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The God Who Sees You
By Tammy Maltby
David C. CookCopyright © 2012 Tammy Maltby
All rights reserved.
please see me!
She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me."
It was late afternoon.
I sat on a bench in Washington's National Airport, leaning up against some kind of glass wall, my heavy winter coat, overpacked carry-on, magazine, and water bottle in a pile around me.
And I was crying.
That's just not like me. I don't cry easily, and certainly not in airports.
So why was I sitting there in tears? Partly because I was exhausted from a long speaking trip and still had several more days to go. Partly because I had missed my flight and would have to wait four hours for another one. Partly because I was homesick.
But mostly because everything I cared about in my life seemed to be falling apart.
After years of struggle, my twenty-year marriage had ended. Not surprisingly, my four teenagers were having a hard time—acting out in school, erupting in anger, withdrawing sullenly. And though I tried hard, I knew I wasn't always there for them. I had been too depressed and anxious that year even to put up a Christmas tree. I was struggling financially, and losing our home was a real possibility. And on top of it all, I had recently learned that my beloved, responsible—and unwed—firstborn, Mackenzie, was pregnant at age nineteen.
I had never felt more desperately alone.
As I sat there, watching the other travelers rush by me, I felt something else.
No one noticed my tears. No one stopped to ask if I was all right. No one knew the profound disappointment I was living with—the heartache, the loneliness, the pain that engulfed me like a tsunami.
It was just too much—more than I thought I could bear. Even though I've been a Christian almost all my life, even though God had proved Himself faithful to me again and again, I still felt myself whispering, "God, are You there? Are You paying attention?"
At that painful moment, it seemed no one saw me. That no one cared. That no one could help. Not even God.
Have you ever felt that way? Do you feel that way now?
Mother Teresa is widely quoted as saying, "There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread." I believe that's true because I've been there and because I've met so many others who have been there too—people who are starving to be recognized and acknowledged, appreciated and affirmed, loved and cared for. Every day, it seems, I meet people who struggle with the sense that no one notices them, no one cares:
moms who work insane hours—earning a living, cooking, cleaning, caring for children—and feel no one appreciates what they do.
husbands and fathers who are convinced they are little more than "just a paycheck" to their families.
employees who feel like nameless cogs in a machine.
children who assume no one really cares who they are and what they want to say.
teenagers convinced that no one understands them or cares what they think.
young adults who can't figure out where they fit into the world.
"geeky" girls and "nerdy" boys who are noticed only by their tormentors.
gorgeous young men and women who feel like nothing more than a pretty face or an "abs of steel" body.
single parents who struggle hard without ever quite making it.
successful people who think they'd be nobody if they ever lost their jobs.
addicts who feel they must conceal their habits at any cost.
seniors who are sure they've joined the ranks of the invisible.
sick people who are tired of being "just a disease" to their health-care workers.
homeless people who watch people walk past them on the street.
the poor and the unemployed who become "issues" instead of persons.
pastors and people in ministry who don't dare let anyone in on their personal struggles.
Christians whose efforts to obey God seem unappreciated and unsuccessful.
ordinary men and women whose daily efforts seem to get them nowhere.
Any of these descriptions sound familiar? All these are people who need to know, really know, that they are seen. They need the message first voiced in the Bible by a woman named Hagar.
a slave's story
You can find Hagar's story in the book of Genesis, chapter 16. It's the story of an Egyptian slave girl who is used and abused and eventually runs away. It's also the story of the only woman in the Bible to give God a new name. Most important, it's the story of a woman whose life is transformed when she finally realizes she's really not invisible—that there is a God who sees her and cares about her plight and provides for her even at the lowest moment of her life.
We first meet Hagar when she's laboring as a maidservant in the camp of Abram and Sarai. She's essentially a nobody in that household. No one pays her any attention unless they want something—a pot scrubbed, a basket carried, an errand run. Or her body for sex, because even that area of her life is under someone else's control. Sarai, who is childless, compels Hagar to sleep with Abram in the hopes that the maid will produce a son for Sarai to raise. But when Hagar obeys and does become pregnant, Sarai turns jealous and abusive.
Hagar isn't entirely blameless, though. She flaunts her pregnancy, knowing that Sarai's barrenness is a sore subject. Then, when Sarai overreacts, Hagar decides to run away. The only place she can run is the desert, a very dangerous place for a pregnant girl with no food or water and no idea where she's going.
Finally, when her swollen feet can carry her no farther, Hagar slumps down beside a roadside well. I imagine her leaning against a rock, exhausted and ravenous as only a pregnant woman can be. Alone, afraid, probably still angry—and with no clue what to do next.
