“I see you!” Those are famous words from the 2009 James Cameron blockbuster movie AVATAR as the heroine, Neytiri, rescues the hero, Jake Sully, in the final scenes. She can see “him,” even though looking into his human not his avatar’s face. To be thus seen is to be seen as who he is, it is to be known and loved.
As I sat in a coffee shop with a friend across from the painting above, we discussed what we saw — two people, possibly a man and woman, forehead to forehead. In that closeness, in this simple depiction with color and line, a story is presented and it seems, these people actually “see” one another. Although how it is possible to actually acknowledge that from two lines, I’m unclear. But still, it seems, the person on the left might even be saying, “I see you” to the person on the right.
Long before AVATAR, this theme has played out in the famous story of Beauty and the Beast where Belle looks to recognize her friend, who had been the beast, in the handsome face of the transfigured prince, finally, staring into his eyes, says, “It is you!”
In this life, it is essential to be seen.
Belle had “seen” through the beastly exterior to the genuine heart below the surface. In a similar way, to be seen, for us, is more than giving your name. And certainly goes beyond what job you have. Yet that’s a frequent question soon after introductions — “So, what do you do for work?” We are so much more than our jobs.
Being known, being seen, has to do with so much more than appearance. We can appear content, happy, joyful, laughing, connected to others, but be withering away in the inside. And yet, we put much into that outer appearance in our lives. The clothing industry generated a whopping 292 billion dollars in the US in 2016.
Malcolm Muggeridge was dubbed St. Mugg by British media, after making his 1970 documentary of Mother Teresa Something Beautiful for God. As a result of that project, Malcolm became a follower of Jesus. In one of his interviews with Mother Teresa, this tiny and powerful woman said:
“The spiritual poverty of the Western World is much greater than the physical poverty of our people…. You, in the West, have millions of people who suffer such terrible loneliness and emptiness. They feel unloved and unwanted. These people are not hungry in the physical sense, but they are in another way. They know they need something more than money, yet they don’t know what it is. What they are missing, really, is a living relationship with God.”
She was right. Loneliness and emptiness is our poverty. And it shows up in so many different forms.
One member of our congregation, who was recently found dead at 59 in his apartment, was a guy who stood on the sidelines of life, looking in, observing others. He was known by name, by his quiet presence, but not known in a deep way. He’d been a lover of Jazz, at one time a great teacher, and was an excellent public communicator. He had been a member of a small group for years but had not really let anyone know him.
At home he was not caring for his own basic needs, which might have been symptomatic of depression. He hadn’t seen his doctor in four years. He ate little decent food and had virtually no food in his house. The autopsy showed he had died of a massive heart attack. The examiner said his arteries were as clogged as was possible. He had been barely living for many, many months, perhaps years. He never exercised.
His house was filthy, in stark contrast to how this guy appeared in public. It was piled with junk, the carpet trashed, the cat litter box overflowed, the sinks filthy. It felt like the interior of a garbage dump, not a place to live. It pictured one aspect of his lonely heart: disconnected from people, from fellowship, from a real connection with others. He had a deep faith, but not, to a degree, a shared faith. His niece named his death an “unintentional suicide.” He had not taken his life but had not cared for his life, either. And bottom line: he had not allowed himself to be seen by others. For this, I grieved.
Being seen, being known is the antidote to loneliness . When others are allowed in when they can see us when they can know us, that connection brings life and breathes hope into the human heart.
Over Thanksgiving, my wife, Karen, and I flew to Boise for a week with most of our children and all our grandchildren. My cousin, called “Granty Chris” by my grandchildren was there too. Chris and I have a long history of Thanksgivings and summer vacations together going back decades, so to be together is a rich pleasure. We “get” each other.
The week and house were full with all those five little kids under 6 and us five adults. There were songs, movies, card games, multiple times through Monopoly Jr., alongside lots of food, laughter and of course tears. What’s a family gathering without tears!
Our granddaughter Antonia because of some choices she made and a patch of miscommunication, missed going with her mom to the special church service on Tuesday night, so I asked if she would like me to take her to the liturgy scheduled for 6 am the next morning.
This 6-year-old child was ecstatic.
She picked out the clothes she would put on, and put them into the living room for easy access the next morning, and collected a small bag of color crayons and a coloring book one of her aunt’s had gotten for her, for us to bring with us.
The next morning, I got up at 5:30 am, dressed, awoke her at 5:40 am. She awoke ready to go. “I heard your squeaking through the house,” she told me as she descended her ladder for her bunk bed.
She got on her tights, dress, shoes and warm wool coat and pulled her fingers through her hair saying, “I’ll just finger comb it since I forgot to get a comb out of Mom and Dad’s bedroom.” She finished this and pulled a hair band onto it. We got into the cold car, opened the garage door, backed out and drove to the family’s Orthodox Church in Meridian. We parked outside the brightly lit building, walked across the crunchy, frosty grass through the heavy double doors into the warm building, and were greeted by the chanting of the priest, the lit candles and the images of saints in icons around the room.
