On Sunday, August 9th, police in Ascension Parish were called to the home of a Baton Rouge, Louisiana woman, Monica Butler Johnson, who had been bludgeoned to death by her estranged husband. In addition to an existing arrest record (from when he strangled her until she had no voice), there were protective orders in place against him because he had been stalking her. The protective orders failed. He was seen following and intimidating her. Yet somehow, being seen didn’t save her. Secret suffering can be deadly, but is there any value in being seen?
In Exodus 3, Moses encountered a burning bush and the scripture says that,
“and he looked, and behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed…And…The Lord saw that he turned aside to see…” (Exodus 3:2,4 KJV)
The text never said that the bush began to burn but that it burned. The implication is that the bush was already burning when Moses arrived. Moses stumbled upon a scene already in progress, a situation well under way. Yet, he stopped in his tracks to get another look. I can’t help but wonder how long the bush had been burning and how many people passed it by without a second thought.
I remember a couple who previously attended our church. When I met them, I observed some odd things about their relationship- body language, eye contact, behavior patterns (multiple absences, guarded communication, unusual choice of attire/accessories, etc)… but I attributed my thoughts to my active imagination. Until one day, while serving at an off-site outreach event, I confronted the wife. Without going into much detail, I discretely questioned the things that I saw. My words to her were met with body-jerking tears and a question that haunted me for a long time afterwards, “Yes…but what do I do about it?”
I was dumb-founded. I didn’t have an answer…no trap door, no plan of escape.
That couple moved on, carrying their burden with them, and I asked myself, “If my ministry could not help them, then what good is it? If what I teach and preach does not heal, save, deliver, transform, inform, then what good is it?” But the longer I live and the more I grow in faith, the more I believe that I am not always called to heal, save, deliver…you get the picture. I’ll leave that to God. Sometimes, many times, I am just called to see. Often the things that I see seem overwhelming, too big to tackle, too substantial to effect positive change, too deeply engrained to make inroads. And still God calls me to see.
I believe that there is an honor reserved for those who take the time to deviate from their own agendas, to pay attention to the people and things around them.
And maybe being seen won’t stop a situation already in progress…and maybe it will. Maybe making eye contact with a woman who feels trapped in a room with no door will give her the courage to dig a tunnel through the floor.
When Hagar fled to the Egyptian wilderness because of maltreatment at home, the messenger of God met her in her despair. And she proclaimed, “You’re the God who sees me! Yes! He saw me; and then I saw…” (Gen 16:13, MSG). Hagar saw Him. But maybe the next woman I see will see her way out. Maybe she will see hope. Maybe she will see courage. Maybe she will see herself.
As for me, I remain faithful to the call to pay attention.
I will stop.
I will look.
I will see.
And maybe being seen will save her.