So many things amaze me about the life of Jesus, perhaps none more than the way he could perceive the true intentions of the human heart. He knew, he always knew, the motive behind the questioning onlookers and the fear behind the pleading petitions for healing. He knew the faith of the woman willing to merely get the “crumbs” of his power or the other just needing to touch the hem of his garment. He knew the doubt and disbelief behind the passive aggressive prodding of the religious leaders, wanting only to catch him in a battle of rhetoric they tried again and again to win. (They never could). And he knew our tendencies would be to feel all of these same things at different seasons in our own lives.
As I have planned and prayed intentionally for a fruitful new year, God has done some serious business in my heart through the beautiful, timeless words of Jesus. This should not surprise me; He always seems to do business with me when I’m getting serious about being in the Bible. But this time around, He has gotten straight to the heart of a struggle that has always been real for me, and I think real for many of us: our desire to be seen.
In Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sets a pretty high standard for the life of a believer. There are a hundred things I want to process and apply in my life from these three chapters in the Bible; but this idea of “being seen,” well, it has not left me in two months.
Matthew 6:1- “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people to be seen by them…”
Matthew 6:5- “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others…”
Matthew 6:16- “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others…”
Three times in eighteen verses, Jesus, the Savior of the world, the one who knows the hearts and motives of men, the only perfect man to put his feet on the soil of the world… tells us to throw away this desire to be seen. Three times in eighteen verses. I think he must mean it. Don’t act godly to be seen by others. Don’t pray or throw around scripture to be thought well of by others. Don’t sacrifice or give or serve so that others will admire you. Don’t do anything if your motive is the applause of men.
And I cringe. I have a physical response to this because y’all, this is my struggle. I may not have a temptation to stand in front of church and pray as others file in for service, but you better believe I want you to like me, comment on my writing, think highly of my children and how I parent them, like all the pictures, and essentially, see me. I am so often over here in my tiny corner of the world silently yelling “do you see me?!”
The world has taught us to do all sorts of things to be seen. It says we need a social media platform to be an influencer. It tells young men and women—who am I kidding, all men and women—that our value is found in likes and followers. It convinces so many of us to keep score like crazy people, and in that even the good things we pursue end up being done with selfish motivations behind them.
And God sees. And he hates it. Because while we are working ourselves into a frenzy to be seen by others, we miss seeing Him completely. (We often miss our husband and our kids, too, if we are really honest. The ability to carry the façade of our reputations with us on our smart phones at all times has us hooked). There’s a better way, a much better way. And, gosh, I want so desperately to walk in it.
While Jesus tells us to not do things to be seen, He also promises that He does see: “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Isn’t that so much better? The idea that we could get to heaven and have nothing to show for our lives but a hustle for approval in this world; or the thought that we could stand with Jesus as he introduces us to the people that we silently, compassionately, bravely pointed to him with the truth and humility of our lives.
I’m working hard on figuring this out. And I know many of us are. Because we are tired of the temporary satisfaction found in the way others celebrate us, and we hate the jealousy that arises when others are celebrated more. We feel guilty when our family calls us out for looking at our phones, and we are starting to wonder how on earth we will raise insecure teenagers in this social media world when we cannot even navigate it well ourselves. We want Jesus, we look at the world today and we are desperate for him; but we are so distracted, so tempted at every turn to point to him but make sure we are still peripherally in the picture. This struggle is certainly harder for some than for others, but the desire to be seen is as old as humanity.
This year I have taken a step back from social media, not so I can be legalistic about 365 days without instagram or facebook—there is nothing wrong with instagram and facebook, and from time to time I will jump on and connect— but so that I can give myself the space to check my heart. It can get yucky in there, and I am more aware than ever how big the idolatry is in my life. There are a hundred good things that grow from the connection with others that social media gives us, but I need to pull out the handful of weeds that come with it. I do want to take and share beautiful pictures of my family, but I don’t want that more than intentional, real moments with them. I do want to put my writing out there so more people will see it and maybe even affirm it, but I don’t want that more than I want to steward this space and the love of words God gave me.
I want Jesus. So there has to be less of me.
I want others to see Him, because there is not anything else worth gazing at.
When I think about my life and making this year the most purposeful year yet, it is not captured in filtered images. It is simply lived, and much of it in secret, like Jesus told us to.