Excerpt from Even the Sparrow

She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, I have now seen the One who sees me.’ Gen­e­sis 16:13

It’s the first ses­sion of my spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion train­ing. I’m in a room with pas­tors and lead­ers from all over North Amer­i­ca. I want you to leave behind your titles, the ways you define your­self by what you do,’ our host­ess says. In this space can we just be souls in the pres­ence of God?’

I’m stand­ing at the edge of the crowd, cof­fee in hand. Hold­ing it high in front of me like a shield. With­out the body armour of my title and CV, I feel quite vul­ner­a­ble. If the mug is big enough, maybe I can hide behind it. Do I make eye con­tact? Smile? I feel like an awk­ward teenag­er stand­ing against the wall at the school prom. Hmmm, maybe the hos­pi­tal­i­ty team needs help with clean­ing up the cof­fee and snacks. Or maybe I should just go to my seat and orga­nize my papers and notebooks …

I’m shy. Some­times painful­ly so. But I also want to be seen. I want every­body to know what a won­der­ful, unique per­son I am. I’m spe­cial! Delight­ful, even! You should get to know me! Like Don­key in the movie Shrek, my insides hop up and down, bleat­ing, Pick me! Pick me!”

Over the years I’ve become aware of the con­tours of that par­tic­u­lar neu­ro­sis, so I’m quick to notice and resist it. But it’s per­sis­tent and keeps pop­ping up, like rodents in a Whack-a-Mole game at the car­ni­val. As I sur­vey the room, the Whack-a-Moles are stir­ring, rest­less. Lead­ers. Lots of lead­ers. Maybe new friends? Maybe impor­tant con­tacts?” they chitter.

I whack the mole. Why does this still both­er me? I’m a grownup, for good­ness sake! But the moment feels phys­i­cal­ly painful – I feel scooped out inside. Raw and vul­ner­a­ble in my lone­li­ness and my need for human con­nec­tion and affir­ma­tion. My need to be seen.

All of a sud­den, a clear and lov­ing voice bursts into my con­scious­ness. The Voice.

I see you. My eye is on you.

It is a qui­et, calm­ing word. Peace unfurls within.

I see you. My eye is on you. It’s a holy moment. Years lat­er I feel it in my body with the same strength and inten­si­ty. You are the God who sees me,” says Hagar in the desert.1 And Jill in the monastery.

A word from the Lord changes every­thing, and this briefest of encoun­ters recon­fig­ures my insides. And it rad­i­cal­ly and per­ma­nent­ly changes how I react in these types of social sit­u­a­tions. Now when I’m in a crowd of strangers my prayer is, Lord, hide me from those I’m meant to be hid­den from. Reveal me to those you want me to con­nect with.”

Gone is the striv­ing and the need to be seen. I trust that what­ev­er rela­tion­al con­nec­tions hap­pen are the ones ordained to be. And I don’t fuss when I’m over­looked and ignored (as slight­ly plump mid­dle-aged women can be).

Years ear­li­er, I’m sit­ting across from one of my men­tors in a restau­rant in Kansas City, wrestling with the shape of my voca­tion. Build­ing a local prayer com­mu­ni­ty is part of it, but my spheres of influ­ence and con­cern are both expand­ing and I’m not sure how to engage with God’s invi­ta­tion to inhab­it the larg­er space. Just think of it this way,” he says, What you do is fly from one House of Prayer to the next. You dip in and gath­er sweet­ness from one and you take it to the oth­er – cross pol­li­nat­ing! You’re a honeybee!”

Hon­ey­bee.

The word is weighty with affec­tion. It’s one of those moments when someone’s lips are mov­ing, but in actu­al­i­ty it is God speak­ing. I can see the crin­kle in God’s eye. Hear the ten­der­ness in his voice. I feel like I’m about 5 years old and have just been scooped up onto his lap.

These are pro­found­ly ori­ent­ing moments where I am seen. Named. Blessed. Shaped and formed by his word.

In the begin­ning God said, Let there be Jill,” and then there was Jill. He speaks me into existence.

The present is wrapped in a small, stiff brown enve­lope, tied tight with yel­low, shim­mery rib­bon. I want you to open it in front of me,” my daugh­ter Han­nah says. But read the note first.”

