I’m a runaway, convinced to stay by the love of a God who sees me.
“Where have you come from and where are you going?”
God said her name, mentioned details about her life, and then the question. Hagar was an Egyptian, a slave, no one He should have sought. She was an expectant mother used up and tired and running away, the way I think I want to sometimes, and He found her in the desert. It would not be the only time He met her there and rescued her. And here we are, all living “in a dry and weary land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1).”
The things He said to her weren’t easy, but they were true, and just before He sent her back to her work, she said,
I have now seen the One who sees me (Genesis 16:14).
Sometimes I look at my man—the other part of me, yearning in my eyes, weary, and say, “I need to feel like I’m more than someone who washes dishes and folds clothes and cleans and meets everyone else’s needs. I need to feel like I’m still…me.” Our work in this life has a way of burying us, one more heavy, dark heap after another. Sometimes I swallow the suffocating lie that I am still that dead girl, so many details pressing me into the earth, covering me up.
And my man is so good to me, wrapping me in, up close, whispering into my hair that I am his amazing love and he’s so thankful for what I do. He says he knows my job is hard. He loves me for all of my trying, for my never giving up. He reminds me, holding me there, that mothering is sacred work—beautiful, passionate, fiery work. He says that I am not now, nor ever have I been, so many of the things I feel…tedious, withered, bland. And sometimes I just need that, the reminding.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember the difference between where I’ve been and where I’m now going. But oh, where we’ve been. And most days, I think if where we’re going is anywhere near as full of Him as our now, I can’t wait.
I admit it, though, I struggle. Nearly every day. Sometimes all I see are the three loads of laundry undone, a clump of discarded color and smells; dust gathering on the buffet, where I want to run my hand in disgust; and somewhere looming in my thoughts the list of I need to…. I walk through the house gathering the signs of my children in my arms, George monkey flopped over in a split on the counter in the kitchen, a workbook on the couch with a pencil poking out of the top, a book and a pair of flip flops. When I get to Adam’s room, I discover that he wet his sheets in the night and then made the bed anyway, because that’s what he’s supposed to do. I sigh, throwing off the pillows, thinking that sometimes I cover over my heart that way, before I allow God to purge the mess. I strip the bed, filling my arms again with soiled sheets and comforter, leaving the room and the smell of boy for fresh linens. I walk into my office and jot down three things racing through my mind: Need to make—new bath routine for Adam, carb counting sheets for Z and A, “took my pills” checklist for Riley. I turn to walk away, remembering the linens, and turn back, jotting down five more things, emptying my mind, but just a little. And for a while, moving through the house, I forget that there’s nothing ordinary or mindless or bland about mothering. And it feels like all the fire that’s truly me has been snuffed out.
I’m a mother, so I write of mothering, but the same is true of fathering. I know that Kevin struggles sometimes, working to provide, squinting to see God working right there in the office. He spends hours there, away from us, keyboard keys clicking beneath his fingers, a phone pressed to his ear. Clients push deadlines, murmuring—sometimes grumpily—about testing, fixes, expectations. It’s hard for him not to feel, even as he gives thanks for the gifts, that all of his truly important is elsewhere. He feels buried sometimes too. It’s hard to see, sitting there in front of a computer, that his work is Kingdom work, that he is everything our children know of Father. I know. I know his job is hard. I know he sometimes forgets that his smile, his laughter are the window through which they see the Father’s delight in them; that his embrace is the feel of God’s arms; that his strength, his gentle wisdom, his firm justice and all that tearful loving are their best view of God’s heart. So many of the answers to the questions they’ll have are already there, wrapped up in his fathering.
My work, too, is Kingdom work. I am a window through which my children see Christ. They watch me to see what it means to live in close fellowship with God, they listen to hear me speak His words instead of my own. All the Bible study in the world will not introduce Christ like a surrendered life. So frequently I forget that, my eyes solidly fixed on the desert sand.
