“And I know that sometimes loneliness can feel so tangible it takes on a flesh of its own. And I know that hope can feel dangerous.”
“I do not trust that God has a husband planned for me. For a long while I didn’t really believe in marriage–that it could be as wonderful and full of love as some Christians experience. Now (as since college) I don’t believe that He means to actually include me in that experience. It is something I deeply long for, and yet something that seems so out of reach–an impossibility, not for others, but for me. I know this must sound awful and I suppose it is a lie that I have bought into, but Enuma it just seems so real.
Last night I was thinking that there are really two sides to this depression I’m in. One side has to do with being rejected by a man–that I can take. The other side is just what I described above and I didn’t realize it until right now. Through this experience God has exposed one of my deepest desires and one of my deepest wounds: my desire to be married to the person that I know God has intended for me and to honor Him in that, and my belief that He won’t do it for me.” ~~Janelle
I stare at my computer screen and reread her email that comes to me just before bedtime. What do I tell this young woman who is enduring the same spirit-breaking doubts I have known in the past? I read her words and my heart waters with old recognition and new compassion. She fears God does not remember her in the ways she most desires to be remembered.
I never thought I would be grateful for my own experience of her pain until a moment like this. Because I know that I can reach out from my own heart chest of sorrows and hopes to offer her something. There is a word of grace that floats to the surface from my flooding heart: SEEN.
I want to tell her:
You are seen by God in such a way that your own heart could not bear the true depth of it.
“Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.” -Psalm 139
You are seen in all those late night moments when fear and anxiety grip you and you can’t help but map out the darkening trail you imagine is your future.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” -Jeremiah 29:11
You are seen each time a boy says “no” and you translate it to mean ,“I am not good enough, pretty enough, skinny enough, tall or short enough, funny enough, sexy enough, wild enough, playful enough, serious enough, old enough, young enough, pure enough, experienced enough. I am not enough, enough, enough.
“So God created [you] in his image, in the image of God he created [you]; female he created [you].” -Genesis 1:27
You are seen at every instant you look at that smiling couple, that hand-holding couple, that kissing couple, that whispering couple, that gazing, chatting, loving, couple, couple, couple.
Your own longing is coupled with God’s longing for you to know that you are seen.
“And you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” -Jeremiah 30:22
You are seen each time you convince yourself that there is no way God could want to meet the desire of your heart.
“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.” -Psalm 37:4-5
You are seen when think you simply cannot pray any more.
“Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.” -Luke 18:1-8
You are seen when you are certain that God has forgotten you.
“He sustained [you] in a desert land, in a howling wilderness waste; he shielded [you], cared for [you], guarded [you] as the apple of his eye. As an eagle stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young; as it spreads its wings, takes them up, and bears them aloft on its pinions.” -Deut 32:10-11
You are seen each time you feel that even if God wants it for you, that it is not possible, that your past experience seems to bear the evidence.
“See, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too hard for me?” -Jeremiah 32:27
“For nothing will be impossible with God.” -Luke 1:37
And then I would tell her this: that the first time I saw her two years ago I couldn’t get over how beautiful she was. And I would tell her how that is nothing compared to how I see her now. And for lack of better training I might do the thing we women are so often subjected to, I would itemize her beauty:
- Her tender heart.
- Her desire to please God.
- Her willingness to be honest with herself, to acknowledge those rough, unsightly edges and bring them before me and others.
- Her growing ability to share with God her sorrow and her longings, her anger and her fear.
- Her open struggle to be pure of heart, mind and body
- Her courage to email me such a letter and to seek another voice who could remind her of who she is in the eyes of God, and who could remind her who God is.
And this is what I would not do:
- I would not minimize her longing.
- I would not tell her there is more to life than finding a partner.
- I would not mention her brilliance, her crazy smarts, her independence, her way of forging forward in life despite the struggles she’s endured. I would not mention those things, because young black women like herself hear that so often–to be strong and resilient and to toughen up and do what needs to be done. She has heard that. She has ingrained that in her being.
I would tell her that her vulnerability is beautiful.
I would tell her that her desire to be loved and cherished is healthy, good and faithful.
I would ask her to please avoid the temptation to lay another brick down at the top of the growing emotional walls.
And eventually, I would want to gently say this to her tender, young 25-year-old heart:
I cannot see the future. I do not know what God has planned for you or what the dice of life may bring. But I know that what you long for is good. And I know that God is good. And I know that God did not create us in God’s image that we would be alone. And I know that sometimes loneliness can feel so tangible it takes on a flesh of its own. And I know that hope can feel dangerous. But what you desire is good. And God is good. And I am here to pray with you and to hope for you and to remind you that you are seen.
Enuma was born in the United States and raised in Nigeria, Ivory Coast and England. She holds a Master of Divinity degree from Duke University Divinity School where she served as Director for the Center for Theological Writing. She is an author, speaker, spiritual director and continues to lead workshops and retreats on varied topics engaging the literary and visual arts, and spiritual disciplines.
Her spiritual memoir, Reluctant Pilgrim: A Moody Somewhat Self-Indulgent Introvert’s Search for Spiritual Community (Fresh Air Books, 2010) was a winning finalist in the 2010 USA Best Books Award and received the 2011 National Indie Excellent Book Awards Winning Finalist in “Spirituality and African-American Non-Fiction.” She is co-author with Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove of Common Prayer: Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals
Okoro’s latest book is Silence: and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent.
Image credit: Alex Cican