For most people, our lives are on display through social media. And yet, people are feeling more alone than ever before. A 2020 study by Harvard says that more than 1 in 3 Americans feel lonely despite being more connected than ever before. Even though we have hundreds of “friends” online, we don’t feel seen or truly known.
Recently I was given the opportunity to do an online personality assessment test. In discussing the results with an expert, I was stunned at what they told me. The following phrases stood out to me:
- “You keep your word and honor your commitments, and you expect others to do the same.”
- “You are likely to be most comfortable when you and those around you have a detailed set of rules to follow.”
- “Your tendency to worry may make you overly cautious.”
These phrases seemed to perfectly describe how I operate at my core level. During that call, I felt seen.
In Genesis 16, we see the story of Hagar. Hagar was the Egyptian servant of Sarai, Abram’s wife. In Genesis 15, God promised Abram that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. Yet, Abram and Sarai were childless. Time passes, and still Sarai doesn’t have children. Deciding to take matters into her own hands Sarai gives Hagar to Abram to have a child so that his line might be preserved. Hagar becomes pregnant, is treated harshly by Sarai, and runs away. Now Hagar is in the wilderness pregnant and alone. She didn’t ask to be in this position, and since she is a woman, she has no recourse. And yet, this is the exact moment that an angel of God appears to her.
“The Lord’s angel said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her authority. I will greatly multiply your descendants, the Lord’s angel added, “so that they will be too numerous to count.” Then the Lord’s angel said to her, “You are now pregnant and are about to give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard your painful groans. He will be a wild donkey of a man. He will be hostile to everyone, and everyone will be hostile to him. He will live away from his brothers. So, Hagar named the Lord who spoke to her, “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “here I have seen one who sees me.” (Genesis 16:9-13).
In what we can assume is one of the darkest spots in Hagar’s life, God speaks to her. While reading chapter 16, we see that Hagar is always referred to as “servant” by Abram and Sarai—never by her name. But the very first word from the angel’s mouth is Hagar. The angel calls her by name. And for the first time in history, a covenant blessing is given to a woman. How beautiful it must have sounded to Hagar to hear her name being spoken by a divine being.
The angel tells her she is to name her son “Ishmael, meaning “God hears” because God had heard her painful groans. God had heard Hagar. God hears her anguish. He hears her pain. Hagar calls God “El Roi”—the God who sees me. By naming God, Hagar announces the personal relationship and witness she now has with God. God heard her cries. God sees her. He cares about Hagar on a personal level.
Later in Genesis 21, we see that Sarah banishes Hagar and Ishmael, and they wander through the wilderness of Beer Sheba. When the food and water run out, Hagar believes they will both die and weeps uncontrollably. But God again speaks to Hagar and enables her to see a well and saves them both.
In the same way that God sees Hagar, He sees us. When we are in the wilderness, He sees us. When we cry out to Him in pain or anguish, He sees us. And just like with Hagar, God continues to see us. It wasn’t that God saw Hagar when she was a pregnant victim of abuse at Sarai’s hand and then again when she was a weeping mother grieving what she perceived as the inevitable loss of her child. God never stopped seeing Hagar. He was with her every step of the way.
We are not alone. Not only does God see us, but He also has compassion on us. God desires to have a relationship with us. Not a superficial one like most of our online friendships, but a true, deep, meaningful one. He is El Roi—the God who sees us when life is good, and we are full of faith. He is El Roi – the God who sees us when life is hard and our faith is on shaky ground. He is El Roi – the God who sees us when life is unbearable, and we can’t see the next step we are going to take, and we feel alone and hopeless. He is El Roi. And He sees you just like He saw Hagar—every step of the way.