I let a friend down. Or, I should say: I let *another friend* down. I can tell she’s mad, not yet hurt. Just mad. I receive her frustration with me, and my mind instinctively flashes to that old friend of a phrase: you just don’t get it.
… I’m late. I ran a red light, and I’m still late. With the charcuterie board on my hip, I bump the car door shut and stumble across the street to the front porch, hiking my purse on my shoulder. Did I brush my teeth before I left? I imagine a few slightly judgmental faces inside, amid a sea of gracious friends, and I hear myself saying in my head to those judgmental looks: you just don’t get it.
… I return home from the grocery to discover I purchased steaks at $27.99 per pound — I had looked over my shoulder, only to look back and point to the wrong steak in the display case. And I forgot three critical ingredients for dinner. I tell the imagined world that is watching my every move: you just don’t get it.
“You just don’t get it” would be followed by: “my life, my everyday limitations, the ways I’m pressed that few understand, make things like letting people down, and showing up late and discombobulated, and not paying attention to details understandable.”
My story, my days, are different than yours, but I wonder if we share this in common: there are parts of our lives, tucked away and unique to us, that impact our waking and our sleeping and the hours in between … that only a few might understand. And, there are parts of our lives that we foist in front of others in hopes that they might see and receive and be gracious to our weaknesses in return — only to feel further misunderstood and alone.
So rather than keep trying, we bury the deep longing inside of us to be seen and celebrated for the beauty coming out of those parts, to be held and encouraged in the pain coming out of those parts. We shame ourselves and our desire to be seen … and we bring the charcuterie board to the party, order the steaks, forget our friend’s big day … and then we mutter “you just don’t get it” under our breath.
Then friendships get built on a craggy foundation. I’m telling myself I’m ok not being seen, but I still want you to see me, and I’m frustrated you don’t, but I’ve not identified my craving to be known and understood, so we can’t talk about this weirdness between us. Marriages work this way, too.
Until we name the craving deep inside to be seen, known, understood, and celebrated, we will walk into every relationship holding out an empty cup. Even the people — dare I say, especially the people — who serve and pour out the most carry the empty cup, if their desire is not named.
Years ago, I spoke to a group of women at a church in the northeast about this craving to be seen. A woman in her eighties approached me afterward. She had big round eyes that revealed a long corridor of stories behind them. “When I was a little girl, I loved to dance,” she said nervously, sharing with the caution that comes with vulnerability. “I wanted to be a dancer. My father was a very busy and hardened man, but I would twirl in the room and take circles in front of him, asking, ‘Daddy would you watch me dance.’ He never looked up. My dad never watched me dance.”
She had lived less than a decade of life when this happened. And yet seven decades later, she had revealed with tears in her eyes: we never get over being unseen. And especially by the ones God made to see us.
Most of us bury the desire and move on … not realizing that the power of this desire, unnamed and thwarted, can cause us to do all kinds of acrobatics to win friends that eventually exhaust us. This unnamed desire can define our personality — always the happy one, always the servant, always the friend who shows up at your door when you need them, always agreeable.
But are we that way — were we truly designed that way — or has our life become a response to a desire that we fear to name, but has great power over us?
God made you, me, your mom, my husband, your children’s teachers, and my neighbor all with the craving to be seen.
We were made to be seen.
Psalm 139:15 says, “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” From the beginning, we were seen — no wonder we still crave that feeling with which we were made.
And then we live in a world of enmeshed relationships where we take those unnamed (but strongly felt) desires into the relationships around us — needing to be seen and understood, but feeling mostly empty, still longing, reaching but blindly.
We cringe when it comes to desire, afraid to name it, and fearful if we do that it will never get met. But to avoid making our life a reactive response to this craving, we haveto name this desire.
Hagar said of God, “You are the God who sees me,” for she said: “I have now seen the One who sees me” (Genesis 16:13). I suspect her endurance through such a tumultuous path thrusted in front of her was not that people understood her tears, but that she saw the One who saw her.
The “you just don’t get it” that you muttered under your breath today could be a breadcrumb trail back to desire — a desire God wants to meet.