In 2005, as secret-sharing apps like Secret and Whisper were making headlines, Frank Warren’s project PostSecret, a digital chronicle, was raking greater heights. New York Times even called it “the PostSecret phenomenon.” What started off as a blog asking strangers to write their “secrets” on a postcard and send it to his home, became one of internet’s most popular communities.
Evidently, even people with secrets feel the need to be seen, highlighting the fundamental desire within us to be known at deeper levels.
Behind the Scenes
I was no stranger to secrets. My childhood was turbulent, to say the least. Rage, verbal abuse, control, and resentment prevailed in my home.
My parents were Catholic in name only. They constantly fought and threatened to leave the marriage. As a child, this affected me deeply and thinking I could keep the family together, I made every attempt to please them. These efforts were a resounding failure and only succeeded in piercing my young heart with deep emotional wounds.
By the time I was 14, I learnt new ways to please and put on masks to hide the insecurities within me. Darkness became a haven and patterns like promiscuity, addictions, and buried anger propelled me to keep dangerous secrets.
Reflecting back, I see how I tried to have my emotional needs gratified by others. Seeking marital or family therapy is taboo and therefore not an option in our Indian culture. We immediately reason “log kya kehenge” (What will people say?). It reigns supreme in regulating our decisions and drives to protect any vulnerability lest we be met with judgment.
My secrets not only kept me enchained but also brought deep shame, creating a sense of worthlessness within me. I was constantly seeking to be seen, but constantly hiding.
Empty and Void
My life was devoid of a spiritual base. I lived in a polytheistic culture where it was easy to accept that different paths led to the same end. I concluded Catholicism to be a religion based on fearful obedience. Looking through my lens of brokenness, a God who cared personally for me seemed unreal. Yet the pain I felt was very real.
I rejected God and chose atheism.
Little did I know that when I rejected God, I rejected all that is beautiful, all that is fully human, and succumbed to a life of lies believing that purity was not an option and that genuine love was out of my reach. The more I sought to deny pain, the more it cut deeply into who I was.
At 18 years old, I attempted to take my life. Not once, but three times.
I moved to the Middle East in 2004 where loneliness and depression took on greater depths. But it was here, amidst this spiritual wasteland, that God deeply intervened in my life.
By divine orchestration, I crossed paths with a brother who candidly shared the Gospel with me. One afternoon, he poignantly pointed to the quest of my soul: “What do you want? Don’t you want more in life Michelle?”
Those words pierced my heart like a sword. He was right.
I had believed the lies for so long, but my spirit could not escape the unrelenting approach of the One who had pursued me all those years, whose presence I had so earnestly sought to hide from.
That afternoon, God’s relentless love was palpable through the presence of this genuine man. I was tempted to refute God again, but found myself yielding, silently admitting that God was God and followed this brother to a prayer meeting.
A few weeks later, I responded to an altar call and gave my life to Jesus Christ. In the moment of that encounter, as the elder laid hands on me, I felt an overwhelming surge of God’s love, the Power of the Holy Spirit pouring over me like an electric current, filling every sense of my being.
I had learned to skillfully hide my emotions, but at that moment I was weeping like a child, weeping for my years of lostness. All that my intellectual mind had refuted about God, now in a moment of His Glory, the scales of my eyes were removed and I could see. God was real and He was Father.
I was finally home; not afraid to be seen anymore.
That dramatic encounter 16 years ago began many years of wrestling in prayer for this truth to permeate every part of my human existence and continues to this very day.
Knowledge without Shame
One of my favorite invitations to be “seen” is found in John’s Gospel where Jesus encounters the woman at the well.
Her life could be my life. Hers is a life of many secrets, too painful to sit with in the open. Her shame is tragic even as it is scandalous, stemming from deep pain. She has been hiding from the crowds; hiding from her mistakes, her worthlessness, and deep shame.
Yet in her brief encounter with Jesus, Who asks her for a drink, her secrets are exposed, not for the sake of shaming her but to bring her total and complete freedom. As Jesus uncovers the deepest parts of her well, she is able to “see” him. She sees because He has first seen her. Unlike the men in her past, this Man offers her something of incomparable worth. He has seen her at her worst, accepts her, and then gently allows her to see herself through His lens.
She sees herself for the first time: worthy, significant, beautiful and dignified.
She discovers that His love is authentic and fierce. He doesn’t just desire to address her wounds; He desires to restore her life. His love calls her out from within to call her forward into purpose, power, and destiny.
Fully Seen and Fully Loved
Notice what happens when shame and fear is gone: she is freed up. John 4:28 tells us that in exchange for the Living Water, she leaves her water pot behind, symbolic of her hidden life, and runs to the very place of her brokenness to declare a new kind of beauty. She issues them the same invitation:
Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! -John 4:29
In Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic traditions, this woman is venerated as a saint with the name “Photine” which means “the Luminous One.”
The Fire of the Spirit set ablaze not just her life but also the entire village through her courageous witness. Her name is so fitting—she is in the Light, not afraid to be fully seen, because she is fully known and fully loved.
Brokenness to Beauty
Have you had your epiphany moment? Do you need to see yourself with new eyes as did the woman at the well? Are you longing for a better way? Are you hiding? Take heart. Jesus does not play games with us. His knowledge brings dignity and His Truth brings freedom to be known at deep levels of our human complexity. He does not rewind our past, He redeems it. In the economy of grace, nothing of your life is wasted.Jesus does not rewind our past, He redeems it. In the economy of grace, nothing of your life is wasted. #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Today, God has used my brokenness to bring beauty to so many women whose lives are scarred with life’s bitter circumstances and mistakes, especially women in my culture. To be fully seen without reserve is liberating. I am humbled to see what God is able to do with our wounds. Wounds result in scars, but those scars become the very stories that can change our world!
We are made for so much more than secrets and brokenness. Healing and freedom are real and love is not a prize to be won but a sacred gift to be received and cherished. Running and hiding does not heal any hurt. Turning to Christ does.
And as we groan within ourselves, waiting for the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23), waiting for the day when all will be made new (Revelation 21:4), here and now, we are invited to come to the Cross where true resurrection takes place.
Here, we see a glimmer of that eternity that is ours, through the redemptive healing power of the Cross. Here we see even as we are seen, here we behold even as we are loved.
Come and “see” a man who told me everything I have ever done!
Seen and Loved: My Conversion from Atheism to Catholicism #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Michelle Karen D’Silva is a Catholic speaker based in the small little peninsula of Qatar. With an immense passion for discipleship and youth, she finds herself most at home when laughing and conversing with young people over karak and hummus. She is a huge (almost stalker-level) fan of Pope Benedict XVI who constantly inspires her to live out the “call to greatness” as a woman in ministry, wife to a doting hubby, and mama to two constantly hungry sheep. Find out more about her here.