Breaking a sweat and trying frantically to remove a shoe while rummaging through her carry-on bag, the woman flashed angry eyes and barked at her wheelchair-bound husband. She waved Mr. Impatient Business Traveler ahead, wiping sweat from her brow and maybe wiping a tear too. It was only 5:45 a.m. – early to already be perspiring. Or crying. Or barking.
I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. She looked like she was one stress point away from unloading on someone.
“Ma’am,” I said softly. “Can I help you?”
“Oh,” she sighed, softening from anger to embarrassment. “It’s just … I’m just … I have liquids in my bag. And I can’t find them. And I’m holding everyone up. And they all look like they want to be going wherever they’re going. I just don’t think I can do this.”
Lots of things being said.
Lots of things not being said.
“Let’s just get through security first,” I offered, taking an arm full of her stuff. We got her shoes and her shampoo and her dignity where they needed to be and we got through security.
I followed her to a bench, where we waited for her husband to be wheeled over. “I’m going home to bury my mom,” she blurted, pouring out quick sketches of an embattled relationship. “This is a one-way ticket right now. There’s a lot to do.” Her words hung there. I said the only thing you really can say — I am so sorry. We both got our belongings all zipped up back into our bags.
“Can I ask you a question?” I said.
“Sure,” she offered.
“How have you done the other really hard things in your life?”
“Medicated or non-?” she joked, pausing to laugh before composing this more measured response: “I guess one day at a time.”
“So, you don’t have to do this whole trip today, right? Maybe just do the first day today?”
She looked down. She finished putting on her shoes. She finished putting on her courage. Then just like that, she intercepted her husband, looked over her shoulder and mouthed the words “thank you” as she wheeled him toward their gate.
It embarrasses me to think of the times I’ve looked past people rather than looking at people. So, trust me, the moral of this story is not how I stopped to see a woman whose fear masqueraded as anger during a moment of stress. The moral of the story is that the Lord has done this for us — and is doing this for us — again and again and again.
He’s not too busy managing the world to help us manage our world. He is constantly there, constantly seeing what’s really going on in our lives. He models the difference between looking and seeing.
A little passage in Mark 12 shows that He even sees what we say. In verse 34 Jesus listened to a scribe summarize the great commandment. After the scribe concluded that to love God completely and to love our neighbors like ourselves is better than practicing a religion full of rituals, Jesus “saw” that he answered wisely. He saw the heart that formed the words.
He sees our hearts. He sees our hurts. This leaps off the page in Matthew 9:20, a passage that tells of a woman who had suffered with bleeding for 12 years. Cross-referenced in Mark and Luke, we find that that she had spent all she had in the pursuit of becoming well.
In the Luke account it’s interesting that Jesus was on his way to restore life to a 12-year-old — a pre-teen whose very life demonstrated in years how long the bleeding woman had suffered. The 12-year-old had died. And for 12 years, the woman had been dying. On the inside anyway. Her reproductive physiology relegated her to a life of physical discomfort, relational emptiness and spiritual isolation. No intimacy. No fellowship. No entrance into the synagogue. No dignity.
Acting from a deep sense of shame, she came up behind Jesus and touched just the fringe of his garment. “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well,” she said to herself.
Lots of things being said.
Lots of things not being said.
After a bit of persistence, Jesus did something for her no one had done in a very long time. He saw her. I wonder if it was even better than the moment He healed her. He looked her in the eyes, called her daughter, and told her she was free. He showed her the difference between looking and seeing.
Who needs to be seen today? Who needs to take a fresh look at someone else today?
That impatient, always agitated co-worker? Maybe she’s afraid of losing her marriage.
The chronic pain sufferer? Maybe she hurts so much that she’s forgotten how to hope.
The professional victim? Maybe her litany of excuses is a cover for unresolved trauma.
The spiteful manipulator? Maybe her deep worthlessness deceives her into scraping together false value in the ugliest possible of ways.
The emotion weaponizer? Maybe her passive aggression doesn’t even pass her sniff test anymore.
It’s possible she’s tired. Or scared. Or she bought herself a one-way ticket to a dark place and she’s crying out for someone to help her turn on the lights. Or it’s possible that you see yourself in that scenario. And 12 years sounds like a cakewalk because it’s been so much longer since you saw the sun.
I know there is a trap door here: I know that not everyone wants to be well. I know there are situations that call for more boundaries, not more enabling. But I’m entirely encouraged when I read scripture at how it commissions us again and again to see others with new eyes, willing hearts, and a fresh understanding that when Jesus saw people, He connected His vision to action. He fed, served, taught, and restored. He replaced shame with dignity. He unlocked shackles with freedom. And with hurting, scorned people He didn’t point His finger. He extended His hand.
All because He took the time to see.
Maybe I’m just obsessed with vision right now because my eyes are trying to figure out how my new progressive glasses work. Maybe I’m in love with a Savior who sees all the untidy details in my life and forgives me anyway. Or maybe I’m finally figuring out that a seat in the balcony offers a better perspective on the action. Whatever it is, here are some verses I’m thinking about as I sort through all of this for myself.
From the deep reserves of His help and rescue, we have the privilege of modeling His careful hands for this hurting, cranky world. And when we do that? When we see people as He sees people?
Well, then maybe we’re getting it. Maybe we’re capturing the difference between looking and seeing.
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