It was 2.00am, or thereabouts, and I had woken up again in the middle of the night, assailed by negative thoughts about still being single. How can one topic stay on my mind so persistently I asked the Lord? How is it that even in my 40s, I still long to be married and still feel the crushing disappointment that I am not.
I felt overwhelmed by the emotions, the feelings of loneliness, of despair, of is this what my life will always be like, just one disappointment after the other? Will I ever feel happy? Will I ever to get to celebrate a family of my own, now that biology works against me? Will I always be alone? The silence that swirled around me made me feel maybe God’s answer was yes, or even worse, that He doesn’t care, that I don’t matter, at least not as much as other people.
I long to be touched affectionately, to touch someone else affectionately, to plan a holiday with someone, to cuddle someone at night and make them a cup of tea in the morning. I long to be able to plan a future with someone by my side, but none of that has transpired, yet, and sometimes I feel so weary and so invisible.
I realized though that at the heart of all of this longing is the desire to be truly seen by another person. Not a casual glance, not a once over, but seen for who I truly am, and in that sight known and loved. It is not the being alone that hurts but it is the being unseen, unknown, feeling like your life is without meaning or worth. Many women over 40 write about feeling invisible, of no longer being of interest to the opposite sex or worthy of comments or a second glance and at some level we all long to be seen, to be deeply known by a man or woman who loves us.
In the book of Genesis Hagar, the maid-servant of Abraham, runs away from Sarah into the desert. She has been used by Sarah to have a child with her husband, but now Sarah resents her and treats her cruelly. However as Hagar ran, pregnant, into the desert she encountered the ‘Angel of the Lord’. Who tells her that she will have a son and she is to name him Ishmael which means ‘God hears’. After talking with the Angel of the Lord, she declares that she has seen the Lord himself and declares that ‘You are the God who sees me (El-Roi)…I have now seen the One who sees me’. The Lord tells her to return to her mistress and not to worry that He would take care of her and her son.
This is the first time that we hear this name of God, the God who sees, and it is used by a slave girl from Egypt. She is not part of the chosen people, a daughter of Israel, she is a foreigner, she doesn’t even know the God of Abraham. But He reveals himself as the God who sees her, in other words He is saying He knows her, He knows her situation, her life and He is there to comfort her and reassure her. To let her know that it will all be ok. And so it is for us, God sees us, He hears us, He knows us and He loves us.
In the New Testament Jesus gives us so many more examples of how our God is the God who sees His children. He sees Zacchaeus sitting up in a tree, He sees the blind man, He sees the demoniac, He sees the little boy with the loaves and the fishes, He sees Mary sitting at His feet, He sees the woman caught in adultery and He sees the woman at the well. Jesus specialized in seeing people and loving them where ever they were at in their lives. But my favorite story of Jesus seeing someone is the story of the woman with the issue of blood.
This story appears in three of the four gospels, the exception being the gospel of John. It is combined with the miracle of the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead. In this story Jesus is on the way to Jairus’ house because he has been asked to come and heal his sick daughter. On the way a great crowd of people surround him and are pressing up against him. Pushing through the crowd is a woman who we are told has been bleeding for 12 years. The gospels tell us that not only has she been unable to stop the bleeding but that she has spent all her money trying to get well. This woman is socially unclean according to Jesus law, she is broke, she is a woman (in a society where women should stay inside the house) and she is sick and probably in pain.
