It’s that middle place for children, right after self-awareness and just before it’s singed with pride and embarrassment: When they look back at you after a great or terrible act with a question in their eyes, “Did you see that?” Of course, this carries far past the little years, but there is this short period of time where their need to be seen is so… seen. They threw a ball! Did you see that? They pushed their brother. Did you see that? Their chubby little fingers stacked the third block and it didn’t fall—head turns and eyes grow: Did you see that?
Our seeing their accomplishment actually completes it for them. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? They feel at home in our gaze; they feel like a whole person with our eyes on them. To be seen is to be. We would be fools to think that we somehow grew out of this basic human need. We’ve just figured out how to shade our eyes so that no one sees us looking around, trying to catch another’s gaze: “Did anyone see that?”
Longing to Be Seen
We can feel this sorely, though not solely, as mothers—when every part of our body and brain and soul just needs to lie down, and we can’t even remember what made us so tired in the first place. We hurt from loving, we ache from longing, and no matter how affirmative our husbands might be, we can still feel unseen. (Is anyone watching me make four lunches at once?) We may (I have) turn to sharing our moments on social media. Maybe a few hundred hearts and thumbs will quench this thirst. Maybe a comment of solidarity will pick me up off the ground. But it can’t last, can it? I can’t hold that person’s face in my hands and fix their gaze forever.
It’s not just the hard moments that we wish for others to see—like when two people need their bottoms wiped at the exact same time (always, always… law of nature!). But it’s the beautiful moments, too: when your baby hugs your leg and says, “I love you!” for the first time, unprompted. Oh, did anyone see that?! And so, like I experienced as a young mother, our brains can spiral down into a philosophical depression—is my life of motherhood the proverbial tree that falls in the forest? Do these common, everyday moments mean anything outside of someone’s gaze?…
Recently I traveled alone between my two worlds: Philadelphia, my home and vocational base and the Midwest where I have decades-long friendships. Somewhere over Ohio I realized afresh that no one but the Lord really knew me in both worlds. Only Jesus had journeyed with me emotionally, relationally, and spiritually 24/7 in both places. I’ve had many of these heart-pang moments and yet realize that even if I had a traveling companion (friend or husband) who stood by my side, that person wouldn’t know me fully. There is only One who can: Jesus, the one in whom I am hidden in the intimate and unique home that I share with him alone.
Our union with Christ is an important truth of the gospel, and therefore our identity as Christians. Whether if single or married, or if you face storms or sweet joys in your life station (most of us experience a combination of both!), the eternal fact of being united to Christ needs to be a primary lens through which we interpret and respond to our circumstances. Including when you’re thirty thousand feet above ground, feeling sad and unknown, and inching towards the downward slide of melancholy.
What Union With Jesus Means
Jesus helped his friends understand the idea of union with him through a metaphor of a vine and branches.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches, apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)
Paul talked about this spiritual concept in his pastoral letters.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)
“Abiding” (or remaining, having a home) in Jesus, Christ “in us,” and our lives being “hidden” in him all speak to the spiritual reality of our connection to Jesus through faith in his accomplished work on the cross and resurrection. All that was ours (sin and eternal spiritual death) and all that is his (holiness, eternal life, a spiritual nature, identity as the beloved Son) are exchanged. At the cross, he united himself to our hopeless human state and opened the door for us to be grafted into him, gaining access to the riches of heaven!…
This fall I began teaching another Bible study at my church, something I have done for many years. As I addressed the women in the room, I rejoiced at how many had been faithful to study God’s Word over the years and how they had grown in their faith as they applied truth to the hardships of their lives. As I looked out at their faces, I also felt a huge responsibility: How would I invest in these women over the next year?
In writing to the Thessalonian believers, Paul states, “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:7-8). As I studied these verses, as well as the surrounding context, I was struck by Paul’s affection for God’s people. Even amid conflict, Paul displayed godly conduct and gave thanks in all circumstances.
In our service to others, you and I are called to do the same.
Conflict in Serving
Paul served the Thessalonians in the midst of his own conflict, or suffering. Think about the last time you experienced conflict or suffering in ministry. Maybe the suffering came from chronic physical pain or maybe a fellow believer discouraged you in your role. Whatever the cause, doing ministry while in conflict is hard. We’re tempted to throw in the towel and call it quits until we feel better, or until the other person stops discouraging us. We might think of taking some time off to recoup and refresh before heading back into ministry work. But conflict, by God’s grace, often becomes the catalyst for declaring Christ. God uses our service in the midst of suffering to spread His gospel.
I have experienced this in my own life. In fact, the first day of teaching this fall I was in tremendous physical pain from a chronic GI complication I have had since 2006. But I have learned over the years the truth of the Lord’s words to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Ministering to others in our suffering is an opportunity to magnify the Lord’s strength.
Conduct in Serving
Paul also displayed godly conduct as he served. God entrusted us with a message and His Spirit empowers us to proclaim it. The Lord refines us as we serve, oftentimes uprooting sinful motives in our hearts, such as gaining man’s approval, and replacing them with gentleness, love, and a heart that seeks God’s glory…
I don’t want to be contrary but talk about the new year never sits well with me. Yes, it’s a new year, I get it. One day it’s 2019 and the next day—and perhaps a few noise makers later—it’s 2020. The media likes to turn this into some giant significant occurrence as if flipping the calendar page changes anything.
But do you know what the new year actually brings? January. And the reality is that for most of us, January is squarely in the middle of our year. Nothing is new. We are doing the same things we did a week ago and will continue to do for the foreseeable future.
If you had a child in fifth grade in December, they are still in fifth grade in January. If you had a long commute to your job in December, you’re still commuting in January. Oh, here’s one I especially love in Boston, if the climate you live in is cold in December, guess what? It’s still cold, probably colder, in January.For many of us, January can be a struggle exactly because we are in the middle, and all the talk of new beginnings makes us feel inadequate and tired.
What we need in January is not a contrived fresh start but a real and faithful walk on the road we are already on, following the One who always goes before us, year-round.
One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 15. It’s a chapter about the work and power of the resurrection of Christ. Unlike flipping a calendar page, when you believe in Jesus and all that His life and resurrection means, then everything really does change….
“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19
In the new year of 2017, I recorded some big plans in my journal:
Create a prayer planner to help people grow in healthy prayer habits.
Walk alongside our daughter as she planned her wedding; attend our son’s college graduation.
Continue teaching Bible study at the jail.
My Plans vs. God’s Plans
As a gospel coach and a Type A personality, I enjoy making plans. Every new year, I set aside time to revisit the stories of the “awesome deeds” (Psalm 145:6) God has done in the previous year and to pray and think about what stories he might write in the coming year. I don’t make resolutions, which I know I will break; I make plans, which I hold loosely.
While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with such a practice, I have begun to wonder if my plans, like the desires C.S. Lewis wrote about long ago, might be too “shallow” and too “weak.” Given that we serve a God who is forever doing “brand new things,” I wonder if I am happy “making mudpies in a slum” when what God has planned for me is a “holiday by the sea.” 
In 2017, the year I recorded those plans in my journal, it seemed the Lord had different plans. While our son did graduate from college, and our daughter did get married, and I did continue teaching at the jail, the Lord also wrote a bigger, better story in my life. In August of 2017, when our twenty-two-year-old son was diagnosed with a brain tumor and proceeded to have four brain surgeries over the next nine months, I became more intimately acquainted with the God who was determined to do an astonishing “new thing,” to “make a way in the wilderness…”