A lot of us feel like we’ve fallen short in some way and been disregarded as a result, so how do we handle this pain?
“Do you ever feel overlooked?” Gary Wilkerson asked in a devotional.
“When I was about ten years old, my father gathered me and my two sisters and my little brother, and he said, ‘I just went up into the mountains, and I’ve come back, and I have a blessing for all four of you kids. The Holy Spirit gave me a blessing.’
“Then he went around and laid hands on all of us. He said to my sister, ‘You’re going to marry this kind of guy’ and to my other sister, ‘You’re going to be a missionary. You have a skill in you to do that’ and to my younger brother, ‘You’re going to be an evangelist and touch nations.’
“He laid hands on me last, and I thought, ‘Wonder why he did that?’
“’You’re going to have some hard times,’ he said, ‘but you’re going to make it.’
“All I could think was ’That’s it?’ I wanted to get up and yell, ‘No! There has to be something more. He’s an evangelist, and they’re going to be missionaries, and she’s going to be a writer! I’m just going to ‘make it’?
In Our Soul of Shame
Feeling overlooked almost immediately invokes shame. Regardless of what the other person intended, we begin to hear insidious whispers of “They’re right; you’re worthless. You don’t deserve to be seen or heard. Why don’t you crawl away?”
It’s important to acknowledge that there is a ‘good’ shame that accurately points us toward our need for God.
However, shame can quickly twist into the emotion that turns us away from valuable relationships, makes us hesitate to pursue activities where we can contribute to the whole and also corrodes our ability to respond quickly to God’s call.
“God made us in such a way so that we could join the three divine persons in their circle of creativity. Creativity of which one hallmark is joy,” Curt Thompson writes in The Soul of Shame. Thanks to our own fallen natures, healthy relationships where this joy and creativity thrives are “not about the absence of ruptures but the faithful repair of ruptures…. Shame of course will do everything it can to interfere with the emergence of joy, curiosity and the creativity that inevitably ensues—even in the face of difficult relational circumstances.”
In his book Unwanted, Jay Stringer writes about one of his patients who come in because she’d had a string of highly dysfunctional relationships with guys but was also privately struggling with a pornography addiction.
In their first appointment, he asked Madison to tell him about herself. She responded, “Who am I? I am a worthless woman who is addicted to porn. I’ve never been able to connect with anyone my whole life, and my whole career field just makes me the oddball anywhere I go. I hate myself for everything I’m not.”
This caustic self-directed diatribe didn’t come from nowhere. Gradually, Madison began to admit that her relationship with both of her parents had been fraught.
“When Madison was ten, she was kicking a soccer ball around with her father. Moments into playing, she became mesmerized by the beauty of a hawk’s flight above.” Irritated that she wasn’t focused entirely on the game, her father tried to hit the bird with the ball then told her, “Your sister is the athlete. Sports just aren’t your thing, so enjoy your birds. I really hope it gets you somewhere in life.”
Later, when she tried to explain the incident to her mother, the response was cold. “Your dad is just trying to encourage you. You don’t need to make it seem as if he is a monster.”
Madison began increasingly withdrawing, exploring the woods near the house and spending hours examining salamanders and other small critters she found.
“She would go on to earn a PhD in biology, but no one from her family attended the graduation. Her family chose her sister’s NCAA tournament game instead. Madison felt sick walking back to her car and threw her diploma into the back seat.”
When she did finally have a chance to talk with her parents over the phone, her father took the opportunity to remind her that athletics were not her thing—as if she needed reminding—and then he added, “Aren’t you glad I told you to enjoy the birds? You made something of yourself. You should be proud.”
Remembering the Promises
While it’s important to acknowledge the pain that these messages plant in us, it’s equally important not to grow bitter with those people or to place all hope of our healing in an apology or future relationship with them.
In some cases of abuse or absence, a restored relationship with that other person may not be possible. In other cases, the other person may not see a problem with what they’ve said or done, or they may not be interested in apologizing and rebuilding the relationship.
In a third, smaller, set of possibilities, the message wasn’t necessarily a bad one but was turned on its head by our own insecurities or previous damaging narratives we believe.
Like Madison, our eventual freedom comes from honestly acknowledging our pain, offering it up to God and then immersing ourselves in his promises.
“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?” (Romans 8:31-34 ESV).
God does not overlook us. He knit us together in the womb (Psalm 139:13) and he won’t let anything separate us from his love (Romans 8:38-39).
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord…” (Jeremiah 29:11-14 ESV).
“Don’t think God can’t use you. Don’t think you are insignificant,” writes Pastor Gregg Potts. “Think of people in the Bible God has used. God used Moses, although he told God he couldn’t even speak well. God used David, the youngest of Jesse’s boys. In the New Testament God used Matthew, who was basically a crooked politician. God used Peter, an impulsive Galilean fisherman.”
The One Person Who Matters
Even if we feel overlooked by parent, coworkers, bosses or friends, that is the moment to remember God’s words to us and blessings on us.
“When I was about thirty,” Gary explained, “I asked my father about the day he’d gone up to the hills to pray for us and come back with blessings. ‘Dad, do you remember that day? What was the deal there?’
“He nodded. ‘Yeah, I remember.’
“I explained how frustrating that moment had been for me, so he agreed to pray about it again. He came back, though, and told me he wasn’t going to change that blessing. It was as if God confirmed the word he’d given my father. ‘It means he’s going to make something of you. Your life is going to have worth and value and it’s going to count.’”
Gary described how, later when he dealt with a terrible back injury that threatened to take away his ability to walk, this blessing and promise came back to him.
You’re going to make it. You won’t be overlooked by God.