My friend has a way of using just three words to speak life into those around her, and I’m not talking about “I love you.” I can think of few other phrases, that at the moment uttered, evoke such a breadth of responses – those of feeling comforted, affirmed and settled as well as mildly self conscious, awkward and perhaps a tad horrified.
I see you.
That’s it. Three simple words.
Not the “I see you” to a child who has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Rather, “I see you, and you haven’t gone unnoticed by me.” There is the implication that your heart and your actions, your very existence and being – has been recognized, validated and called out.
Thank you for noticing.
Young and old alike have an innate need to be seen. By instinct, newborns lock eyes with their caregivers; young children are unashamed in demanding attention, “Look at me! Watch this!” Among family and in friendships, between those in love, and even daily interactions with strangers, a sincere “turning towards” and intentional eye contact communicate as deeply and profoundly as many words. By God’s creative design, he has so equipped the human body unto intimate relationships, that upon seeing – not just a quick glance but truly looking into the eyes – chemicals are released in our brains that bind our hearts to one another. Being seen is essential to being known, and being known opens the heart for trust, connection, and the giving and receiving of love. Loving requires seeing.
Not surprising then, one of the many names of God – each revealing something eternally true about Him – is
El Roi – The God who sees.
This name was given to God by a young, pregnant, runaway slave, Hagar, who found the God who found her somewhere in the middle of nowhere. “You are the God who sees me,” she said. “I have now seen the One who sees me.” And this facet of God’s character is found in scripture time and time again. This unchanging God, the one who designed the eye itself, is the God who sees, and knowing we are seen by a loving God can change everything.
Consider Hannah. She had the love and favor of her husband, Elkanah. Likewise, she had the torment of her rival, Peninnah. Hannah could not escape the constant reminder, year after year, that she was barren, unable to bear children as Elkanah’s other wife had done. The deep desire of her heart lay lifeless, seemingly entombed, in a wasted womb.
“Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted?” Her husband would ask.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick.
She had grown beyond weary in wanting a child, along with the significance, dignity, fulfilment and honor a child would surely bring. She needed rest – rest from her rival’s constant irritation, incessant provocation, and taunting accusation – which she now almost firmly internalized and believed: I’ve been overlooked, dismissed and less favored by God Himself.
“Peninnah had children. Hannah had none.” Peninnah had children. Hannah had none. Hannah had none. Hannah had none…
After many years of living among this other woman and all of her children, it seemed as if Peninnah – this fruitful, thorny vine – would eventually wrap herself around Hannah’s throat, choking out her last breath – had it not been for one more pleading prayer.
It is at this place that we find her in the temple, in anguish and crying out – accused of being a drunk woman – mouth moving, voice unheard. Wordless prayers poured out in ceaseless weeping, her stomach as empty as her womb, her prayers as potent as her desperation.
“I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord….I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
Desperation begins to bargain: “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life…”
Pause. Wait. What? Hannah! Do you mean after ALL of THIS, you are saying that if God gives you the very thing you have cried out for all these years, you will just turn around and give the Answer away?!
And that she did.
God answered her cry. She became pregnant, weaned the young Samuel and presented her living sacrifice to Eli the Priest to serve in the temple. She gave him to the One who gave him to her.
I never understood this until I realized that it wasn’t all about getting the thing longed for.
It was about being seen.
“Lord, Almighty, if you will only look… remember… and not forget me…”
Lord, do you see me? Lord, do you remember me? Lord, have you forgotten me?
Hannah longed for a son, but the unmet desire evoked a deeper, primal longing:
Hannah needed to know that she was seen and not forgotten by God Himself.
In my smallness, my barren places, unfulfilled longings, and prayers-in-waiting, I cry out like Hannah: “I need to know that You see me, God.” Just as significant as having my prayers answered, is knowing that I have the attention, the eye, of the God to whom I am praying. The enemy would taunt me to lose hope in the waiting and in the One upon whom all my hope is set. Quite honestly, the importance of the thing longed for fades in light of a more haunting fear: I have been overlooked, unheard and forgotten by God, Himself.
But I am not forgotten and neither are you.
He says, “I see you.” And His eyes filled with mercy and love.
Behold the One beholding you and smiling.*
Genesis 16, Proverbs 13:12, 1 Samuel 1-2, Psalm 34:15, Psalm 33:18
*Anthony de Mello as quoted by Gregory Boyle in Tattoos on the Heart.
In times of waiting for God to answer our long awaited prayers, it is important that we not only recognize that He sees us, but that we also see Him as He truly is. Ephesians 1: 17-18 “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know…”