I can say over the last 12 months, this has certainly been a question that I have heard on many occasions. This is something that I have seen used in many different ways and honestly it breaks my heart when I really stop to give thought to this question. Do you see me? How many of you are honest enough to say that this thought has crossed your mind, and even at times you want to SCREAM out loud, DO YOU SEE ME?
This topic for me actually came to life when I was asked to speak at a women's event. Over the last year, it has really taken on a new meaning for me due to all of the racial division and tension we have experienced. I know that the racial division and tension has gone on for years and I'm embarrassed that I have only now realized the significance of this question to so many of my brothers and sisters of color. Since it continues to ring in my heart, I felt it was something that would be a great time to share on this platform.
As I was preparing my heart and mind to share with the ladies, I asked God over and over, what do I share with them. I just kept hearing, "do you see me?" Now, you would think that would mean that God is asking me the question, but there was a raw ache in my heart each time I heard it. The question wasn't God asking me, it was the question that was so deeply hidden in my heart. So I quickly understood that the question was my hearts deepest desire that I kept asking God. Why, would I ask God that question? I mean he is the omnipresent, all knowing God that wove, designed and formed me in my mother's womb of course he saw me. He knows me more intimately than anyone, of course he "sees me". However, with all of that, I felt lost and hidden from God. I felt like if he saw me then things certainly would be different. He would see the hurt, the pain, the frustration, the longing that I felt that needed attention. As I sat with that question for the next day or so, I began to unpack some things, that I think you will be able to relate to.
Of course, when you ask that question and even scream it in your head, you know that physically they see you, but have you ever really wandered what do they "see" when they look at you? Do they see the surface or can they see deeper. You know, go beyond the smile and see the tears welling up on the inside? Moments like this can come in various ways and at different times. Are you able to pinpoint when that question arises within you? I experience it during the seasons when I’m falling apart. The signs are all around me, and I notice them, but everyone else seems to be living life as if they don’t see them or me. Sometimes I want people to see me. Not the titles I carry; wife, mom, daughter, sister, coach, pastor, but ME. There is a part of me screaming out to be identified. It is screaming out to say, I’m locked up in here hurting… hello…can you see me? For some of you, it might be because of the color of your skin that you are looked over, not seen. You find you have lost opportunities because you are quickly and harshly judged not by anything other than your skin color. I won't try to understand how that feels. I know that it is a very tangible reality and have seen it happen to my husband.
In Matthew 6:22 the Bible says, “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” This is where we get the saying That the eyes are the window of the soul. If this is the case, why do so many people feel invisible? When you look at a person, shouldn't we be able to recognize and see them? Not their titles, or skin color, but them. Go beyond the exterior and see what is going on in their heart and soul.
God has gifted me to be able to see beyond the exterior of a person and know when something deeper is going on. I can't explain it completely but it's like I see the emotions running around inside of them regardless of what appearance they have on the outside. Sometimes, I will feel an ache in my heart that I know wasn't there before being around them. For a long time, I thought this was normal and everyone could see it which made the question "do you see me" even more relevant in my life. I did learn, that is not the case when a dear friend of mine told me, "we don't see what you see." This is why I expected others to see me, like I could see them. I don't believe that I’m alone in this. I believe that every one of us, has a desire to be seen at a deeper level than just our outward appearance. I don't believe that everyone knows how to communicate that need or is even allowed to express it. I believe that when traumatic events happen in our lives or situations arise that we are uncertain on how to navigate, we desperately cry for help, and still feel alone, lost, and invisible.
I want to take you on a journey through the life of an ordinary woman, who like you and me has felt alone, lost, and invisible. This woman's name is Hagar. Her story starts as a maid for a woman named Sarai. Sarai has been given a promise that her husband will have an heir yet she has not been able to conceive a child for him. Since she knows that this promise must be fulfilled and she believes her child bearing days are coming to an end, she decides that she will give her maid to her husband Abram to be a surrogate. So let's pause here for just a moment. Can you imagine being Hagar and your boss telling you, that it is your duty or job to sleep with her husband, so she can have a baby? Hagar has no say. She has a life too. I'm sure her dreams are big like ours and having Sarai a baby is not one of them. Just a little something to keep in mind as we continue our journey.
Abram agreed and had relations with Hagar in hopes that she would conceive. I often wonder, what did Hagar feel when all of this was going on. I'm sure she felt invisible and certainly felt she had no voice. Do you see Hagar? Does this resonate with you? When Hagar learned she was pregnant she began to look down on Sarai. I imagine, that in some crazy way she felt a sense of satisfaction. Not from the fact she wanted it, but from a perspective, I’m able to do something you can't. Maybe now you will be forced to SEE ME! You will have to SEE ME today and for the rest of your life when you look at my son. Maybe that is just my vengeful side but I can imagine silently this is going on in her head. The fact of the matter, her situation from the outside was still the same. She had no power or voice when it came to Sarai. She was still her maid. Her ability to conceive didn't change the fact that this child would be given to Sarai to raise, and that Hagar would still be in the same position. The greatest travesty was yet to come. She would watch someone else raise her child as her own right in front of her. It wasn't like she could walk away after this. She would be present at all times with this child. She didn't ask for this. She was told without consideration of her feelings or desires.
