Deep into a conversation with my mentor one afternoon I found myself admitting, “I wish I was one of those mysterious people.” You know, those people who seem perfectly content to sit in a group and just enjoy what others have to say. I am more on the “talk too often and put my foot in my mouth“ side of the spectrum. I have a become increasingly aware of my tendency to overshare with those around me about my circumstances and emotions in what I am discovering is an effort to be known and understood by them. I never knew how much this longing to be heard was shaping my life until God put it under a fluorescent light for me two years ago, revealing both the depth of this desire and the insufficiency of others to fill it.
In November 2015, I boarded a plane with my husband and one-year-old daughter to answer God’s call on our lives to plant churches in Tokyo, Japan. We were excited, hopeful, and scared to death. Before this move, I was completely unaware of all the ways my life was comfortably organized so that my needs were met “outside of” God. Although God has chosen to reveal thousands of things to me through this huge transition, the most clearly illuminated has been how I had always comfortably relied on those around me to be heard and understood. I didn’t know more than “hello,” “goodbye,” and “sorry” in Japanese when we landed at the Tokyo airport. I was struggling to have my meal order understood, much less my heart.
Even now, after a year and half of studying this language with its three alphabets and 13 verb forms and strict rules for how you talk to people older or “higher” than you, I still feel far away from being able to communicate my deep longings and joys to the people with whom I have come into relationship here. This reality has at times made me feel lost, alone, and, frankly, scared—which is a condition the Israelites in Scripture were no strangers to.
Since the establishment of God’s people, they were wanderers and foreigners, lost in the wilderness, alone in their faith, and in fear of oppressors all around. But if there is one thing of which we can be sure in reading the adventures of God’s people in the Old Testament, it is that their Father heard them. He heard their cries for liberation and orchestrated their escape from Egypt (Exodus 12); he heard their cries of hunger and provided bread from heaven (Exodus 16); and he heard their cries for water and brought forth a river from a rock (Exodus 17). He heard them. And he understood them and what they needed better than they knew themselves.
You, my sweet sister in Christ, might be feeling a bit lost and alone, unheard and misunderstood right now. You may not be dealing with a language barrier specifically, but you are feeling alone and longing to be heard by a busy spouse, a distant family, a brand new set of friends, a rebellious child, or a demanding (or seemingly deaf) toddler. Dear sister, I have something I want us both to know and believe. Our Father hears you, even when it seems like no one else does. Hebrews 10:19, 22–23 says, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus … let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”
Our God is faithful to us, his adopted children. He gave up the life of his precious Son and covered us with his purity so we can come unashamed into the presence of God, the “holy place,” and be understood to a deeper and fuller level than anyone on this earth ever could. The One who promises to hear us is the one who made us and rejoices in us—in all our quirks, joys, and pains. Psalm 139 tells us that before a word is on our tongue he knows it and that he discerns our thoughts from afar. Your Creator hears and understands you even more than you know yourself.
The next time you repeat yourself to your toddler for the thousandth time, or get that puzzled look from a friend who can't quite understand, or try yet again to communicate that one thing you long for your spouse to catch on to, try to see it as an invitation to remember the way that God hears and understands. I know it is so hard in those moments to do this, but talk to him, my sister.
He sent his Son to be born among us and experience the separation from the Father we deserved so that we would be able to feel his close, constant presence in our times of greatest need. Christ died so that you could be in communion with him, and he sits at God’s right hand ever interceding for whatever may make you afraid to “draw near.” Talk to the one who has “the whole world [including you] in his hands.” He longs to hear from his children and reveal himself to be the only one who can fulfill our hearts’ desire to be heard.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION/ APPLICATION:
What do you most wish the people in your life understood about you right now? How hard raising your toddler is? How difficult your marriage has become? How scared you feel about the future? Whatever it is, take a second to drink in the fact that your Heavenly Father deeply knows you and understands these things about you. Ask him to show himself to you in these specific places of fear and pain.
Do you have trouble remembering that God promises to hear you and care for you? Do you need to be reminded often? Tape this verse to your mirror or windshield (or, if you are constantly on your phone like me, put it in a reminder app and have it alert you to read this verse a few times a day): “O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways” (Psalm 139:1-3).
Is there someone in your life for whom you could be a better listener? Could you be the one person who asks the question and listens with understanding and without judgment to another’s fears or sadness? We will never be perfect at this, but as image-bearers of God, is there some small way we can reflect his listening ear to someone who desperately needs it?
Katie Saunders, her husband Jeff, daughter Emerie (3), and son Ezra (4 months) have been living in Japan since November 2016. Jeff is an ordained minister and they are part of a church-planting mission team based in Tokyo. Living in the largest city in the world has its joys and challenges. What Katie most enjoys about cross-cultural motherhood is the chance to see her children absorb two languages and cultures simultaneously and the opportunity to experience new perspectives and norms for parenting (and choose from both American and Japanese wisdom). You can follow her on Instagram at @ksaunders611 .