When I was in second grade handball was all the rage. We played it with big red rubber balls against backboards on the playground. One day I was playing against Amy Watson, a third grader, and she went for it- hit an ace, leaving the ball very low to the ground. I was not about to be shown up by a "big kid" so I launched myself toward the ball as if I were sliding into home plate. I slid right across the asphalt on my nose. I stood up in pain, half embarrassed, half proud of my all out attempt. Turning to Amy Watson, I asked, "Is there a mark?" Looking straight at me she replied, "No, I don't see anything." Unconvinced I ran to the bathroom to see for myself. There down the whole length of my nose was a huge scrape. All the skin was gone. "How could she not see that?" I thought.
My senior year of college I had a Communication professor who treated his classes more like group therapy than academic study. This particular class was bearable because almost all of us had gone through the program together and had become friends over the years. One night the professor sat us in a circle and told us to write a secret on a piece of paper, something about ourselves that we never tell anyone. We each wrote something down and put the papers in a pile. One by one the professor read them out loud. One by one we heard pain, loneliness, hurt. We had lived and studied together for four years. How could we be so unaware of each other's pain? "How did we not see that?" I thought.
In the movie, Crossing Arizona, there is a scene where an anti-immigration rally takes place in a hotel ballroom. As the speaker rants about immigrants taking away jobs and ruining our society, the immigrant hotel workers are cleaning up and serving those in attendance. Watching the scene I was left asking, "How can they not see that the people serving them are the ones they are railing against? How can they not see?"
The Lord warned the prophets it would be like this. Jesus spoke to the people in parables for this very reason,
Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: "you will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving." (Matthew 13:13-14)
A few years back I was in counseling, working through some things and my heart felt so raw and exposed. I remember walking into meetings sure that everyone could see how insecure and vulnerable I was. It changed how I saw others. I wondered if just walking in the room took as much courage for them as it did for me. I was more gentle and kind because that was what I longed for. I felt fragile, like I needed to be handled with care. Anne Lamott says she treats everyone like they are in the emergency room. In that season I began to think she has the right idea. Just like my college classmates, if we could see the wounds of those around us, it would change how we treat one another.
There is something powerful in really seeing. In the moment we begin to perceive we say, "my eyes were opened," as if we had been walking around blind before. When the Apostle Paul began to live in the light of Christ, something like scales fell off his eyes and he could see. In the same passage that Jesus was quoting, Isaiah goes on to say, "Otherwise, they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn and be healed."
In Genesis, a woman, Hagar escaped in desperation and pain to the desert. There she encountered God and as He spoke to her she gave Him the name, "You are the God who sees me." The God who sees. It seems like such an obvious recognition and yet profound when I think of how often we walk through life not seeing what is really going on, not perceiving the battles we are each fighting in our hearts, not noticing the hurt we carry.
God sees. He sees the poverty and circumstances that prompt immigrants to come here. He sees their fear and courage. He knows the dreams and hopes that motivate them to press on. And He sees our confusion and concerns and questions as we seek to sort through the mess we are in as a nation. He sees our tension between law and compassion, protection and generosity. He is the God who sees. He is the God we follow. May we be like Him-those who see the ones in the desert and reach out in wisdom and love.
Crissy Brooks is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Mika Community Development Corporation in Costa Mesa, California.