Icons are “written” not painted, for the artist is not seeking to create a human “work of art” but is seeking to present “scripture in visual form.” The iconographer is seeking to present “God’s perspective” of this saint in the light of the Holy Spirit. The writing of icons is a specific discipline that combines prayers with the traditions of the church to create a window to this saint who had faithfully lived and died, yet as a saint yet lives just through the “veil” around us.
The icon then is a window to the actual person — so the worshiper greets the saint by kissing the icon, as you might greet one of the other worshipers who enter. They are not thus worshiping a piece of wood, nor are they kissing wood, but they are greeting the person. Children and adults greet those who are there waiting to worship with them. In essence, they “see” these saints and are seen by them.
Entering that place, with the words of Scripture filling the air, the atmosphere reverberated with the sense of God’s goodness and presence and as we “saw” the saints, I felt “seen,” and “known,” by them as well, in this uncanny way. Antonia greeted several saints and then was greeted by and we greeted other “living saints” — the other worshipers who arrived to sing, pray and participate.
Antonia settled right down on her chair, broke out her crayons and coloring book, and set into color, listening, chanting, standing at various points and then sitting back down again engaged by employing her hands to create beauty while liturgy occurred around and within her.
Who really sees you in this life?
Reflecting upon this, I have been so grateful that I am surrounded by people who “see me.” They know who I am, can read my face. I don’t have a poker face! Everything registers there first!. And they can thus rightly interpret my heart. It is a gift and a curse if I wanted to play poker. But the gift is I am known, seen, loved, cherished. And I see them and can speak into their lives.
This fact does not remove that I must remember it is true. I need to be the one telling my head and heart the “truth” about those around me. To see the icons at that worship setting was not enough, I also needed to remind myself that these icons were windows to real people, real saints who knew and saw me, as the book of Hebrews reminds us, we are “surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses…” (12:1).
Traveling by plane flying home I was struck with all the people who might be dressed to the nines but be shriveling with loneliness within. It reminded me of the woman I had met in the mall the other week, see this post, for whom God had told me she was lonely, and I was to give her His three words: “God sees you.” Incredible, the God who threw all the stars into space, sees, knows, and desires to connect with us individual people here on earth. That God “sees” us. That’s a heart stopper. And that’s a point of immense encouragement as well.
When John Allen Chau landed his kayak on that remote North Sentinel Island and was killed by a volley of arrows Friday November 16th, God saw him.
John had written in his journal that he might die in his attempt to make contact with this unreached people group to share the love of Jesus. But felt compelled to go. Their hostility toward outsiders has kept them isolated.
When our brother, whom I mentioned above, isolated himself from true connection and died at home, supposedly alone, God saw and was with him.
When feeling lonely, tell someone.
It is a frightening thing to admit, for we fear no one else will acknowledge that they have been there. But I promise you, none of us are immune to feeling alone and isolated, even with people around us who “see us” and “know us.” We still can succumb to those whispers.
I’ve recently been re-reading the Harry Potter series, and love how JK Rowlings depicted the dementors. They are the raspy-breathed, soul-sucking, evil guards of the feared prison Azkaban, for thus for me she actually depicted well the demonic in this world. The dementors, like demons, feed on fear and hopelessness and can hold us captive. They energize those emotions and steal joy and hope and love. Again true of the demonic. When we give into the false narratives in our hearts about our lives — when we listen to the ideas that we are not seen, known or loved, when we isolate instead of engaging in relationships, we give more place to such thinking and open up to those whispered thoughts. Such thinking is defeating and energizes the darkness, sucking our lives of joy.
Often the demonic in this world might not have to do much, for we “slip” into such false thinking we become our own worst energizer of the negative.
In the books, Harry is taught to fight the dementors by giving power to the best thought of hope and goodness, and through this to produce a “spell” through himself what in the books is called a Patronus. This is a figure filled with light and hope which dispels the dementors. Light displaces darkness. Truth (in the books: a thought filled light and joy and hope) displaces the lie.
We have been given already the gift of faith that produces a light that dispels the darkness. We need to choose this, however, to turn from the lies, the heady hopelessness, and back toward the light, toward the truth: we are loved, cherished, desired. We have a place of belonging. Jesus really chooses YOU! And in that is a light-filled welcome. We need not give in to the dark.
The lies that this life has no meaning or value or that we have no worth. That is always a lie. You have such immense value. Jesus came because he loves us and loves you.
When you hit tough days, lonely times, feel like no one sees the pain you are experiencing, believe all is lost, hear this: you are not alone. There are many, and I mean this, many, me included, who have also walked the road you are walking.
Reach out, call someone, talk to someone, tell the truth, be vulnerable with someone you trust, and you will find a listening ear and a person who will validate that you are not alone. If feeling suicidal, please reach out. There is a national hotline 1-800-273-8255, anytime, day or night. Call.
Be seen– God sees you already. Others need to for who you are is a gift for them as well. Jesus says: “I see you.”