I’ll never forget that night.
I stood there on the front porch, waiting for what seemed like forever. Dressed in my new clothes, with my hair and make-up done.
My date never showed.
To say I was humiliated was an understatement. But more than that, I felt stupid. Naïve. As it turned out, my ex and his friend were playing a prank, and I was the unsuspecting culprit. Or at least, any suspicions I had were cast aside because of my excitement over going out with my high school crush.
My reaction to the cruel game was about as mature as the prank itself. Let’s just say this took place in the 90’s, and although we didn’t have cell phones or caller I.D., we did have this wonderful feature called *69.
Sometimes reacting in anger is easier than facing the feelings buried underneath it. As the crisp autumn air hit my face and I stood on the porch, minute after minute, I wondered what was wrong with me. It was the perfect parallel to how I’ve often felt in my relationship with God.
Alone. Abandoned. Questioning where he was and why I took a step of faith, only to wind up with what appeared to be empty hands. Wondering what it was that prompted me to keep praying and seeking, when I couldn’t see visible results.
I believe there is a part in each of us that wants a non-negotiable contract of safety with God.
We believe in him and follow him, and he keeps us safe from any harm or suffering here on earth. We take a step of faith, and he blesses us with harvest.
But the longer each of us walks on this planet, we see that the God we serve is not safe. He is wild and untamed, and more than a bit unpredictable.
What would make us choose to serve such a God? Why do we keep pursuing him and crying out to him after facing heartbreak after heartbreak?
What I didn’t realize as I stood on our porch decades ago is that there is a Father who sees us and knows us better than we know ourselves. He sees what we need before we even ask, and pursues us with a love stretching far past any nod of approval we receive from our peers.
This aspect of God’s character is so integral to who He is, there is a name specifically devoted to it: El Roi.
It turns out, we’re the only ones who’ve experienced feelings of abandonment and not being seen. A servant of Abraham named Hagar felt the same way.
In Genesis 16 we learn Abraham’s wife, Sarai, is growing impatient because she has not conceived a child, as God promised. She decides to take matters into her own hands by offering the servant girl, Hagar, to Abraham. When Hagar discovers she is pregnant, Sarai becomes bitter and wishes judgment upon her servant and husband. Instead of standing up to her, Abraham tells his wife to deal with Hagar as she wishes and we read in Genesis 16:6 that Sarai, “Dealt harshly with her.”
Hagar flees into the wilderness. Can you blame her? Here is a woman who does what her master tells her, but instead of being grateful, they punish her for it. They mistreat her for following orders.
Do you think Hagar felt abandoned by God?
I’m sure she felt betrayed and unappreciated by her mistress and Abraham, but God never forgot her. He saw her in her distress and sent an angel to comfort her. The angel reveals God will multiply her offspring so that they are too numerous to count, and says her son will dwell over all his kinsmen. He also tells her what her son’s name will be: Ishmael, which means, “God hears.” God saw Hagar in the middle of her affliction, and he came to her. Her pain and distress did not escape his watchful eye.
After the angel comes to Hagar and reveals how the Lord will bless her, she gives Him a name. She wants to remember this encounter with him, and is proactive in making sure the memory will not escape her.
“You are the God of seeing, for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”
Hagar names the well where the angel of the Lord finds her, “Beer-lahai-roi,” which means, “The Living One who Sees Me.”
Whenever we see a place in scripture where a place is named in remembrance of the Lord, it’s important to pause and take note. Names show the character and attributes not only of the Lord, but his people. Here we see that our God is a personal one, and he cares for his children’s specific needs.
In Hagar’s moment of suffering, she needed to know God saw her and knew her. The angel not only calls her by name, but shows her that he is aware of her individual needs. Despite the way her circumstances appeared at the time, He had plans to bless her. Knowing this gave Hagar strength to move forward and do as she was commanded: to return to her mistress.
I imagine after this encounter, Hagar may have had a few other hurtful encounters with her mistress. Although scripture does not talk about the attitude of Sarai when Hagar returns, the situation was awkward, to say the least.
God doesn’t always take us out of the awkward or painful circumstances, but he does promise to be with us in the middle of them.
He doesn’t promise we’ll never feel alone or abandoned. Even Jesus himself felt abandoned by his Father as he hung on the cross, paying a debt you and I never could. But he knows our weakness and our pain. He strengthens us when we don’t think we have anything left to give, just like he did for Hagar.
If you feel abandoned by God, call him by the name given to him by someone who felt the same way: El Roi. Claim it as truth. This name stands the test of the generations, and is as true for us today as it was for a woman who felt deserted in the wilderness.
If you need further encouragement that God hasn’t abandoned you, even in the midst of the struggle, uncertainty, and unknown future, I encourage you to pick of a copy of my book, Shift: Changing Our Focus to See the Presence of God. Many people have sent me messages saying it is a timely book for this season, which encourages my heart so much. I pray he continues to use it to touch lives.
You can purchase a copy of Shift by clicking the image below.