I remember sitting in church on Mother’s Day. My husband and I had been trying to get pregnant for a while, it wasn’t happening, and I was devastated. No one really knew. I didn’t know how to talk about it without a lump in my throat, so I didn’t talk about it. My arms physically ached for a baby, and the pain was changing me. I was mean and unfair to my students at the school where I taught, I was angry when someone would announce a pregnancy, and I was impatient and short with my husband.
I had to sit near the front that Sunday because my husband is a pastor, and he needed to join the staff near the stage to pray over the women who were longing to be a mother. That was a nice gesture, but it meant I was sitting alone. Women came forward or raised their hands, and the staff prayed over them. I’m sure it was a sweet morning, but I sat still as stone, arms crossed, head down so my long hair could cover my hot, angry tears. I drove home separately. Staff wives always have to drive home separately.
Later, Luke shared with me that he’d prayed with a husband and wife who were in the same place as we were. He beamed, saying it had been a good morning, that it reminded him we weren’t alone. Those words cut, because I’d never felt so lonely. He said, “Next year, we’ll have a baby,” and I said, “Shut up.”
A year later, I held my newborn baby girl. Pregnancy, a difficult and delayed labor, a scary subsequent infection and hospitalization, and new motherhood had destroyed my sharp edges. My tears no longer knew how to be angry. My heart no longer knew how to be hard — it only knew how to tremble. What once was stoney was now fleshy and raw. The beautiful baby I’d pleaded for was here, and I was terrified by the blessing and smothered by the love I felt for her.
As the sun set each evening, I felt panic rise in my throat. The darkness meant the whole world was asleep, and I was alone. As she cried, I would fumble to meet her needs, overwhelmed by the precious life with which I’d been entrusted. I learned a too-tender heart can be just as lonely as a hardened one.
But I also remember the story that leapt into my mind over and over again through both the year of anger and the year of fear: the story of Hagar.
She was a newly expectant mother with a pregnancy that was forced upon her. She resented it and then was resented herself, enduring harsh treatment that caused her to flee into the wilderness. The landscape around her was a certain reflection of the desolation within her. Oh, the loneliness. What eyes might gaze upon a rejected slave woman in a desert?
“GOD HEARD THE CRIES OF A MOTHER IN A WILDERNESS, AND HE MET HER THERE IN THAT PLACE OF ISOLATION, TAKING HER DESPERATION AND MEETING IT WITH A PROMISE.”
Terror turned to comfort in the most unexpected location. Hagar called her Comforter “The God Who Sees,” saying, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Genesis 16:13).
Years later, Hagar found herself in the wilderness again, banished this time along with her now-teenaged son. This desolation felt all too familiar. Why was she here again? “She lifted up her voice and wept” (Genesis 21:16).
But the God who sees never stopped seeing. His angel spoke to her with commands: “Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation” (v. 17-18). In verse 19, the God who sees helps Hagar see. It says, “God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water.” Hagar learned that God could be trusted not just to see and to promise, but to provide. Gifted with a promise, charged with duty, and satisfied with drink, Hagar found her way out of the internal wilderness and eventually out of the external one.
In first wilderness, Hagar learned to see the Seer, and in the second, she sees that His character and His promise have not changed. It’s a beautiful story, but it’s strange, too, as scripture always is. A closer look at Hagar’s story shows that God Himself through His words to Abraham is directly responsible for Hagar’s banishment. He certainly saw her in the second wilderness, but He also sent her there. I guess those same ingredients were a part of my Mother’s Day tears. It’s hard to reconcile God’s sovereignty with acute pain. In the wilderness, we beg Him to save us from the place that He sent us. Sometimes He saves us from the wilderness, but always He sees us in it. I am learning that this wilderness togetherness is among the most precious gifts. Because of the Sending, Hagar remembered the Seeing. Perhaps He brought her back to that place where they first met to remind her: I still see you, and I have not abandoned my promise to you.
Hagar’s wildernesses taught me of a Seeing God. A God whose gaze does not discriminate and cannot be diverted by our best tricks. A God who is willing to send us to the depths of our loneliness that He might show us we have never been alone, not for a moment. God had seen my angry tears. My downcast head had hidden my hurt from the world but not from Him. God had seen those midnight trembles. My shaking hands and racing heart were tucked away from the world, hidden behind blackout curtains in a suburban nursery, but never out of His sight.
He could see me when I could not see Him.
I remember. And I will not forget.