I Really See You
That’s what has niggled at the back of my mind this week.
At the beginning of this month a message was left on my voice mail from the sister of a long-time friend. She didn’t say what it was about but I was pretty certain Rita would only call me if Jean had passed away. She didn’t leave her phone number and I couldn’t find it on Canada 411 so I hoped she would call back. This past Monday she did. We talked for a long time and I was left with the sad reminder of how wasted Jean’s life had been in so many ways. Yes, she lived into her sixties but many of those years were lonely and fraught with both emotional and physical pain. Jean was the kind of person that most people don’t “see.” I had my share of regrets. I wished I had been a better friend on those occasions when I had the chance to be. Sometimes I didn’t “see” Jean either.
Over the past few weeks, and twice this week, three young people have died in our little town. One young man killed himself after killing his parents. Another tried to kill his girlfriend before he succeeded in killing himself. And then, the14-year-old nephew of a close friend committed suicide.
Yesterday the anger and the pain over these deaths surfaced for me. I was washing bedding and two items got all tangled up in the dryer and came out as wet as they had been when they went in. I exploded. I won’t tell you what I said, thought or did—that might totally destroy any illusion you might have that I am a saintly person—but the bedding took the hit! However, between us, the Lord and I sorted out both the bedding and my emotions.
This morning I was reading John 16:16-33. Jesus is speaking to His disciples about His death and resurrection. My friend whose nephew died this week remarked that she still hadn’t taken in what had happened. The reality of this terrible tragedy will hit and I reminded her that when it did she needed to give herself permission to grieve the loss of a fine young Christian boy who simply couldn’t take life any longer. As I was reading the passage from John these verses struck me: “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices, You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy…Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy…I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:20, 22, 33).
I can’t speak for the people involved in the other tragedies of this past month, but for Jean and my friend’s nephew, the grief will turn into joy eventually. Both of them, no matter how difficult life was here, are in the presence of the Lord where no one is invisible. And someday we will meet them again. This was the message that Jesus was conveying to His followers. By all means grieve, but remember that this life will be the worst there is. There is much better to come because of Jesus.
I got thinking about Jean and these young people. For all of them, mental illness was a factor. Jean’s sister admitted that she hadn’t noticed at first how bad Jean’s situation was as she slipped into dementia.The young people, one released from a mental health facility to attend a funeral, the other disappointed in love, and the third apparently bullied and depressed, highlighted for me that segment of society that no one “sees,” those whose wounds are invisible, those who act correctly (until they don’t) but are messed up inside. Those thoughts reminded me of Hagar in the Old Testament story of Abraham.
She was a slave girl, maidservant to Abraham’s wife, Sarah. Treated as the chattel she was considered to be as a slave girl, Sarah gave her to Abraham so that a male heir could be produced. But when she got pregnant Hagar were rejected and despised. Not even Abraham defended her. No one “saw” her as anything else but someone to be used and then tossed away. Hagar ran. But in the desert, at the end of her resources and ready to die, Hagar met God. Her statement after that encounter is a message to all those, who like her, feel, and perhaps are, invisible to most of the rest of the world.
“‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me’” (Genesis 16:13).
John Ortberg, in Love Beyond Reason comments on how perfectly Jesus sees us, when he reminds his readers of the Lord’s remarks about knowing every time a sparrow falls to the ground (Matthew 6:25-27). “Jesus noticed how anxiety robs us of life: Does anyone notice? we wonder. Does anyone care? So he points out the Father’s ceaseless attentiveness to sparrows—about the least expensive creature people might buy in his day. So don’t worry, he gently teases. You are worth quite a few sparrows…If God attends to every mishap in any moment of every sparrow’s life, try to imagine how closely he attends to you” (pg. 34).
Did we miss the signs in the lives of these people who are no longer with us? Probably. Could we have helped? Perhaps. Would seeing have changed the outcome? Perhaps not. But if nothing else, I have been reminded of two important things: God sees me even if no one else does and, I need to ask God to help me to really “see” others better than I do right now.