Introductory Note:

In the endorsements for Jill Webber’s book of essays on prayer, vocation and leadership, Carolyn Arends writes: “So many holy and incredible things have happened in and through the life of Jill Weber that it’s tempting to file her away in the ‘extraordinary saints’ category, refusing to think her story has any relation to ours. And yet, Jill chronicles her journey with such disarming humour, earthy candour and lived wisdom that we can’t help but be pulled along for the ride.”

Enjoy this excerpt from Even the Sparrow, and take some time with the invitations at the end, letting God affirm that you are seen, known, and loved.

Renovaré Team

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

Text First Published October 2019 · Last Featured on Renovare.org August 2022

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