The Need To Be Seen

Photo by Dmitry Schemelev on

We Often Cover Up The Pain We Want To Be Seen

by Eric Elkin

Lord of heavenly forces, just look at your servant’s pain and remember me! Don’t forget your servant!
— 1 Samuel 1:11a

Years ago I decided to hold what we called a “David Letterman Christmas” for a senior high youth group. We divided students into small groups, each with two adult leaders. The groups’ were given a list of places to visit, a list of questions to ask Christmas shoppers and a camcorder to record their responses.

The questions were random and obnoxious. “How much do reindeer weigh?” “If Santa’s sleigh landed on your roof and damaged it, would you sue him or not?” “Would you really be happy getting socks as a Christmas present?” 

They were to ask every person what they were doing in the store. If they said, “Christmas shopping,” we asked them if they believed in Jesus. This question produced the most interesting responses. It was like opening a window into someone’s soul. 

The answers ranged from frustration to joy to confusion. One person got really mad at us for suggesting a connection between Christmas shopping and Jesus. His response revealed a deep anger dwelling within him none of us could see from the outside. 

The response from a young woman working the drive-thru at the MacDonalds has remained with me my entire life. When we asked her if she believed in Jesus, she fell silent and looked away into the darkness. For a moment, the silliness of the evening turned into something profound. Our question seemed to spark a deeper question within her soul. It was not a question of whether she believed, but did Jesus believe in her? Could he even see her?

When we come to the end of ourselves, we come to the beginning of God
— Billy Graham

I enjoy watching people in public places. It’s fun trying to guess what is going on in their life. However, looking at people is not the same as seeing what is actually going on inside them. That is a view few people rarely give to the outside world and sometimes, not even to those who are closest to them.

Hannah’s story speaks to the person hiding a deep pain; a wound the world does not seem to understand. The people in her life model how the world responds to our inner grief. Some see the hurt and make fun of it. Others, like her husband, Elkanah, brush over the wound and tries to focus attention on something different. Then there are some like the prophet Eli who thinks she is out of her mind.

Hannah’s request is simple. She wants to be seen beyond the exterior image. She wants the “Lord of heavenly forces” to see her pain. It made me think about how often we cover up what hurts us most when we actually want someone to see it. Not to say we want to wear our emotions on our sleeve, but there is always someone we want to take notice of us.

The one who Hannah desires to see her pain is the same one the young woman in the MacDonalds drive-thru needed. They both know the limitation of human intelligence. Some pain needs more than a positive attitude or words of affirmation. It needs to be seen, remembered and taken away by one with the power to do it.


Click to read 1 Samuel 1: 4-20

Reflection Questions:

  • When have you hidden something painful from others?

  • How was hiding the pain helpful?

  • Who did you want to see it and who could offer you relief from your suffering?

  • What do you want God to see and remember so it can be taken away?

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