That's when the angel appears, bringing Hagar a message from a God she barely knows. The angel doesn't say that Hagar's life will get easier. He doesn't help her find food or another place to live. In fact, he tells her to return to Abram and Sarai, have her baby, and name him Ishmael. By the way, this Ishmael will grow up to be a hostile, combative "wild donkey of a man." Not the most promising prophecy ever made! But Hagar is thrilled with it—not because of what it says, but because of what it means.
After all, this God who sent her a message actually knows her name. The angel addresses her as "Hagar, servant of Sarai."
Even better, this God is aware of her predicament. The angel says it clearly: "The Lord has heard of your misery."
Now let that sink in. God has heard Hagar cry out. He sees the reality of her life. Amazingly, this God has a future in mind for her and her son. In fact, her descendants through Ishmael will be too many to number.
Once Hagar realizes all this, she can't hold back her enthusiasm over what has happened to her. She even gives this foreign God a new name, one that will still be remembered centuries later.
She calls him El Roi, which literally means "the God who sees."
She blurts out, her voice thick with wonder, "I have now seen the One who sees me."
I never fully understood the power of Hagar's affirmation until I began to share its message with others. I've been deliberately doing that for several years now, both in my professional speaking and my personal encounters. Each time I do, I'm stunned by the impact this seemingly simple message has on others.
It seems like I can teach and talk and write all day, I can attempt to lay all sorts of wisdom and practical insight on people—but the minute I whisper, "God sees you," something amazing happens. Rooms grow quiet. People begin to weep. It's as if there's a tender nerve in almost everyone when it comes to this loving and most aware God.
I think it's because so many of us—like Hagar, like me—often feel forgotten, ignored, discouraged, and invisible. All of us, deep down inside, have a heart-deep longing to be seen—really seen. This desire to be noticed, recognized, acknowledged—known—just seems to be intertwined with our DNA. It's foundational to who we are as human beings.
My grandson Cohen certainly has it. When he comes over to my house, he gets my attention moment to moment with his cries of "Look at me! Look at me!" Only he says it as one word: Ookamee!
When he's climbing on a jungle gym, when he thinks up a new trick, when he's mastered a new skill, I hear that gleeful little voice: "Ookamee! Ookamee!" I heard that same cry from my own four children when they were little.
But Cohen doesn't just want to be looked at. He wants his little-boy accomplishments to be acknowledged and affirmed and applauded. He wants to feel important and loved. He wants to know that I care and I'm close enough to help him if he needs it. That I'm right there with him, every step of the way—watching, caring, praising, affirming, and yes, smiling. He wants to know that in my eyes, he's the biggest, most amazing guy around.
And that's exactly what he gets, because I'm crazy about my grandson. Just by being himself, he makes me smile. And Cohen knows he's the apple of my eye. He's absolutely confident that I delight in him and won't let anything bad happen to him.
Don't you wish we all had that kind of confidence in God?
I believe that in every one of us, deep in our spirits, is a child crying, "Ookamee!" We long to know that our heavenly Father sees us, and we need other people to see us as well. As with Cohen, this longing is for more than just simple attention. Our heart-deep yearning to be seen involves so much more. We long to be:
affirmed as worthwhile, as deserving a place on this earth.
valued for what makes us unique and special—not just how we look or what we do, but who we are inside.
appreciated not only for our accomplishments, but also for our intentions and our efforts.
assured that we make a difference—to hear "well done" from someone who really understands what we are doing!
connected through social bonds, family ties, and intimate relationships—accepted as an indispensable part of a group.
desired and celebrated by someone who enjoys us and wants to be with us.
cared for by someone who perceives our needs and is willing and able to help meet them.
included in someone's plans, confident that someone takes our long-term best interests to heart and can help us find a purpose for the future.
Above all, of course, we long to be loved. This is the heart of all these other needs. We have a deep desire to be seen by someone who loves us no matter what—past, present, and future. Someone who is committed to us and can love us with unconditional love, even when we're less than lovable—even, in fact, when we are at our most unlovable.
a hitch in the plan
There's a reason we all have those yearnings. It's because God made us that way. It's part of God's original design for us. We were made to live openly with Him and one another in the clean, clear light of Eden. Seeing and being seen without shame. Loving and being loved without fear. Caring and being cared for without mixed motives. Knowing one another. Naming one another. Enjoying one another in innocent intimacy and simple trust and endless fellowship with the God who saw us in His mind's eye before He ever shaped us out of clay.
