One of the hardest times in my life was after my college graduation. With no job leads, I felt uncertain about my career choice, I was leaving all of my friends to move home with my parents, and I had never had a boyfriend, much less a “ring by spring” as I had hoped.
I felt alone and afraid of the unknown. I wanted someone to align my plans with, someone to help me make decisions, someone who I knew loved me. I wanted to have a fulfilling job and an exciting social life, but instead, I felt trapped in a dark season.
This wasn’t the only time in my life that I had felt this way. When I was eight years old, my mom went back to work, and my brother and I went to daycare. I had the same lump in my throat and pit in my stomach then, when I headed into a new place with new people, feeling unsure of where I fit in and who would even notice me. Looking back, my darkest seasons of life have all had one thing in common: I didn’t feel seen.
Not only did I have the impression that I was invisible to others, I also felt I wasn’t seen by God. It’s hard to be very productive or helpful or positive when you think you’re living outside of God’s sights. I don’t love people — or myself — well when I’m in that place. And loving God can quickly become an act.
When I was graduating from college with all of that uncertainty, I didn’t share my fears with anyone. I worked hard to look good on the outside, because I thought that admitting the darkness I felt would mean I didn’t have any faith. I was angry at God, and I told him that regularly. Worshiping Him became an empty routine of merely going through the motions.
If you’re the child of divorce, or you suffered abuse of any kind, or even if your loving parents are also sinners (I believe that covers the whole lot of us), you might have a proclivity to feeling invisible to God and acting accordingly — out of despair and the ugliest pain. When the people around us don’t truly see us or know us or care for us, we start to believe that God doesn’t either.
My feeling that God didn’t see me probably originated in my childhood. My dad worked and traveled a lot, and although my mom was very attentive and present, she was a perfectionist and needed control to feel at peace. So I learned to behave, get good grades, and never get into trouble, so I wouldn’t rock the boat. My behavior was valued, but my heartfelt unknown. If you don’t rock the boat for long enough, you start to wonder if anyone even notices you’re in the boat.
It doesn’t take something profoundly traumatic to happen to a child (although sometimes it does) to make that child wonder if God really sees. My experiences taught me to perform in order to go unnoticed, but that left me feeling invisible. This is the lie I believed: I feel utterly alone, so God must not see me.
Just as the lies we believe are rooted in our past wounds, they’re also rooted in sin.
Adam and Eve were in perfect fellowship with God until they sinned. Then suddenly, they were hiding in shame, believing that God didn’t see them (Genesis 3:8). Disobedience, pride, apathy, idolatry — these sins have stood the test of time and have left many of us cowering alone, hiding from God.
The patterns I learned early on of performing and seeking perfection instead of attending to my heart now play out in sinning against God by idolizing control and harboring pride. I feel like I can go it alone if I check off all my tasks and keep everything within my perceived control. But the consequence of this sin in my life — the sin of thinking I can do it on my own — is believing that I really am doing it on my own, and that God doesn’t see me or isn’t involved. This outcome isn’t surprising, because sin always separates us from God.
The One Who Sees
Hagar encountered God at a spring after running away from her mistress, Sarai. Hagar had been through a lot, specifically being impregnated by her master, Abram, at his wife, Sarai’s request. I can imagine Hagar feeling invisible to God after being used, getting pregnant, suffering abuse from her mistress, and running away from her job and home.
But the Lord met her. He promised her good things, told her about the boy (who would be a great nation) growing inside of her, and instructed her in what to do next. Hagar was the first to call God El Roi, the God who sees.
So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are a God of seeing,’ for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me’ (Genesis 16:13).
That’s the beauty of this kind of seeing. We see God, because he first sees us.
In His Sights
Not long after I graduated, I was driving on a dark, stormy night in central Texas. The rain was coming down in sheets, and I was driving back to my apartment with my windshield wipers on turbo speed. They couldn’t wipe away my tears, though. I was crying for a life I had expected that hadn’t happened. I was lonely, and a thought hit me: If I careened off the road in this storm, it would be days before anyone missed me. No one would notice I was gone until Monday, when I didn’t show up to work.
That realization led me to ask, “God, do You even see me? Do You care? Do You love me?”
Thankfully, in Jesus, the answer to all of those questions was, and is, a resounding “Yes!” Because of Jesus, God sees me and He loves me. Because of Jesus, my sin does not separate me from God and His love. Because of Jesus, I am never invisible, even when I feel like I am.
In the weeks that followed that night, I continued to ask God if He saw me. I asked Him often. Slowly, He began to open my eyes to the ways He was caring for me. I stopped feeling invisible and began thanking God for my loving friends, an extraordinary job that reminded me of his redemption and power daily, and even the way He allowed me to nurture my soul through regular, long runs in the warm sun.
After Hagar encountered God, she realized that He saw her, and that gave her the courage to trust and obey Him. She returned to Abram and Sarai, and Ishmael was born. God promised great blessings for Hagar and Abram’s son in Genesis 17:20, “As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation.”
Because Hagar had the courage to move forward and face whatever the future held, her son and his descendants were blessed.
Being seen by God, and in turn seeing Him, takes the focus off of our own circumstances and puts it on Him. Knowing we are not outside of His sights gives us courage.
When I was going through the dark season I mentioned, I worked for an organization that cared for at-risk youth by providing shelter, food and education. They also offered a safe place for these hurt kids to grapple with their pasts and learn about God’s sovereignty and goodness. One Sunday, I took a young woman from there to speak to a church and thank them for donations.
She had her speaking points outlined, but right before we stood in front of a room full of strangers, the young woman decided she wanted to sing instead. I don’t know if she felt a jolt of the Holy Spirit, or if she just had a song in her heart. I’m not sure if she had embraced the fact that God saw her, but I do know that He was healing and restoring her, giving her hope.
So she sang a song, a cappella, in front of a room of strangers. Now that is courage. And her confidence and boldness inspired many in that room, including me.
My dark time did eventually pass; I began to move forward with courage. I felt seen by God and once again recognized His presence in my everyday life, which gave me the confidence to follow Him into more unknowns.
In obedience and prayer, I ended up leaving my amazing job and moving to a new place. But this time, I was comforted that God was enough. He was Someone who knew me and loved me, and I wasn’t invisible. I was seen.
Copyright Kirsten Lamb 2016. All rights reserved.