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The Need to Be Seen

Updated: May 16, 2020

I started writing as a way to get out the thoughts that kept circling around in my mind. I started blogging because I felt that God was leading me to share those thoughts with others. And as I share my writing, my desire is that others will be encouraged and challenged to reflect on the state of their own hearts because I believe that honest self-reflection leads us deeper into who God created us to be.

But if I’m honest with myself, that deep desire also gets tangled up with a desire to be seen, to be heard, and to be valued. I often try to push down that latter desire, telling myself that it doesn’t really matter. I try to remind myself of the greater purpose. But it’s not helpful to simply stuff down the longings that I don’t want to admit to. The insecurities that I would rather hide are there, whether I like it or not. And the truth is that the desire to be seen and valued is not bad. It’s normal. It’s human.

As these thoughts swim through my mind, I hear Jax say, “Mo-o-om!” (He always seems to turn that word into three syllables.) Jax is playing with his trains while I wash the dishes. He’s working independently to build a new track. He doesn’t need my help, but he wants to give me a play by play of the action. He wants to know that I’m there with him. He wants me to acknowledge his hard work. He wants to know that he is seen.

A couple weeks ago, I was in a bit of a funk, feeling really irritable and taking it out on the kids. I knew I needed a little time to myself so I headed to a park, hoping to hide away somewhere quiet under a tree. Unfortunately, the park was teeming with people so I opted to sit in my truck staring out at the pond.

While I sat there processing my emotions, I saw a familiar face walk by. A young man from my neighborhood, who happens to be a member of the gang, followed behind his son. The little boy rode a tricycle and the young man carried some toys. I watched as they laughed and played, and it brought tears to my eyes to see their joy and freedom. What a gift to see this little boy soaking up his dad’s presence and love.

I don’t know all the details of this young man’s story, but I know that many of the youth in my neighborhood end up joining the gang because they are looking for a place to belong. They want to feel that they matter and that they have something to offer. They want to be seen. The trouble is that they can’t really be seen for who they are when they’re forced to act tough and play a part in order to be accepted.

Somehow, by God’s grace, this young man recognized that he couldn’t find what he really needed in the gang and he’s making some changes. He’s going to college now, he’s studying the Bible, and he’s present in his son’s life. That little boy probably doesn’t realize yet how great of a gift his father’s presence is. I’ve seen the pain that youth experience when their fathers are absent – the destructive ways that they search to fill the void, needing to know that they are seen and valued by someone. I hope that this boy doesn’t have to experience that void.

Watching this son and father play together helped me realize a couple things. First was that the funk that I was in was stemming from not feeling seen. It had been a long week with the kids without much time to connect with my husband or other adults. As much as I love my children, weeks like those drain me. I start to feel lonely. Life feels mundane. Somewhere between mediating arguments, weathering tantrums, and wiping other people’s butts, it’s easy to lose vision. But I was also reminded of the beauty in the midst of my funk – the beauty of getting to be present with my kids, seeing them even as they struggle, and loving them through it. That is a gift for both them and me.

One thing we all have in common – the stay-at-home mom, the three year old boys, and the gang member – is the need to be seen. We all have an innate longing for someone to see us for who we truly are, to understand us, and to value us. That need is nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to deny.

But we must be careful not to let the need to be seen become our motivation. When we begin to base our actions on this longing for attention and validation, that can lead us down a path to destruction. That can cause us to compromise our values for the sake of our own glory. And it will leave us empty as we ceaselessly strive for more accolades.

Instead, we must trust that God knows what we need and that he will provide it as we seek him earnestly and obey him faithfully. God created us with this need for community and with the need to be really seen and accepted. And because he is a good God, he will provide for that need. But we must not try to fill that need ourselves in the wrong places.

I love what we learn of God in the story of Hagar in Genesis 16. Hagar is a slave who has no rights. She doesn’t even have dominion over her own body but is forced to conceive and carry a child for someone else. She flees this desperate situation but really has nowhere to go. As she wanders in the wilderness, God meets her there. He speaks with her and lets her know that he will be with her and will bless her. She responds by telling God, “You are El Roi – the God who sees me.” (verse 13) This woman who was disregarded by everyone else was seen by God. That gave her the strength and courage to obey God and to face the challenges before her.

We have a God who sees us. Even when we feel like nobody else does, we can rest in knowing that we are seen by God. He knows us fully. He knows what we need, and he desires to provide that for us. We must allow that to be our foundation and our motivation for the way that we live our life and the actions we take. The work that God has called us to and the people that he has created us to be can flow from that grounded place.

And it doesn’t stop with us. Once we know that we are seen by the Creator of the universe, we can learn to truly see others. We can see those who are often overlooked. We can see past the surface level and into the hearts of others who also bear the image of God. Everyone around us is longing to be seen, and we have the opportunity to point them to the God who sees them.

When you begin to feel that need to be seen rising up in you, allow El Roi to love you, to lead you, and to provide for your needs. Trust that God sees you.

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


What does it mean to you to “be seen”?

In what area(s) of your life are you feeling unseen?

Do you trust God enough to bring those areas of your life to him and ask him to fill that need to be seen?


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