From the beginning, "ookamee" and "I love you" were designed to go hand in hand.
But you know what happened to that original vision, don't you? Sin happened. Disobedience dawned. And then this whole business of seeing and being seen got complicated.
According to the Bible, the first humans made a deliberate choice to go against God, and that choice forever changed the way they looked at God and each other. Once they sinned—or even considered the possibility—they began looking at their Creator with distrust: "Why didn't He want us to eat that fruit? What is He withholding from me? What's He going to do now?"
Suddenly, being seen didn't seem like such a wonderful proposition.
They looked down in shame at their naked, vulnerable bodies and thought, "I can't let anyone see who I am. I've got to cover up."
They also looked at each other with resentment and fear: "I've got to be careful. I can't let down my guard with you. What if you betray me? What if who I am isn't enough for you?"
Suddenly there they were, crouching behind the bushes, still yearning to be seen because that need was part of who they were, yet absolutely terrified that the truth of who they were and what they'd done would be revealed. They avoided each other's glances and tried their best to escape the notice of the One they needed most of all.
Once sin and brokenness arrived on this planet, "ookamee" became hide–and-seek—with an emphasis on "hide."
the hide-and-seek dilemma
Sadly, we've been living that hide-and-seek reality ever since. Yet we are reluctant to experience the reality we so long for.
We're still Adam and Even hiding in the garden, crouching behind a bush. We've gotten a glimpse of ourselves—naked, unappealing, vulnerable—and we don't like what we see. We can't imagine that anyone can see us as we are and still love us.
So we hide.
We all do it—every single one of us. Most of us, as we go through life, grow adept at hiding parts of our life from other people and from ourselves. Even though we may realize in our heads that God sees us, we still attempt to hide from Him.
We hide for the same reasons the first humans did. Because of sin. Our own sin, which makes us guilty and ashamed. The sin of others, which hurts us and teaches us to fear and distrust, as well as tempting us to sin some more. And the sinful condition of this fallen world, which makes it hard to even imagine living any other way.
We hide because we have been wounded in the past. Like Hagar, we've been used and abused—laughed at, admonished, betrayed, abandoned, taken advantage of—or simply ignored, treated as less than beloved children of God. We hide because we are terrified to let any of that happen again. We also hide because we're ashamed of our shortcomings and inadequacies. We've failed and messed up and don't want to be punished or found out. We're convinced that we're ugly and unworthy, that no one could love us if they really saw us. We hide because we feel confused or afraid or guilty—or just because hiding has become a habit. We've hidden so long that we don't have a clue how to reveal ourselves to God or anyone else.
And let's admit it: Often we hide because we want our own way. I know this is true of me at times. Sometimes I just don't want the light of truth to penetrate my choices. There's a certain power in not being seen. Staying hidden and secret can be a way of hanging on to control, choosing what to let others see and what to keep to ourselves.
Of course, all this is a delusion when it comes to God—because God can see us anyway and because the truth is, we're not in control at all. Still, all too often, we hold on to our habits of hiding, fooling ourselves into believing we can put something over on God.
We hide by stretching the truth ... or by lying outright. We hide by guarding secrets and by presenting ourselves selectively. We deflect the truth by steering conversation away from areas we don't want to visit. We duck phone calls and ignore emails and stay away from the mailbox. We avoid bringing up certain topics to avoid conflict.
Some of us grow adept at hiding in plain sight. We make a point of being open and honest and easy to know—except when it comes to certain vulnerable parts of our lives. We may even learn to hide our hearts by sharing our bodies, using outer nakedness to cover up inward pain.
Does any of this sound familiar? I'm sorry to say, it does to me. All too often, hide-and-seek is simply the way we live.
Don't get me wrong—hiding isn't always a bad strategy when it comes to other people. There are times when we do need to conceal parts of our lives and protect our hearts. The truth is, with sin a reality, the world isn't a safe place, and we just can't run around naked anymore. Even Jesus controlled the way He revealed Himself in the world.
But here's why hiding becomes a problem: It's hard to hide without being lonely. It's hard to hide from God's light without getting swallowed in darkness. The more we hide, the more our inborn need to be seen is thwarted, and the more we feel no one hears us or sees us or cares about us.
Whether it's because we're personally in hiding or because we're all caught up in a world that lives by smoke and mirrors, the results are the same.
Hide-and-seek ... and hunger.
People yearning to be seen ... and feeling invisible.
People who have a hard time seeing the God who sees them.
Excerpted from The God Who Sees You by Tammy Maltby. Copyright © 2012 Tammy Maltby. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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