Our fundamental need as people is to be seen. From the start we were fed our identity through others’ eyes. If we were seen, we came alive. If we were not seen, or were seen critically, we were damaged or wounded and felt like we were a shadow and didn’t exist. As we grew, the receptivity in another’s eyes was so important, as it launched us, shaped us, gave us a sense of who we were.
A split formed as we realised there were different ways people saw us – either we were seen as who we really were or as the other wanted us to be or become. Maybe, for example, our mother wanted someone just like her or someone who made no big mistakes, or maybe our father wanted us to make him proud. The trap developed as we started to be someone we were not.
How long will it take for us to wake up to the fact that we’re living up to who we’re not? Often we simply bumble along like a rudderless, old paddle steamer on the Nile, moving slowly forward by bumping against the opposite banks. If we live like this we have no rudder of being able to sense inside when to say, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ definitively.
It is helpful to reflect on how we were seen by our parents and siblings, but also how we were seen today. We know if we were really seen or not. We read the expressions in others’ eyes and know whether we’re wanted or not. So much is communicated with even a simple glance. Such a rich tapestry is woven into our life stories of people who ‘got’ us and those who didn’t. If we were not received, if we felt we didn’t belong or weren’t wanted, it created so much alarm and anxiety in us.
Our eyes are our mediator of life. Through them we both give and receive life. Through them we are acknowledged and affirmed. Our eyes are often stressed and tired and we coerce them to see only what we want to see and to avoid what we don’t. If we’re far sighted, it may mean that we don’t like to look at things up close, in the present, or if we’re near sighted, we may be avoiding what’s in the future.
Just by their look we can sense what people are thinking and feeling. For example, a woman can ‘read’ if she’s being looked at inappropriately. We can see if we’re judged or accepted. It’s sad if as we age we cut down and filter what we choose to see, when our views become narrower and we see less and less of what’s out there.
We all know how children look. They don’t try to control with their eyes, but stay open. Nor do they fake what they’re wanting to say with their eyes. We as adults sometimes find it hard to keep our gaze. We’re uncomfortable and fearful with being seen for it opens the gate into ourselves and makes us feel exposed. So we tend to pretend and to show only what’s appropriate and thus to control what’s seen. But the screen we keep in place and hide behind becomes us. Jesus calls us to be like children – that is to be agenda-free, to just take in another and allow ourselves to be received as we are.
It’s sad that throughout our lives all of us have been seen comparatively and competitively. This has set us up in a hierarchy of those that are more and those that are seen as less. This cripples us for we are burdened with a constant judgement of being deficient in some way. Our identity has thus become an extension of someone else. So we may find ourselves trying to cut and dice who we are in order to fit into what our harsh consumer society asks of us.
Most people see us with an agenda, through a filter. Only God doesn’t. He sees us in truth. He loved us before we were conceived, saw us before we were born. Most people see us in passing. Thus we so need to open our vision to how God sees us. We need to replace our God image that we formed from our parents, with a true one, to begin to open our vision and to believe the truth of how He sees us. God finds each of us beautiful, and loves to look at us just to enjoy us. We delight Him just for who we are. His life-giving ‘Yes’ frees us to be our real selves.
How precious our eyes are! We have a huge responsibility not to misuse this gift for demeaning criticism, but daily to use our eyes to give life to all those we meet.