I got new glasses today.
I started wearing glasses in the fourth grade. Mrs. Takahashi, my fourth grade teacher recommended I get glasses because I was struggling in class to see the blackboard, and at home my parents had to clean the TV of my nose-prints. I can still remember the drive home with my dad after getting the ugliest horned rimmed glasses -that I loved – and could see leaves on the trees. My dad cried as I oohed and aahed at the detail of the leaves on the trees which I couldn’t see before.
Today, was not that phenomenal, but I still love the clarity of a new pair.
Recently, for reasons of my own doing, I have felt a little like I needed a new pair to see God; and he definitely had taken off the spectacles that brought me into his focus. I wrote in my journal a while back:
“I feel like God kicked me off the bus and drove away…on down the road, me by the side of the road.”
Now those of you who know my situation might be tempted to resonate with the following response: “you brought it on yourself.” And that is fine, but lay that aside for a moment. At many points in our lives, whether from our own doing or not – we feel distance from God, he doesn’t seem to be within eye-shot, he has disappeared from view, and the overwhelming “feeling” is that I can’t see him and he can’t, or worse, won’t see me.
Some of us feel this more often than not, that’s me, self-deprecating, harder on myself than I should be, a little dark and struggle with pessimism. Some of you “never” feel this. You are positive, optimistic, and sometimes may I just say, Pollyanna.
- God will find a way
- All things work together for good
- There is a plan, a purpose, etc
But sometimes both of us have to put aside our tendencies and admit the distance is real. I can’t see God and it feels like he doesn’t see me. It’s healthy, it’s common, and it is affirmed by the experience of many. Learn to embrace these feelings and times as normal human experience.
I have heard it said that the only place in the Bible where someone has given God a name is in Genesis 16:13 when Hagar says that he is a “God who sees” (al roi).
The Hagar story is not a pleasant tale. Hagar doesn’t have any freedom in her life and is dominated by both Abraham and Sarah to put it mildly. God seems to “use” her in the story. At worst, Abraham has sex with her and she is not a very willing participant. At best, she submits to a system that places value on her insignificance. There really is no way to make her existence “valuable” in the telling.
After doing what Abraham and Sarah “need” her to do, she is evicted from their presence, she is no longer face to face with Abraham and Sarah, she is expelled beyond their sight. When an angel finds her and questions her about where she is going, she says she is fleeing from the presence of her mistress. He proceeds to tell her she is with child, the child is a child of covenant, and she is to return and submit to Sarah. Since where she is presently is most likely a death sentence or worse for her, she rejoices and this is how Genesis 16:13 describes her response:
Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” Genesis 16:13
Abraham and Sarah didn’t “see” Hagar, but God did.
I find this story compelling not so much because of the severe cultural distance, rather in spite of it. Today’s Hagar would recoil at every expectation placed on her, and we would never advise her to listen to Abraham and Sarah in their bizarre request, nor would we encourage her to return to that abusive environment. In her extremely unfair state she was still able to see God, and believe that he sees her.
I like this phrasing and way of describing God and me. I still have a lousy prescription and feel like I can’t see God very well. I still think God has lost his Steve-spectacles, but that is ok for now. What I find is that when we can’t see clearly for a while, when we finally begin to focus again, we see things differently and in a new way. There is a clarity that is revisited and it might not be the same as it was before – it might even be better. It’s like the eye test in the optometrists office: “which is better, 1….or 2? 2….or 3? Wow, that last prescription you had was pretty off, I think we can bring things into a sharper focus this time.”
Look at me! is a prayer and a relational practice that helps us to understand our frustration at times with God and our present circumstances. We want to be seen; the desire to be seen is normal.
The psalmist calls us to seek God’s face (Psalm 27:8). It is a form of loving God. The psalmist also declares that God has searched and known us (Psalm 139:1). Search and see are synonyms here. One of the first pictures of God is of him looking for Adam and Eve when they were hiding from him (Genesis 3:8-9). Jesus tells parables of seeking the lost.
I also like this paradigm to oversee human relationships. I didn’t have a “seeing” relationship with my wife many times over in the past. Now we have begun to use that phrase to describe affirmation of pain in each other. “I see you” is a powerful statement in relationships and especially in times of pain and suffering.
It shouldn’t be lost on us, even if the language is not explicit, that seeing each other is necessary to knowing and loving each other. The Good Samaritan saw the wounded man and then has compassion (Luke 10:33); the father looks for the prodigal son (Luke 15:20); the brother sees the need of the hungry or ill-clothed (James 2:16).
“Seeing” is called for in our relationships with others. By definition, seeing is an activity that focuses on others rather than self. It is hard to see yourself (without a mirror, obviously), and when you are actively “seeing” you are paying attention to something other than yourself. As a corollary to “active listening” as a healthy relational skill, “active seeing” puts us in a position to communicate care and healing of others.
I like seeing.