I Am Known
We all struggle with identity — who we are, why we are, and what we have to offer the world. About the time we find a scrap of worth or significance, something happens to make us fully aware of how much we lack. A harsh word. A broken relationship. A blunder or failure. Then, in spite of our best efforts at positivity or affirmation, we can’t escape the insecurity and aloneness we experience as a result. When it comes to this epidemic of misplaced identity, my friend Michele Cushatt understands the struggle first hand. Without giving away her story (which you can read in her books), Michele knows what it’s like to lose her footing, and to wonder if she’d ever again be able to stand. But she also knows what it’s like to cry out to God for grace, and to discover the miracle of His Presence and His Purpose right here, right now. — Sheila Walsh
We met for coffee as we’d done many times before. After spending months too sick to leave my house, it felt good to do something ordinary. Even so, I entered the coffee shop wrapped in a blanket of sadness I couldn’t seem to shake.
Latte in hand, I sat down and tried to keep my emotions tucked safely away.
“Hey there!” My attempt at a smile was poor at best.
“It’s so good to see you!” Her joy seemed far more sincere. I envied her that.
For the next several minutes, we settled into small talk. It was nice, sharing normal conversation about everyday life. But my sadness wouldn’t leave me alone.
So when she asked me how I was doing, I decided to tell the truth.
“I’m sad. A lot. Can’t seem to stop crying.”
“Sad? ” She pulled her brows together in a giant question mark. “Why? ”
With that one-word question, I knew: She didn’t understand. She didn’t have a clue what cancer had cost me.
The truth of this stung. My friend didn’t intend to hurt me. She just couldn’t fathom the reason for my sadness. So in the space of seconds, my sadness grew complicated by another emotion: aloneness.
This same scene repeated itself multiple times in the months that followed with various friends and family. After nearly succumbing to this third cancer occurrence, friends and family celebrated the gift of my life. They looked at me, altered as I was, and saw someone who shouldn’t have survived the hell she endured. A miracle! A gift!
They didn’t see what had been lost, only what had been gained — life.
And so they danced and celebrated and expected me to do the same. Only I couldn’t. Instead, I mourned. I mourned the innocence of believing I’d live a long life. I mourned the loss of a body that worked as it should. And because those closest to me couldn’t grasp my grief, I mourned the aloneness that resulted.
There are few things as painful as being misunderstood.
A friend misinterprets your email. A coworker questions your integrity. A spouse doubts your fidelity. Regardless of the circumstance, to be misunderstood is to discover, to your great sadness, that the one who should know you best doesn’t really know you at all.
True empathy is a nearly impossible endeavor. It’s neither easy nor comfortable to step into another’s experience. Part of this is because of our natural human limitations; we don’t understand the roads we haven’t walked. But sometimes we don’t understand simply because we don’t want to. We don’t want to share another’s pain and pay the price of knowing.
Perhaps this is why I found myself drawing closer to the cross. For most of my life, I’ve celebrated Jesus’ resurrection. He is alive! I certainly need the gift of His life, and so I danced around His empty tomb with great celebration.
But in this season of suffering, I also needed Jesus’ grief and death. I needed to know a God who suffered, because I suffered. I needed to know a God who felt pain, because then He knew something of my pain.
In the Golgotha of my agony, I finally understand the comfort of the cross. At the broken body of Jesus, I finally feel known and understood. It is there, where both Jesus and I weep for all that’s been lost, that I am safe enough to say, “I’m not okay.” I’m no longer shamed into silence or looked at with confusion. Instead, Jesus’ eyes meet mine, and somehow I know that He knows.
God does not expect me to dance at His empty tomb without weeping at His cross. I don’t have to hide my grief or pretend I’m stronger than I am. Instead, I have a Savior who steps into my story, who understands me more than any mother, father, husband, or friend ever can.
“I have summoned you by name, you are mine,” God says (Isa. 43:1). This is why He came. This is why He left the light of heaven for the pain of a cross.
So He could meet us there. And I’d finally know I’m known.
These words pulled from the pages of Michele’s most recent book — I Am: A 60-day Journey to Knowing Who You Are Because of Who He Is — were penned during her long and grueling recovery from a third diagnosis of tongue cancer, during which she was permanently altered physically, emotionally and spiritually. In it, she speaks with raw honesty and hard-earned insight about our current identity epidemic and the reason why our best self-help and self-esteem tools aren’t enough to heal our deepest wounds.
Michele and her husband, Troy, live in the mountains of Colorado with their six children, ages 9 to 24. She enjoys a good novel, a long walk, and a kitchen table filled with people. Learn more about Michele at michelecushatt.com.