In the Bible there's an interesting story of a woman named Hagar. She's the maidservant of Sarai, Abraham's wife. Through a strange series of events, Sarai arranges for Abraham to sleep with Hagar in order to produce an heir. This doesn't actually work out relationally very well and Sarai ends up, as the Bible puts it, treating Hagar "harshly." Because of this, Hagar runs away, into the wilderness.
I imagine the wilderness of Abraham's land to be fairly barren and, back in those days especially, probably scarcely inhabited. I picture Hagar...alone, probably scared, definitely vulnerable--to the elements, to wild animals, to any men she might encounter.
The story in Genesis tells us that Hagar did encounter someone and that someone was an angel of the LORD. This angel speaks to Hagar, calls her by name, saying, "Hagar, Sarai's servant, where have you come from and where are you going?"
The angel and the maidservant continue an unusual conversation where the angel tells her she is pregnant and what she ought to name her son. The angel also tells her to return home.
The story tells us from then on, Hagar used a different word for God--a word that means "the God who sees me." (I wonder what word for God she used before that...)
This is quite a strange story, really, and on its face, I read it and feel angry for Hagar. Why did Sarai concoct this plan to give Abraham an heir? Why did Abraham go along with it? Why did Sarai mistreat Hagar (and what did she do to her)? Most of all, I wonder, why on Earth did that angel (and God, by proxy) tell her to go back home?
I'm struck, however, by how Hagar responds after their encounter. The angel addresses her by name. The angel asks her where she's come from and where she's going, thought it obviously knows right where she's at in the moment. This angel somehow knows Hagar, knows she's in the wilderness, knows of her challenges, knows of her pain. Hagar comes away from their conversation saying she has seen the one who sees her.
Seen and known. I think that's something we are all hoping for. We all want angels to come along our path in the middle of our wilderness and see us for right where we are, to ask us good questions about where we've come from and where we are going, to speak words of hope into us, and send us in the direction of home.
We often feel alone in our wilderness voyages, don't we? Where are our angels with knowing words and seeing hearts? I don't know what made Hagar ready to see this angel, what made her ready to receive its words. But something inside her saw and knew that angel when it came her way. Something within her was ready to abandon the wilderness, something within her was willing to answer the questions about where she'd been and where she was going.
Perhaps there's a lesson for us in this, too. That in the middle of our desire to be seen and known, we must be ready to respond as angels with tough questions cross our paths. We must be willing to be seen. We must be willing to open our hearts to being known.
God didn't rescue Hagar from all her difficult circumstances, and it isn't likely that He's going to rescue us from all our wilderness spaces, either. But maybe we take solace in the notion that along our rocky paths, He will send angels who, when we look back, help us to know that we are seen, we are known, we are loved.