You are the God who sees me. — Genesis 16:13
Well before COVID-19 forced us into isolation and reminded us how much we are made to be in community, loneliness was being talked about as a public health crisis. In 2019 the American Psychological Association reported that the toll loneliness can take on a person is more detrimental than obesity and can heighten health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or extreme alcohol use. There are plenty of stories from the Old Testament where you can imagine that loneliness was felt (Joseph when his brothers sold him into slavery, Sampson after being weakened and imprisoned, etc.) but for me, the story that cuts the deepest is that of Hagar.
When God promises Abraham and Sara that they will have children, it takes a while for God to make good on that promise. Abraham and Sara get tired of waiting and take it upon themselves to try and expedite God’s timing. They decide that Abraham will marry Hagar, one of Sara’s slaves, so they can have a child. Unsurprisingly, their marriage gets more complicated because Abraham is now married to two women. Ultimately Hagar gets mistreated so badly that she decides to run away. Imagine that—Hagar was already enslaved when she is forced into a marriage to produce an heir; and then, when things go according to Abraham and Sara’s plan, Hagar is further mistreated by the very people who put her in this situation.
Hagar runs away and is at the precipice of traveling by herself through the dangerous wilderness to find her way to Egypt, when God intervenes. God sends a messenger who promises that, should she return to Abraham and Sara, God will work so that some good will come from the suffering she’s endured. Hagar was certain that she was completely alone until God shows her that she has never really been alone. God has seen what she’s been through and God has pursued her so she doesn’t just disappear from this story. God sees her and pursues her so she won’t be forgotten. It’s in that moment that Hagar names God, El-roi or “the God who sees me.” Hagar’s story shows us that when we feel overwhelmed by loneliness, God sees us and is pursuing us.