Seen and Known

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“Don’t think for a moment that the messiness of your situation negates your worth.”

I worry about women and men in the church today. I wonder how often we are told that we are only valuable to God when we are successful? What about those among us who have a complicated history, or perhaps an even more complicated present … those of us who have made bad choices, or those of us in the middle of living out a bad choice?

One of the most powerful women of God I know is a dear friend who had an abortion in her 20s. She’d grown up in a family where she suffered severe sexual and psychological abuse. After she became a Christian and married a caring Christian man, she began to experience healing, and eventually would even go into ministry. But a few years into their marriage, she got pregnant and hit a wall. The old hurts and insecurities came rushing back, wreaking havoc in her mind and making her feel that she couldn’t be a good wife, much less a mother. So for a season, she ran away from her new husband, and without his consent, decided to have an abortion. Weeks later, when she came out of her season of depression, she was overcome with shame.

She and her husband stayed together, and ultimately would even have a thriving ministry. But she has a remarkable testimony about that dark season of her life: just before she was about to be wheeled back for the procedure, she had a visitation from the Lord. To this day, she claims it was not a dream, but a physical presence—she says she can still feel His right hand over her heart and His left hand holding hers. Wordlessly, He comforted her.

Looking back, she doesn’t believe the experience was Jesus affirming her decision. Nor did that experience stop her from having the abortion. But she tells me that she if she had not had such a tangible manifestation of God’s presence in that moment, she doesn’t feel she could have survived the guilt and condemnation she felt later.

He held the hand of His daughter, and stayed with her even when fear drove her to this decision she would later regret so bitterly.

Her experience is similar to that of the Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well in John 4. After the longest recorded conversation between Jesus and any person in the gospels, the Samaritan woman quickly becomes one of the most potent evangelists in all of the  New Testament. Here is their exchange:

16 Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ 17 The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband;” 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ –John 4.16-18)

From this portion of the text, an entire mythology has developed around the Samaritan woman. In sermons she is often presented as a hooker in a country song. I used to see her as a chain-smoker, sitting at a truck stop bar sounding like one of Marge Simpson’s sisters, listening to Patsy Cline and waiting for another eligible man to walk through the door. The Scripture, of course, does not tell us anything about the precise nature of her relationship history. We do know women did not have the power of divorce, so she had either been rejected or widowed multiple times in her life by the time she met Jesus.

The fascinating thing is that, in a culture where women seemed to be almost exclusively defined by their relationships, Jesus did not express even a passing interest in the exact nature of her history—in how she got to be where she was. Nor did He offer any judgment. For Jesus, this was just a way of letting her know that, however she got to be where she was in life, she was seen and known.

This conversation is powerful for a very particular reason: the woman felt seen and known by Jesus in the midst of her brokenness. The Samaritan woman’s testimony is profoundly simple—“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done”—but because of her story, many in her city were transformed.

She had no time to sort through her past or rearrange her present before she began her evangelistic ministry. And yet her testimony was remarkably effective, simply because Jesus demonstrated that He knew her in the midst of her trauma—and yet completely loved her. How she got to that place was irrelevant. The important thing for her is that she was seen and known, long before her life was “together.”

You too may know what it is to experience times—perhaps even a lifetime—of messiness, pain, and grief. And yet even while still in the thick of such darkness, you too have a story of Jesus holding on to you; of Jesus seeing and knowing you even when you don’t know how to see yourself. Don’t think for a moment that the messiness of your situation negates your worth.

This kind of story has the power to transform a city: the story that says, “My past has been messy, and so is my present. But I met a man who knows all about it … and still I am fully loved.”

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Jonathan Martin
I’m Jonathan Martin, and I lead the liars, dreamers, and misfits of Renovatus: A Church for People Under Renovation, in Charlotte, NC, where I live with my wife Amanda. I’m the author of the forthcoming Prototype: What Happens When You Discover You’re More Like Jesus Than You Think from Tyndale House. I’m a product of the “Christ-haunted landscape” of the American South, sweaty revivals, and hip-hop. My main claim to fame was getting my Aquaman, Robin and Wonder Woman action figures saved, sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost at an early age. When I talk it’s mostly about the beauty of God, what an extraordinary thing it is to be called God’s beloved, and finding new ways to be human. I am unafraid to be seen walking my small dog Cybil.
Jonathan Martin
Jonathan Martin

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