I love reading stories. I love writing them. Stories reveal so much about people. So much about ourselves. It’s why we read, why we engage in a page-turner, why we stay up far past bedtime to finish a riveting book. Because of the characters. What choices are they going to make? Will they transform because of the challenges they face? Will they make the right decisions? Will he finally reveal his love? Will she confess that she loves him too?
What motivates these characters, we ask, as if in realizing it we can somehow, hopefully, understand what motivates us. We love the characters we read about on the page. We love the characters we carefully craft in our minds, and that come to life and develop personalities of their own as we write about them.
But in doing so, in reading and writing, we must be careful of one thing. The poet Emerson hints at it in the quote above: “God hides things by putting them near us.”
Author Ken Gire reflects on it more clearly in his book, Seeing What is Sacred:
To better love God and other people is the goal of the reflective life. But before we can love them, we must see them. And we must see them not as we would like to see them or as they would like to be soon. We must see them as they are. … Jesus looked beyond appearances. He saw the hurt inside. And He touched it, ever so gently, to bring healing and wholeness.
What is that one thing we must be careful of? We writers? We readers? Me? That I do not admire and align our hearts with characters on paper so completely that I fail to see with eyes of wonder the beautiful characters God has “hidden” in plain sight.
My husband, who always responds with heart and hands and mind whenever a problem presents itself, so willing to take on more to lessen the burden of others.
My daughter, whose eagerness to tell me about everything in her day can reveal to me so much of who she is and what she cares about … but only if I listen.
My older son, who listens and observes rather than rushes and speaks. He reminds me of myself when I was young in that sense. And I know how deep those “still” waters run. But how often do I draw them out?
My younger son, who responds with passion so many times throughout the day. Excitement. Indignation. Anger. Jumping-up-and-down joy. So what if his exuberance in facing a weekend morning gets him (and me) up far earlier than I would have hoped?
My siblings, near and far, living their lives and fighting their set of battles. My parents, still as dedicated to their family and faith as ever. My friends, my classmates, my students, my coworkers.
Not characters on a page, but breathing, dreaming, hurting … living creations of God. Souls He loves and fashioned in His image. Walking and interacting in this world we all call home for so short a time … but for so long in that it is all we see and know and all that so many believe in.
So easily hidden by their very proximity. So easy to overlook or forget about or fail to love.
But He gives us reminders. In His own story of stopping for one.
- A widow who had also lost her son. Just one. But Jesus brought the son back to life.
- A woman caught in sin and slandered. Just one. But Jesus spoke words that set her free.
- A rash follower who denied Him at His lowest moment. Just one. But Jesus called him to His side again and set him on an unparalleled path of service and ministry.
He gives us hints in those moments we feel, for an instant, that we are looking at someone with new eyes. With wonder. With grace. As though some veil is lifted or shifted aside and we see the essence of an immortal, God-created soul. Scholar Abraham Heschel wrote, “The awe that we sense or ought to sense when standing in the presence of a human being is a moment of intuition for the likeness of God which is concealed in his essence.”
The likeness of God. Surrounding us. Walking beside us. Sleeping next to us. (Sometimes crawling into bed because of a bad dream and then tossing and turning most of the night.) Sitting in class. (Sometimes making side comments rather loudly when we’re trying to hear the instructor.) In the car behind us at a stop light. (Or ahead of us because they swerved right in front of us without using their turning signals.)
Many times throughout the day, these little inconveniences caused by “other people” get to me. I grow frustrated and impatient far more quickly than I should. I imagine I’m not alone in these reactions. But they’re not characters. They’re immortal beings, cased in frail flesh, loved passionately by a God who died so that every soul might be transformed by His sacrifice.
What a wonder that you and I are given the privilege to walk the world with people created in the very image of God. What a wonder that we, too, are fashioned and loved and called His own.