Whenever I hear a client say, “I do not feel seen,” I can relate. It is such a joy to be seen and, better yet, to be known and accepted as one is right now. We long for that experience from our first days of being held in our mother’s arms and gazing up into her eyes. And if our mother was missing or missing in action, we long for it even more.
I could see that longing to be seen play out the other day when the granddaughters amused themselves with hide and seek. I think they love that game because they love the joy of deliberately hiding and being assured someone will come find them. You may have squealed yourself when somone lifted the blanket and there you were.
I remember being their age and trying to be a part of the bigger kids’ all-neighborhood hide and seek game on summer nights. I was little enough to crawl into some very unlikely places — and I was left in one more than once! Sometimes, no one even remembered I was hiding at all! You can tell I still feel something about not being found.
One of my stories about my mother has to do with hiding from her and not being found. She didn’t even know she was in a game of hide and seek. It was sort of a test I gave her which she usually failed. She would be talking on the phone to a friend, but not talking to me, so I used her inattention to run and hide. I was either a very jealous, demanding, four year old or she was a very neglectful mother. Even if it was the former, I felt the latter – we note even the smallest neglect. I came out after what seemed to me a long time and she didn’t even know I was gone. Sometimes she was still on the phone! It hurt not to be found. It scares us. We need to belong. We want to be seen. Through my tests and hurts I developed an invulnerability to being seen so I would not have to experience the pain of not being seen. Do you do anything like that?
I think part of my lifelong vocation had to do with not feeling found. One of my reactions to the feeling was to develop a life of finding. It is what evangelists do all day. When someone new came into the church meeting, I never left them feeling unseen if I could help it. One of my dear friends likes to tell the story of how we met – I followed her down the stairs of the meeting place saying, “I’m chasing you!” She felt noticed. A person in the church might have felt neglected if they already belonged, but if you were new to the community, I was on it. We often give people what we want to get.
I am not saying I wasn’t called to be like Jesus coming to seek and save the lost. I was. By giving that act of love I was meeting a basic need we all have! We can’t get enough of being noticed, even from the most loving parents; we keep looking for it. I’m just saying part of my motive for becoming a seeker must have included the thought that, “If I see everyone, someone might see me. If I find someone, someone may find me.” I’m glad my basic needs are still kicking — I haven’t given up on looking for love just because I don’t want to bear the feeling of it not finding me. Not yet.
These days (finally!), I think I am more content being found — or not. I have felt seen a lot. And I feel found by God. So I don’t even do much advertising for clients and mostly let them find me — so far, I have more work than I can handle much of the time. Instead of working the room at a big gathering, which I still think is a lot of fun, I can often sit back and wait for conversations to come to me. My desperation to be known can be noted, but not followed. After a lifetime of “outreach,” I can be reached. Or not.
A chance to find the baby
This first week of Advent, I am thinking about that obscure birthplace of God-with-us and the baby who is going to grow and present himself to be seen and known by humanity. At the beginning of the liturgical year, here (whether people know what a liturgical year is or not), Jesus is going be born in a fresh way; he will be finding many people for the very first time — some who feel terribly small and get a little comfort by staying as hidden as possible. Jesus will be seen and known by millions and either unseen or dismissed by millions more.
Jesus is so hidden! Even when people see him, he’s hard to see. Even though I know him well, I feel I know so little. What must that feel like for God? I hope she is not like me, deliberately hiding with the hope someone will find her worthy of being found! More likely, God is sure he will be found because he has made himself to be found
Jeremiah assures us of that. I think Jesus fulfills his prophecy in a wonderful way. I like to hear it in the old language (and in song).
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.
And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
And I will be found of you, saith the Lord. (Jeremiah 29:11-14)
In Jesus, God is saying , “I will be found of you, for real.” The shepherds are famous for going to see and finding the place. They went to see and I think they felt seen. The magi are famous for reading a lot into the stars, and for travelling for who-knows-how long to find Jesus. They behold him and are overjoyed. They went to know and I think they felt known. Seeing and being seen, finding and being found is how creation works, from birth to death. When we despair of that experience, we go numb.
One of the personal messages of Advent to us all is this: It is at least possible I will be found by someone who is glad to see me. I can sit in my cradle and assume I am a baby worth loving, even if it seems to me I am not. Some kind of shepherd or wise man will wander in with admiration and gifts. Whether my self-esteem is high or not, I can at least accept that baby Jesus is God seeking me and I can stop hiding now, I am found. I can stop hiding from not being found because I have been deemed worth finding. It is a constant fact that I am seen, sought, and loved.