Once Hagar's attitude changed toward Sarai, Abram was made aware by his angered wife. So Abram, not wanting to deal with the conflict between the two women he told Sarai to decide what she wanted to do with her maid, because she had that say over her. Sarai became very abusive to Hagar. We can assume that it wasn't physical because after all Hagar was carrying Abram's baby. I wrote a blog about words having power, and I’m confident that she had a few ugly things to say to her. Maybe extra chores to do, tasks that would take her body to the limit to serve Sarai. I don't know specifically but based Sarai, having unresolved issues that she couldn't provide this child to her husband, and feeling superior to Hagar because of her position, I’m sure it was very, very ugly. One thing I do know, is it was bad enough that Hagar ran away. She ran as far as she could and ended up near a stream in the desert. I can picture Hagar near the stream screaming where no one can hear her, and feeling so alone. Feeling like she is invisible and no one even cares that she has left the house, and in a condition she didn't ask for. Have you ever felt like, I didn't ask for all of this, why is this happening to me? Doesn't anyone see me? I was doing my job, minding my business, taking care of Sarai, and all this happens. I didn't want to sleep with her husband. I didn't ask for him to have his way with me so that I could carry a baby for them. I'm getting no reward from this. I'm not even going to be able to keep my son, and I have to be okay? Where is the justice in this? I think if we all examine ourselves, there have been times we have felt just like this. Different circumstances, but asking the same questions.
While she was there, an angel appeared to her and asked her why she was there. She told him she was running away from Sarai, but I'm sure he already knew that. He did know where to find her. The angel told her something very peculiar, he actually told her to go back and submit to Sarai's authority. If she did, God was going to give her a big family, children past counting. He also told her that she would have a son and his name would be Ishmael (meaning God hears). He went on to describe what her son would be like. Hagar, understanding and knowing this Angel was God speaking directly to her, spoke back and referred to Him as the God who sees me. She realized in that moment, that God saw HER, not the maid, the mistreated, but HER the deep desires in her heart. (Story can be found in Genesis 16: 7-14 the term used for Angel in this portion of scripture depicts it was God himself)
God saw the inner most parts of Hagar, he saw the piece of the story we will never know but can only make assumptions about. He saw her. He didn't see the slave, or the Egyptian He saw Hagar, the broken, hurting, abused and used one. The one that was until this time invisible to everyone else. God doesn't want us to be in our feelings all the time, and seeking attention for our despair; he wants us to be reminded that HE SEES US! Further to this point, I want to challenge everyone today to open your heart's eyes to those around you. Let's look beyond the physical appearance and SEE what is behind the smile, behind the skin color, behind what you see with your natural eye. It's so important that we see beyond to the broken, hurting places, that are so hard to describe but desire for someone just to acknowledge it. There are so many people hurting and feeling invisible we need to help them feel seen. Consider this, you go through life, not being seen because of the color of your skin, or your economic status, or because of your sex. All of us in one way or another can relate, and if you can't you need to try. There are so many people that are not given the same opportunities based on something they have no control over. Just like Hagar, they are forced into positions, and situations that they didn't ask for. If we start to see them, then eventually they too will have a voice. God saw Hagar, He sees all of us. What if we started "seeing" each other.
One thing that must be discussed and addressed is, why do we not want to "SEE" others? Is it because the pain they feel is unbearable for us? Is it the fact that we know we caused it? Maybe unintentionally we have played a part? Maybe it is "too messy". We don't want to sit in the mess with them. Maybe it is because we don't have the answers, or even know what to say. We must examine ourselves, and identify why we choose and I believe it is a choice, not to "SEE" beyond the exterior and invest in the heart of the person.
Here a few of the reasons that come to mind for me:
People don't know how to handle crisis situations or help you through it (You may need a professional)
People may have their own circumstances they are dealing with and it is overwhelming
Some are taught that vulnerability is a bad thing, when actually it shows great strength
All of us have biases, some people have not addressed them so they feel uncomfortable with people that are different than them
Here are some things you can do:
Stop and really listen to the heart's cry rather than just keeping everything superficial. It may be more about what is not said than what is said
Give yourself permission to just sit and be silent. You don't have to have the answer. You don't have to give advice. Just let them know you "SEE" them.
Ask questions, and be intentional about meeting them right where they are. Sometimes, people don't know how to communicate they're hurting, or need help.
Address your biases, there's nothing to be ashamed of we all have them but we must not treat people differently because of them.
My goal and desire is that we work hard to ensure those around us are seen. We have to acknowledge them and give them a space to be. When we acknowledge that life gets messy and that we can help someone else the world becomes a better place. A place where people don't feel invisible, and feel that they are seen and heard, not because of their appearance, but because of the amazing gifts, and lessons on the inside. Let's begin to be the hands and feet of Jesus, showing the same love, compassion, grace, and mercy has shown to us. If you find yourself in a situation and you need resources and help, please reach out to us so that we can make sure you are "SEEN".