The card is home-made, just like they are every year. I’ve kept them all, tucked away where I bury my trea­sures. On the front is a detailed illus­tra­tion of a hon­ey­bee. I find you to be sweet­ly deli­cious,” the card reads. Remem­ber always who you are made to bee.” Unty­ing the rib­bon, I pull out a neck­lace. It’s a hon­ey­comb-shaped pen­dant hang­ing from a black cord. Inside is a small, fuzzy insect encased in glass.

A hon­ey­bee!” I wrap my hand around the pen­dant and hold it close. It feels warm to the touch. I buzz and hum in response. My eyes glis­ten and I shut them for a moment. She sees me.

I’m remind­ed of the sto­ry in the first chap­ter of the book Luke – the sto­ry of Mary and Eliz­a­beth. Hav­ing said a dan­ger­ous yes” to God, Mary finds her­self preg­nant and goes to look for shel­ter and sup­port from one of her rel­a­tives2.

I imag­ine the scene. Mary is cau­tious, ten­ta­tive. Will she be wel­come? Hand rest­ing pro­tec­tive­ly on her still-flat midriff, she stands at the entrance of her cousin’s home. She needs to be hid­den and she needs to be seen. Will she be safe here?

The moment they meet is a holy moment. Heavy with child her­self, Eliz­a­beth sucks in a breath as she is filled with the Holy Spir­it. The baby leaps an acro­bat­ic amen with­in her. Some­how Eliz­a­beth per­ceives she is wit­ness­ing a mir­a­cle. Mary is car­ry­ing hid­den treasure.

Blessed are you!” Eliz­a­beth exclaims, And blessed is the child you will bear!“3

I see you, Mary. My eye is on you. 

Her hid­den yes and her secret trea­sure is seen, blessed and affirmed.

Mary is safe. Seen and known. Named and blessed.

It doesn’t end there. For not only is Mary car­ry­ing a baby, but she is also car­ry­ing a melody. When Mary is safe, when the hid­den work of God in her is seen, when she is blessed and affirmed, then and only then does the melody of her heart, the song of her life come forth4. Like a spar­row in God’s hand she sings, and for two thou­sand years we’ve been enjoy­ing her song.

The Invi­ta­tion

  1. Reflect on a time when you have felt safe. When God’s hid­den work in you has been seen. When you have been blessed and affirmed. Offer that instance and sit­u­a­tion back to God in gratitude.
  2. Numer­ous times in the Scrip­tures, God has giv­en peo­ple new names that held keys to the essence of who they were and who they were becom­ing. Abram becomes Abra­ham – father of many nations. (Gen­e­sis 17:5). Jacob becomes Israel, one who has strug­gled with God and with humans and has over­come (Gen­e­sis 32:28). Gideon is called Mighty Warrior”(Judges 6:12). Simon is renamed Peter (Matthew 16:18), the rock. In Rev­e­la­tion 2:17 it is declared that some will be giv­en a new name, known only to the one who receives it. Have you ever been named by God in a per­son­al way? It might be a nick­name, a demon­stra­tion of his affec­tion towards you and his con­cern for you (“Do not be afraid, lit­tle flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the king­dom5.”) It might be a name that holds keys to who you are and who you are becom­ing. (Like Gideon being called Mighty Warrior”.)
  3. Try this cre­ative exer­cise: gath­er a bunch of mag­a­zines. Ask God, Who do you say I am?” Then go through the mag­a­zines and cut out pic­tures that speak the answer to that ques­tion. Don’t think too hard, just see which pic­tures you are attract­ed to. Then com­pile them togeth­er in a collage.

Jesus, I thank you that you are the author and per­fecter of my faith. Ulti­mate­ly, I begin and end with you. You know me. You see me. You name me. I receive your word to me. Let it be done to me as you have said.

Related Podcast

[1] Gen­e­sis 16:13.

[2] Luke 1:39 – 45

[3] Luke 1:42

[4] Luke 1:4655

[5] Luke 12:32

Except­ed from Even the Spar­row by Jill Weber, pub­lished by Mud­dy Pearl. Used by per­mis­sion. Avail­able at mud​dy​pearl​.com (UK) and kregel​.com (US & Canada). 

Pho­to by Dmit­ry Grig­oriev on Unsplash

Originally published October 2019

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