Years ago, when I was living in West Africa as a missionary, I went through a really difficult time. I was living in a city of over 5 million people, but I was terribly lonely. It was hard to form deep friendships there, and because of safety issues, I couldn’t go out by myself. I was struggling with my health, having gone through several bouts of malaria. I was a young single woman living alone in a culture where young single women lived with their family and waited for marriage. I was also involved in some leadership positions, and it seemed as though nobody took me seriously or listened to me. In that culture, young single women generally did not assume leadership positions and their opinions weren’t given much value. I learned that lesson only after being in leadership for some time and getting a lot of disrespectful behavior directed at me. I began to feel unseen. Unvalued. Misunderstood. Unwanted. Even by God. It seemed as though my health, my career, and my life were failing.
One day, I was preparing to teach a group of kids I taught at a weekly program. That week’s Bible story was about Hagar, the Egyptian slave owned by Abraham in Genesis 16. In the culture Abraham lived in, if a husband and wife could not have children, the husband took his wife’s slave as a concubine, and she had a child in her mistress’s stead. Because Sarah, Abraham’s wife was old, Hagar became Abraham’s concubine and conceived in order that he could have an heir. However, when she became pregnant, the Bible says she treated Sarah with contempt. Sarah, angry at Hagar’s behavior, treated her harshly. The Bible doesn’t say what that harsh treatment was, but it was so bad that Hagar ran away into the desert. I’m sure that even though she was pregnant with Abraham’s child, Hagar felt unvalued and unwanted at that moment.
The angel of the Lord came to Hagar and told her to return to Sarah and Abraham because the son she would give birth to would become great and he would have many descendants. After that, the Bible says, Hagar began to call God by a different name. El-Roi. The God who sees me. Not the God who found me or saved me. The God who sees me. He saw her value as a human and as a part of history. He saw her feelings about the situation. He saw her past and future. He was right there with her, even though her situation was less than ideal. And He gave her hope of a future.
Even though I was teaching that story, I probably learned more from it than the kids I taught. I felt like Hagar, unwanted in the ministry I was doing. Unvalued in the place I was living. Misunderstood in my loneliness and poor health. Unseen.
But He saw me. God saw me, all my frustrations, loneliness, and heartache. Even though He didn’t sweep me out of the situations I was in, He was right there beside me, loving me and valuing me and understanding me more than any other person could. He saw me. I clung to that lesson through the rest of the time I lived there.
Now, going through this chronic illness, I often feel like my life has stopped. Everyone else is moving forward, enjoying friends, going to work, getting married, having children. I sometimes feel very alone. Unseen. I’ve had to relearn that lesson I learned in Africa. God sees me. He sees all my hurts and feelings, and He understands them. He sees my future. And although He’s not instantly healing me, He is right beside me, understanding and loving me like no one else could. I am once again holding tightly to that truth, and finding great comfort in the God who sees me.
“Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your wings. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.” Psalm 63:7-8