Isn’t it the worst when you are having a terrible day then see someone you know but not well enough to tell them you’re having a terrible day? You’re in line at a coffee shop wearing six layers of coffee stained sweaters and your dad’s sweatpants trying to look normal enough to get by without anyone asking you if you’re okay, and there she is: your friend from chemistry. You’re lab partners. “HEEYYY!!!” as you are devoured into a hug. “How are you?” she asks with the biggest smile she can muster. “I’m great! How are you?” You automatically respond, matching her smile with one of your own. But you aren’t great. You’re not even close to great. You have a brief, pleasant but pointless conversation, then go back to being miserable. Is this exchange familiar to anyone else?
Today on my way home, a trip that should have taken me half an hour, ended up taking twice that because I, being completely oblivious to road signs while listening to Beyonce, missed my exit. And the next one. So, I decided to start paying attention, which meant I had to turn off the Beyonce. I replaced it with the audio version of Colossians 4, and for some reason the very last verse stuck with me. “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.”
I replayed that verse over and over and “remember my chains” rang in my head. Why did he say that? What does he mean by that? It wrecked me for hours. Then, like a lightbulb, the Lord showed me what that He wanted me to see through that small three word addition at the end of Paul’s letter. Like a whisper, He said, Claire, you all have chains. And that’s it. Paul is writing this letter to the church, but by the end he is just sincerely asking them to remember his chains in prayer. He is not ashamed to ask the church to pray for him, so why should we be ashamed? If there is no condemnation in Christ, why aren’t we honest about where we fall short with other believers? The truth is, we all have chains. We are all struggling, and for me, most of the time I am trying to hide my struggles from the world. Sometimes, even from other followers of Christ. And for what? The truth is, if we are all struggling and we all know it, who are we pretending to have it all together for?
This semester has been extremely hard for me. There have definitely been good times, but the first semester of college has proved to me that I may not be as strong as I thought I was. I’ve struggled with pretty serious anxiety, which has never been a problem for me before, but here I am, having a panic attack during an exam wondering if the person next to me notices. I’ve been trying to handle all of these feelings and hardships on my own, and it’s hard when you don’t feel close enough to people to share. But God is showing me through the fire of refinement that you have to take a risk to be known. In order to have close relationships, the kind that we are called to, you have to step into the unknown and let yourself become vulnerable. It’s so hard, but if we let the fear of the unknown or vulnerability control us, we are going to be alone. We need others, and we do not need to be ashamed of our chains. Paul wasn’t, so why should we be?
What I’ve learned through this season of loneliness and fear is not to be scared of being alone, but at the same time not to being scared of letting yourself be known. It’s so crazy, but my fear of being alone actually prevents me from opening up to others. If you just show them what you want to show them, you aren’t risking anything, and they’ll still be there. But when you take the risk to be who you really are, you take the risk of being rejected on a really deep level. It’s one thing for a friendship that didn’t mean much to you in the end, but if you open up to someone and then they reject you, it hurts a lot deeper. But I am convinced that it is worth the risk. I believe with my whole heart that being completely alone is a lot less lonely than being in a crowd of people but being completely unknown by them. My goal for the year is to pursue real relationships. I want to be someone who really knows people for who they are, and someone who is known in return. Life is too short for surface level relationships, and you are worth a lot more than that. You deserve to be known and truly, truly loved. We all have chains, and you have absolutely no reason to hide yours anymore.
words and photo by Claire Prather