The Tug-of-War Inside All of Us

There is an inner tug-of-war in all of us, a tension that drives so much of our outer life. Here it is: We long to be known, and at the same time we’re terrified of it.  

So many of our patterns of relating and our failures to love can be traced to this tug-of-war. Which side wins? Usually our terror. Hence the lifelong attempts to cover ourselves, only redoubling the power of shame in our lives. We lock up our longing to be known in a dark closet, treating it as we would an abused child, hoping it will go away. But the longing remains and calls out to us, sometimes insistently, sometimes unexpectedly, and so the tug-of-war keeps yanking at us.

Enter Jesus. Take the story of how he dealt with Levi, the tax collector. Here was a man despised as a traitor by his fellow Jews. Tax collectors not only worked for a pagan government, but they also made their living by overcharging the required tax, as much as they could get away with. As a result, they were excommunicated from the synagogue, and their families were held in disgrace. They were so mistrusted that their testimony in court was not considered reliable. Yet Jesus chooses this despised man to be His disciple.

But the story gets even better (Mark 2:14-17). Levi throws a party and invites the only friends he has, other tax collectors and low-life. What do they do? They eat together. Eating in that culture required a certain physical intimacy, as they reclined together on couches. It also implied an emotional one, as hearts were shared over the food. The text in Mark even suggests that Jesus was the real host of the party.

Imagine the impact on Levi and his friends. They had been despised and shamed much of their lives, and now a famous rabbi and teacher wanted to be close to them. Jesus just saw them so differently than they saw themselves, and it began the dismantling of shame. We don’t know what happened to Levi’s friends after the party, but we do know what happened to Levi. He was so revolutionized by Jesus that he eventually penned the Gospel of Matthew.

That same revolution can happen to each of us. How does shame get healed in our lives? How do we learn true intimacy? It comes as we allow Jesus to re-image how we feel about ourselves. The binding power of shame is that it ends up defining us, but the truth is that only He knows who we really are. He says that we are His beloved, and He is not ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters (Heb. 2:11).

I have watched Jesus begin to free others into their true selves, but the real reason I can write about this is my own life. It’s happening to me. When we allow ourselves to be seen through His eyes, we find shame yielding to glory, and we experience the wonder of being known—and being enjoyed—all at the same time. 

It’s the beginning of the end of the tug-of-war.  


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