Parenting is sacred, holy business. The most important moments fill our arms with children, not things. Mothers and fathers are creatives, sculpting identities out of God-birthed clay, framing life between our hands so that our children can see. For a time, these hands may touch a thousand perishable things, but what matters more is the fiery power He blows into our hearts, the way He moves and uses the same hands, the imperishable seal of eternity. He has equipped us with His strength and His voice, and a calling to breathe life and truth and blessing. We must not allow the details to distract us from the truth.
I thought of this driving my children to the church building Wednesday night, gripping the wheel, all the hurry sitting hard on my shoulders. The kids eat supper there before Bible study. I did not yet know that my diabetic children had both left their insulin and supplies behind us at home, and already I wanted to turn the car around. Not a single Wednesday comes when I feel ready for the burying. The Enemy heaves the shovel harder every time we choose to live as those granted indestructible lives. And dying to self hurts.
But I gripped the wheel, pressing on, humming along to MercyMe, some of the words tumbling out of my mouth in earnest,
We sing, Holy, the only uncreated One
Holy, the Light that was before the sun
And even when the stars have left the sky
Even when the earth is shaken
Even when our kings have fallen
Every mountain standing tall will crash into the sea
You were, You are, You will be
Only You remain…
From the desert, I look for Him. Oh, Lord, I am so hungry for you. I need you to help me see… Sometimes the details of this life are so distracting I honestly wish I could run away. And I hear Him, whispering deep, “Where have you been and where are you going?”
El Roi doesn’t find us weary in the desert and promise that everything will be okay. He draws near and says things like,
Go back…go. back. You’re going to have a son who will be more than you can handle. But listen, you should name him God hears, because I have heard your misery. And one more thing, he is going to be wild-hearted, and he’s going to fight with everyone, and they’re all going to fight with him. But I hear you and I see you, and you have to go back. Be his mother.
Okay, it’s not verbatim (read Genesis 16 to get it exactly), but that’s pretty much it, without the angelic poetry. The details wouldn’t have lifted my spirits, not weary and pregnant and running away. But Hagar named her son God Hears, and she named her God El Roi, the God who sees me. So every time she called that wild-donkey of a son by name, every time she mothered him, she repeated, “God hears! God hears.” And I wonder if that changed what she said to her son? And was it enough to make her talk to El Roi, clinging, again and again, when she went back and submitted? When she found herself in the desert all over again? When she felt buried beneath all the pain and need of this life, did she remember that He sees? She must’ve known, at least for the walk home, that her identity wasn’t bound up in the details of trouble but in a relationship with a faithful God.
Only the Enemy identifies me in defeat, tries to show me, selfish even in that, that I am the sum total of the difficulty he has brought. If I see myself, our life, that way, am I not allowing him the very thing he wishes—to steal glory from the One who truly deserves it?
When God looks at me, aware of my details, I am certain that He knows me by the new name He’ll give me, the one known only to the two of us. Because the truth is, I am His and He delights in me. He sees me. He urges me to stay the course. Christ said,
To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it (Revelation 2:17).
Every covenant births a new identity, and God cut His covenant deep into my heart a long, long time ago. Whatever the name He’s chosen for me, it’s a name for triumph, and not any victory I have ever won. It’s Christ who overcame all the trouble in this world (John 16:33), and despite all the details and the work that feels so heavy, the only thing that covers me, the One who hides me safely, is our God Most High, who sees and hears. For I died, really a long time ago, and my life is now hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3: 3,4).
All this labor is not in vain. Resurrection awaits.
35 But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. …Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” …Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15).
These days, I’m fighting hard, dear friends, to see my work as it is truly. Maybe some of you are fighting too, in a dry and weary land without water, feeling like you want to run away, thirsty and feeling more like death sometimes than life. God has given me a few things lately, swigs of living water for the journey home, prayers to whisper back to the One who sees and hears, so thankful for so much grace. To the battle worn and withering, to the thirsty, He calls:
You are not invisible.
Your cries do not go unheard.
Dear runaway, even in the desert, I see, I hear.
And my love is better than life.
O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
2 I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
3 Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
4 I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
5 My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
6 On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
7 Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
8 My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me (Psalm 63: 1-8, a favorite of mine with eternal echoes).