“Mom! Watch this! Watch me!”
“Did you see that, Mom?”
Little boys dangle upside-down from playground equipment; they leap from ledges and hurtle down slides. And this is their constant refrain, repeatedly called out to where I sit: Look at me. Watch me. Do you see me?
I may be decades older than them, but the cry of my heart is often the same. I plod through the never-ending tasks of homemaking, and no one is watching while I transfer laundry to the dryer or scrub the shower on hands and knees. I struggle to navigate how to use my gifts and passions for God’s glory in my particular context, and sometimes it feels like I am sitting on the sidelines, whispering to the coach: Do you see me?
* * *
God’s answer to that heart question begins in Genesis with an unlikely character. When He reveals a new name of His for the first time, it’s not Enoch or Noah, not the “big three” of Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob, who meet Him. It’s an abused, despised slave-concubine: Hagar.
Hagar was not even an Israelite; Genesis 16 calls her “Hagar the Egyptian.” And she wasn’t simply an innocent victim, either — when she conceived Abram’s child, “she looked with contempt on her mistress” (Genesis 16:4). Still, I sympathize with Hagar, who finds herself used and then harshly treated when Sarai regrets her decision to have her husband sleep with her slave.
Hagar flees to the wilderness, and there, God finds her. The text doesn’t even indicate that she was looking for Him — but she has a powerful encounter with Him. He gives her a difficult command (“Return to your mistress and submit to her”), but He also gives her promises and good news. He reassures her that He has listened to her affliction, even though there is no mention of her having cried out to Him directly.
And then Hagar, the lowly, mistreated Egyptian slave, gets to give the Lord a name: “You are a God who sees me,” she says in verse 13.
The other names God has revealed up to this point are big, even seemingly impersonal: Creator. God Most High. Lord. Self-Existent One. But Hagar meets Him as El Roi, The God Who Sees, and this brings Him close. He is not some far-off, unknowable force; He is a personal God who watches over the details of our lives.
God reveals Himself as The God Who Sees, and this suggests that He cares. I matter to Him, and what happens to me matters to Him. I am not invisible or overlooked.
Sara Hagerty explores this theme of being seen in her memoir, Every Bitter Thing is Sweet. Hagerty writes of experiences where she was unseen or misunderstood by others, but reassured that she was seen by God:
Knowing that God sees me frees me actually to see Him. Feeling misunderstood turned into the revelation that I am fully understood. All along, I had been. My discomfort with not fitting in, with missing out … becomes the moment when I am crowned. I see you, He said. I was both exposed and safe because I was fully loved, relished.
Any piece of me the world couldn’t understand was another piece left for His retrieval. Any severed circumstance I tripped over was another chance for my Maker to make it new. And to make me new…. He hid me. For Himself. Holy loneliness. Purposed loneliness…. He said, Here is where you’ll find Me, watching each of your minutes. The moments that the world doesn’t witness are always His to see. (pp. 160-162)
Resting in being seen by Him is the key to seeing Him.
So often I have recognized that in my various struggles with sin, my main problem is that my eyes are on myself. I know I need to fix my eyes on Jesus, but I’m not really even sure how. I know that He is beautiful, but I don’t delight in His beauty. I know that He is good, but I do not taste His goodness.
Hagar’s ancient story and the modern-day testimony of Sara Hagerty suggest that my seeing begins not with me, but with Him. It begins not with striving, but with resting. It begins with knowing what is true: He sees me.
When I realize and believe in the deepest part of my heart that I am seen, then I have embraced something beautiful about my Father. I have learned that He is the kind of Father who has His eyes on His children. And when I realize this — I have begun to see Him.
* * *
My sons desperately want to know that my eyes are on them. Hagerty mentions this as an aside: “Isn’t so much of parenting making yourself a witness in those day-to-day moments?” And so I’m challenged to look up and respond to their cries with a heartfelt, “Yes, I see you! I’m watching! I saw that! I know!”
When I do, I’m enacting a profound truth about the character of God. I’m laying a foundation for my boys to know The God Who Sees … and I’m reminding myself that I, too, am seen and known — not by a distracted, impatient God who gives me His halfhearted attention and seems annoyed by my cries to be seen, but by a loving Father who finds me and hears my heart, whose eyes are always on me.