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When I learned in fifth grade that Helen Keller had graduated from college summa cum laude, I made it my goal to do the same. As it happened, those little Latin words that mean “with the highest distinction” did actually end up being embossed on the white parchment of my degree, thereby setting me on a course of high expectations for the “distinction” that was somehow going to be my destiny.
It should come, then, as no surprise to anyone that I packed that philosophy of life into the diaper bag I traded my briefcase in for after our first child was born. (Am I the only one who was surprised to discover you can’t get a baby to adhere to a schedule by sheer force of will?) If only Unseen by Sara Hagerty had been written 24 years ago when I embarked upon the ordinary days of unremarkable tasks and (often) mind-numbing routine that go with motherhood.
I am thankful that, somewhere along the way, it became clear to me that there is an unseen and un-celebrated beauty to everyday acts of service, that productivity can not always be measured in the short run, and that there is a chasing after God that happens in the dim light of a rocking chair session with a fussy baby that is completely unavailable in the spotlight of recognition and acclaim.
Unseen is the product of Sara’s collision course with the beautiful “waste” of a poured out life that hides behind hardship, disappointment, challenging circumstances, or the simple routine of an obedient following. We will never know the comfort of God as our “refuge and strength” until we come to a place in our lives in which we need to take refuge. It’s clear that “our hidden places aren’t signs of God’s displeasure or punishment,” but rather places in which God intends to teach our hearts to sing. (33)
There are innumerable lessons from Scripture presented in Unseen for living in the secret places with the God who sees, but I have teased out five of my favorite insights to carry forward into these mothering years:
1. Productivity is not a pre-requisite for God’s approval.
He values intimate conversation, faithfulness in the repetitive duties, and humility in performing the unappreciated tasks that maintain life. Sara found that she had “a harder time trying to imagine what He might be thinking about[her] during the hours of the day when [she] wasn’t doing anything tangible for Him.” (19) The god news is, He’s already on your side, and there’s nothing you can do or produce that will make Him love you more –or less.
2. We are made by God to be seen and celebrated.
He has called us by name, and we love the sound of approval, but there comes a dissonance when a “misplaced desire” for recognition puts us on a path in which acclaim and acknowledgement become the focal point, rather than the glorious by-product of a relationship with God.
Note the intimacy of Psalm 139:1-3:
“O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.”
3. When God hides us, His intention is that we will find Him in the hidden-ness.
Sara’s season of hidden-ness began with a twelve-year journey of infertility. She had never entertained the idea that her life would be anything but fruitful on every front. In her busy ministry years, she saw results with many lives impacted by the gospel. Finding herself in a dead end job with little human contact, she felt “sidetracked,” sidelined, and walked a completely unfamiliar path. As she stumbled along, she heard the voice of God whisper, “This is where you become great — on the inside.”
4. Pain is a thin place where the glory of God shines through.
Sara’s pain drove her to a place of finding joy only in God. As she suffered and wondered, she lived her way into a deep belief that the love of God is real and valuable. Like the psalmist, she felt His nearness in her broken heart.
5. What appears to be an absolute waste can translate into a beautiful, extravagant hidden gift to Jesus.
In Matthew 26, Mary of Bethany is criticized for her lavish love gift of scented oil, poured out on Jesus’ feet.
“Why this waste?” they asked, with judgment oozing from every pore.
Little did they know that Jesus was going to view this apparent “waste” as precious, pronouncing that her act would go down in history as the right choice at the right time.
Sara’s mothering heart has found its home with six children, four of whom were adopted from Africa — and two who came to her naturally! Learning to mother children with needs bigger than she can fathom has deepened Sara’s dependency upon God and heightened her realization that the real need of her heart will be met, not by greater discipline, but in friendship with God. She encourages her readers to cultivate a lifestyle of beautiful waste, poured out in love and chasing the only thing worth being concerned about: God’s deep and abiding pleasure in you.
This book was provided by Zondervan through the BookLookBloggers program in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Read more of Sara’s journey at her website, where you will also find her blog and resources related to adoption and her books.
Jamie Ivey interviewed Sara on The Happy Hour podcast in which they chatted about the way God built Sara’s family and her fight to believe that God sees her, understands her, knows her, hasn’t forgotten her – and how that truth is better than being seen by anyone else.