is pressure, and because people seem to have high expectations  of you and because your parents are so proud of you and because you want to do well so badly, success means everything. Failure is devastating. Weakness is unacceptable. Rather than letting people see your doubts, you hide behind a firm smile. Rather than risking rejection, you choose to keep your fears to yourself by pretending not to care. Rather than admitting you don’t know what to do next, you fake it in public and feel lost when you’re alone.

When you are a good girl, you move through life like a well-trained cheerleader, elbows and knees locked, smile on your face, standing on the sidelines. With your shoulders tense and your teeth clenched tight, you brace for tests and right answers and are ready for anything. You have a great respect for your obligations.

In a world where everyone’s motives drip heavy with expectation, you wonder if anyone knows who you really are behind all that good. Do they care? Do they see me over here, trying my best to do things right? Working hard to please them? Struggling to keep it all together?

These outward identities we build for ourselves are not all that we are. A person is made of so many layers. Skin is just the top layer. It’s the part you can see, so when you walk into a room, others won’t run into you. It’s the brown-hair, brown-eyes layer; the you-look-good-in-green layer.

Your outside is important because God made that part. He made you on purpose, uniquely beautiful. But you can’t stop there, because that’s your body, your skin, your outside. Dead people have all that stuff too. There’s something else that makes you alive.

And so you keep digging and you see a little more. Maybe you laugh like your mama, talk with a hint of a lisp, enjoy country music, or put fries on your hamburger. Maybe you stay up too late at night and regret it in the morning. Something about a large moon in the night sky is comforting to you. You think about the future. A lot. You panic in the spotlight but crave it at the same time. You make friends easily, and you worry what they think.

Before you know it, you’ve gone deeper. You’re starting to uncover what motivates you—the things you fear might come true, and worse, the things you fear might not. You have a longing to be understood, but still feel the need to protect yourself. You are happy, sad, scared, joyful, loved, unloved, rejected, and accepted all at the same time. And though you feel alone, so many of us feel the exact same way.

Your layers run deep. Most of life, we function on the top layers, the ones that show up in the mirror. The ones others can see. People like us or don’t like us based on those top layers. They make judgment calls—and so do we, by the way, even though we want to be seen and known for who we really are. But who are we really?

Consider the ways you might be hiding out, the things you are looking to for security and for safety. Perhaps we think we want to remain hidden, to keep to ourselves, to maintain our safety with our own hands. We have grown so comfortable in our girl-made hiding places that we forget the most important part of hide-and-seek: the best part of hiding is being found. If no one is looking for you, what’s the point of hiding? Don’t we all really want to be known, to be loved, to be accepted, to be searched for, to be found?

An invitation has been offered, but only the desperate can hear it. Dare to lift your eyes up from your books and achievements. Tilt your head toward the gentle whispers of a God who says, What is it you truly seek?

There are lots of answers to that question. Love. Money. Fame. Success. Beauty. Peace. Safety. Knowledge. Fun. Freedom. Perfection.

But all of these are secondary things. Because we were made in the secret, mysterious heart of God and anything less than God himself will always leave us wanting more. Some girls look to fill the emptiness with their rebellious ways and get into trouble. Other girls try hard to fill the emptiness with good things and get praise. But both girls are reaching for something we’ll never find outside of God.

There is a different way to live, a way that is full of grace and mystery, a way that cannot be outlined or studied for or figured out.

Life isn’t about trying hard to be good, it’s about trusting God to be graceful in us.

When you hear that word graceful, maybe you think of something that moves in a beautiful or elegant way. Maybe you imagine a dancer on a stage or a bird in the sky. Lovely. Beautiful. Smooth.

In Christ, being graceful simply means you are specially marked by God’s divine grace. In a very real way, this kind of graceful is also lovely and beautiful. His grace is a gift you don’t deserve and can’t earn. Because we are loved and known by a graceful God, we are free to relax our shoulders, unclench our fists, and open our hands to receive all he has to offer. And the best thing he has to offer is, quite simply, himself.

Used By Permission. Excerpted from Graceful: Letting Go of Your Try-Hard Life (Revell, Sept. 2012)

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