by: Alyssa Spang
Sometimes I’m lonely. On lonely days, I can say with absolute certainty that I crave one thing: to be known.
One day my mother told me, “you are consistent.” This simple statement meant more to me than “I love you” ever had. Worlds more. She saw me; she acknowledged my consistency. For that moment, I felt known.
I don’t want to be told “I love you” because the chances are that I won’t understand what is meant by that sentence. It’s too general and overused. I would ask for specifics. What is meant by “I love you”?
Really, I want to be seen. For me, to be seen, or deeply known, is what other people may define as being loved.
I’m a reader. I like to crawl inside the nitty-gritty of characters’ stories and make intense eye contact. Sometimes, I’m disappointed that the intimacy I find in literature feels so much more powerful than any number of conversations that may occur during the week. There are two reasons for that feeling:
- It’s much easier to understand what fictional characters are thinking, as they usually tell me directly.
- A fictional character is the construction of a distant author’s careful words, so the intimacy I feel is an emotional reaction to the character, that I created in my own mind.
It’s terrifying to be truly intimate in person because there is always that chance that I may accidentally misinterpret what that other person means. I may also misrepresent who I am. I’ve done this zillions of times. But, potential communication difficulties do not make intimacy a lost cause; in fact, intimacy is worth fighting tooth and nail for.
I would truly despair if indisputable evidence that God does not exist were to emerge.
So far, the only Person who has succeeded in knowing you and me perfectly—our good and bad traits—is God. Without God, even in a crowded room, I would feel desperately alone.
But the real kicker for this idea of intimacy is not that I am deeply known by the perfect God. That’s just the shallow end of a very deep ocean.
Without God teaching me what it means to know, I wouldn’t have the slightest clue of how to live in community with others. In fact, community would be a lost cause.
Without God, I wouldn’t only be lonely and desperate to be known, but I would be desperate to know how to love and know others.
Without God, I would crave intimacy I had never experienced and I wouldn’t know where to find it.
Without God’s selfless example of knowing, I would only know my own selfish heart. I’ll let that sink in: it’s an ugly idea.
The answer to loneliness is not an endless refrain of “I love you’s.” No, the answer lies in the simple practice of learning from God how to know, how to understand individual complexities, and how to acknowledge flaws without glorifying them. Then go and know. Let’s try our best to learn about other people.
Yes, it’s true that I don’t want to be told “I love you”. Instead, I simply want to be “known full well.”
What do the words “I love you” actually mean?
Alyssa Spang teaches English at Grace Prep High School in Pennsylvania. When she’s not hanging out with literary-minded high school students, she’s probably sitting at a coffee shop or wandering through the woods. Aside from her Creator, there are few things she loves more than freshly fallen snow. Her short story “Let me Tell You about Mount Vesuvius” was published in the collaborative novel Frozen by Fire. She hopes continue writing in the future.