What I Missed at 20 That I Can See Now That I’m 40

My diploma was still in an unopened manilla envelope on my apartment desk when I stood in front of a crowd of 300 sets of smiling eyes to tell them about what I’d committed to doing for the rest of my life. Though I didn’t say it in so many words, at twenty-two I knew I wanted to change the world for God.

It was the night of our ministry fundraising banquet and I was in high heels and a brand new pencil skirt, dressed like I felt. Pulled together, tight, and ready to inspire.

I arrived at the hotel just before the banquet started in a flurry. I brushed past moms of teenagers and grandmothers who were on the committee of this organization and businessmen and women who had careers about which I knew nothing. Tonight we’d converged around the truly significant. I didn’t think much about what they’d left outside the door in order to be here. We had vision to impart.

Doing “for the Lord”

At 20, I was a sprinter. 40 felt old and 30 not yet worth considering. I’d known God for a few years now and time was already lost — there was so much to be done for Him. I was full of vision; never-mind an entry-level position when there was a front of the pack.

I wanted my life to show up on the map. My name, written across lives and stories and kingdom-impact. (My laundry could wait.)

And this was all before social media.

I could blink and I would be right back there, except now what I remember about that night is the greying 50-year-old who grabbed my hand after the evening was over and told me she’d been praying for me in the dark of the morning. The worn creases along the corners of her eyes looked like pencil markings, years of experience shadowing the fire behind them. I remember the mother of four who had a dignified weight to her countenance but yet spent her days carpooling teenagers and unpacking back-packs and warming the sidelines of soccer games. I remember the sixty-year-old businessman of very few words — must be boring to be him, I thought back then — who, many years later, taught my husband how to pray through his own dark night.

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An Audience of One VS a Crowd

At forty I’m scanning that crowd in my mind, all over again. Except this time I’m not behind a podium, wanting that each person in that room would give their lives to something significant. I’m standing in the back, valuing all that isn’t seen but which holds great value — great opportunity — in a room like that, on a night like that.

At 20, what I couldn’t yet see was that things like having a name or recognition or accolades wouldn’t sustain me until 40.

At 20, I didn’t know that three hundred sets of hands applauding would never come close to how I would feel when I got a private whisper from God, a look my way from the One who made me.

And the things that I would have resented at twenty — misunderstanding, judgment from another, getting scooted to the “back row” of a ministry — ended up being the very circumstances that made me find Him. The tireless paper-chase for adoption, the endless cycle of laundry, the pains of church-family dynamics, the countless sleepless nights nursing a babe and long days without a minute to shower — in all of those, I found His eyes on me.

Unseen

He was near when I felt alone and unseen.

God gives a gift in being hidden. Himself.

I didn’t expect that I could find Him, just as much, in sweatpants scrubbing the grout along the corners of my bathroom tub on a Saturday as when I was hearing scores of teenagers tell me that I’d changed their lives. (I didn’t know that His sending place, for those who actually do change the world, often happens in the rooms without doors or windows, with just Him.)

The “likes”, the applause, the fanfare, and recognition — we crave it because we were made for it. We scan our social media feed, subtly wondering how we might posture ourselves to be seen and yet (let’s just admit it) so often ignorant of the reality that only one single set of eyes can validate the parts of us that He uniquely made.

We resent being overlooked … and yet, could it be that He hides us just so that we might find that single set of eyes? Masked, by Him and for Him.

Hidden Places

At 40, I’m finding the craving for that only set of eyes that can deeply validate me.

At 40, I’m finding that being unseen is no longer drudgery. My hidden places are the ones where His eyes become most real to me. He is near and tender and whispering to me who I really am, apart from any other person’s opinions. And under those eyes, I come alive.

Might today be your day to take one of those “hidden” stretches, where you feel unseen, and ask Him to give you His thoughts about you, right there? Ask Him to see His eyes on you, when no one is looking?

We are made in secret. (Psalm 139:15)

Every heart longs to be seen and understood. Yet most of our lives is unwitnessed. We spend our days working, driving, parenting. We sometimes spend whole seasons feeling unnoticed and unappreciated. So how do we find contentment when we feel so hidden?

God’s invitation is not just for a season or a day. It is the question of our lives: “When no one else applauds you, when it makes no sense when you see no results—will you waste your love on Me?”

 

In Him,

Sara Hagerty

 

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