In the face of all of this and the many reasons why she should not be out and about and why she should give up hope, she believes that if she can just touch the hem of Jesus’ robe she will be healed. She has heard all the stories about what Jesus has done and is so convinced of his power to heal, she knows in her heart that just the smallest contact with him will heal her. So pushing through the crowds, while in pain and probably disguised too, she finally reaches him and touches his robe. Immediately, the Gospels tell us, she feels better and the she knows the bleeding has stopped. She turns to go away, she has all she needs, she is finally well…but does she. Much to her great surprise I imagine, Jesus stops dead in his tracks, he says power has gone out of me, someone has touched me. He turns around, who touched me He asks? His disciples clearly think He has gone mad, everyone is touching you Lord they say, no He says, I want to know who has touched me? The lady realizes that she cannot just run away, the whole procession of people heading to Jairus’ house has stopped, she much have been dying inside, thinking oh no now everyone will see me, now they will know I was unclean, also I have stopped Him on his way to heal a child. But she has no choice, Jesus isn’t moving, He is waiting for her to step forward and so she does. And then Jesus looks at her, He sees her, He knows her, she blurts out the whole story to Him right up and then I touched you and now I am well again! Jesus then looks at her and says ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering’ Mark 5:34
She is the only woman in the Bible that Jesus calls daughter. Jesus knew that she needed more than physical healing, he knew she needed to be seen and loved. She needed to know she was a precious daughter whom he was well pleased with. Jesus didn’t tell her why did you do this, I am on my way to heal a sick child? He didn’t rush along and ignore what had happened. He took His time, she was as precious to Jesus as the little girl he was going to heal and as proof of that he called her daughter. He was on the way to heal another daughter but through this story Jesus tells us that no matter what our age, or condition we are His daughters (and sons) and He always has time for us. He sees us and he knows us and he wants to look us in the eyes. He is the God who sees us, the same God who comforted Hagar in the desert, the God who healed the woman with the issue of blood and He sees us too.
Our desire to be seen and known is a desire that the Lord himself has given us and one that He also wants to meet for us. He knows that some of us will in this life be seen and known by earthly companions and loves. But He also knows that others of us may go long periods of time without being seen, without feeling important, without being noticed. But He is the God who sees and more blessed are we who know that we are seen by the Almighty God Himself. No earthly stare or love will be able to compare to being seen through and through by Jesus and being loved for every square millimeter of your being, inside and out. We cannot earn it, we do not deserve it but it is true nonetheless.
If I am honest I have struggled with feeling the love of God in my heart, I know it in my head but it just seems to have problems dropping to my heart. It doesn’t seem to be as real as the love of another person who I can see and touch. However, when I read this story I imagine myself there, as the woman, or as the disciples or as a bystander and the more I contemplate this story and the extraordinary reaction and actions of Jesus the more my heart is touched. I remind myself, each day or moment I feel unimportant or forgotten or invisible, my God is the God who sees me and calls me daughter. Little by little I feel my heart start to melt.
Beyond that though is the truth that sometimes God is silent, sometimes we wait and wait and we don’t understand what is going on. Sometimes life is hard. This week I listened to Pastor Andrew Brunson on Voice of the Martyrs radio and he talked about his time in a Turkish prison where he spent two years, accused of being a US spy. He said he thought that he would feel the presence of God in prison, that God would be so tangible to him in there. But that didn’t happen and he felt so alone and abandoned and he nearly went mad from all the isolation. But then, encouraged by the testimony of Pastor Richard Wurmbrand (who also spent many years in a Romanian prison) and the Bible, he made a choice that he was going to praise God every day and leap for joy. He decided he wanted to embrace the assignment God had given him, whether that meant life in prison or not.
It struck me that all of us, myself included will encounter things in life that we find hard to deal with, fortunately for most of us that will not include life in prison or being tortured for our faith. While we cannot choose much of what happens to us, we can choose our response. Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says we are to rejoice in all circumstances, for that is God’s will for us. I thought I need to apply this to my fears of being single forever, I need to ask God to help me to embrace my current assignment, to not miss the things that God has for me to do now, because I am so worried about a future that may never happen. One of the ways we can do this is by getting to know Jesus better through the Bible and prayer and asking Him to reveal His love for us.
If today you feel alone, forgotten, unimportant or invisible to the world contemplate this story. Or perhaps the story of Zacchaeus in the tree or Matthew the tax collector or the Samaritan woman at the well, see yourself in the story, imagine the sights, the sounds the feelings. See yourself interacting with Jesus and remind yourself that He is the God who sees you and calls you His daughter or son. You can trust Him with your deepest longings, for marriage or a child or whatever it is because He sees you, He knows you and He loves you and He will not let you go. Don’t give up, don’t give in because the plans God has for you are so, so good and He is right there with you every moment of every day.
Praying you have a blessed day and week ahead. Special thanks to Sharon Garlough Brown, the author of Sensible Shoes for the inspiration to use imaginative prayers, if you haven’t read the book I cannot recommend it enough! God Bless You!