Have you ever been in a hard season that seemed like it would never end? These times might be referred to as desert seasons or valleys or dark nights of the soul. Call it what you will, there is no poetic label you can use that makes it any more pleasant when you are going through it.
When you have prayed all the prayers and declared all the verses, but still the answer does not come, it is so easy for despair and hopelessness to settle in your heart. Does God see what you are going through? Does He even care? Is He ever going to do anything about it?
A Story for When You Feel Invisible
I was recently drawn to part of an Old Testament story that doesn’t seem to get much attention, probably because it is tucked into a much bigger drama. In Genesis, we read the account of Abraham and Sarah—their incredible journey of faith, the promised child that does not come, their decision to take matters into their own hands, and the family dysfunction that ensues.
Hagar is a minor character, often regarded with some disdain, even though she is helpless in most of what transpires. Her social position as a foreigner, a slave, and a woman does not afford her much of a voice in her own story.
Sarah becomes convinced that God’s promise to Abraham must not have included her since she is apparently barren, so she conjures a plan to give her maidservant, Hagar, to Abraham as a concubine, believing the promised child can come through her instead.
But once Hagar is pregnant, this seemingly perfect plan begins to unravel. The relationship between Hagar and Sarah becomes increasingly strained. Sarah complains to Abraham, and he tells her to do whatever she thinks is best. Sarah mistreats Hagar, so Hagar flees for her safety.
And this is the part of the story that has recently captured my attention—alone, scared and hopeless, Hagar has a profound encounter with God out in the desert (see Genesis 16:7-14). An angel of the Lord comes and speaks to her, offering guidance and prophesying over the child in her womb. Truthfully, the prophecy itself is not that encouraging; still Hagar is struck by the realization that God cares about her, and she gives Him a name: El Roi, the God who sees.
Nothing Too Big or Too Small
Consider for a moment what you and I know all these centuries later. Hagar’s son, Ishmael, is not the child of promise. Another child—Isaac—comes from Sarah, and he is the one through whom God births the nation of Israel.
Consider how the descendants of these two sons have warred with each other. Even today, we witness the tension and chaos that the entire world is plunged into because of this story. Sarah and Abraham’s choices and actions completely re-defined history.
You might think God would appear to Abraham here—the one He is in covenant with—to assure him everything will be okay. Or perhaps God should come to Sarah, partly to correct her for treatment of her servant and partly to encourage her to remember His promises.
But instead, in the middle of this unfolding drama that will affect the world for all of time, God reaches out to one seemingly insignificant, heartbroken mother-to-be. Hagar has one of the most personal encounters with God recorded in Scripture. She does not even seem to be ruffled by the negative words about her son and his descendants; she is simply in awe that God sees her when no one else does.
When Abraham and Sarah treated Hagar as a pawn, God treated her as a precious life. He valued her heart: He revealed His goodness to her.
Hope in the Desert
When you are in the desert, it is easy to feel insignificant. The vastness of all the issues in the world piled on top of your own personal struggles can make you feel that God might have His hands too full to be bothered with you right now. The enemy will whisper that God does not care and that is why He seems distant or silent. Recognize these words and thoughts for what they are—lies.
I cannot give you a reason for the hard thing you are walking through right now. I cannot explain the pain or the suffering or the loss, any more than I can explain why poor Hagar had to be the one drawn into Abraham and Sarah’s faith crisis.
But I do know this: He sees you.
When you feel alone, His eyes are on you, and His ears are attentive to your cries (see Psalm 34:15). Nothing that is happening escapes His notice, and when you have no strength left to fight, He is still fighting for you.
Just as God revealed Himself to Hagar, He will reveal Himself to you. Hold on to hope. You are not insignificant to Him; you are treasured, and He will come.
Are you in a desert season? Are there circumstances unfolding that make you feel invisible? Consider making a list of these things or taking a moment to just speak them all to God. Invite Him into each of these things, and ask Him to reveal how He sees you and hears you.
Keep your eyes and heart open as you navigate the holiday season. There will be countless people who cross your path who are hurting and feeling invisible, but you can be God’s encouragement to them. Even something as simple as acknowledging retail employees by name and taking a moment to chat with them can go a long way towards reminding people that they matter.
— Adela Just