The Experience Project, one of the largest online communities of the twenty-first century, was once a site where tens of millions shared deeply painful firsthand experiences. As I read through the heartbreaking stories, I reflected on how desperately our hearts long for someone to see—to understand—our pain.
In Genesis, the story of a young handmaid reveals just how life-giving this gift can be. Hagar was a slave girl likely given to Abram by a pharaoh of Egypt (see Genesis 12:16; 16:1). When Abram’s wife Sarai was unable to conceive, she urged Abram to conceive a child with Hagar—a disturbing yet familiar practice of that day. But when Hagar became pregnant, tensions flared, until Hagar fled into the wilderness to escape Sarai’s abuse (16:1–6).
But Hagar’s predicament—pregnant and alone in a harsh, unforgiving desert—didn’t escape divine eyes. After a heavenly messenger encouraged Hagar (vv. 7–12), she declared, “You are the God who sees me” (v. 13). Hagar was praising One who sees more than the bare facts. The same God was revealed in Jesus, who, “when he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless” (Matthew 9:36). Hagar encountered a God who understood.
The One who saw and understood Hagar’s pain sees ours as well (Hebrews 4:15–16). Experiencing heaven’s empathy can help the unbearable become a bit more bearable.
How does it reassure you to know God understands the challenges you face? How can you be a channel of His empathy and compassion to others?
The domestic arrangement in Genesis 16 of a barren wife offering her maidservant to her husband to bear children was not uncommon in ancient Near Eastern history. “Slave women or bondswomen were considered both property and legal extensions of their mistress. As a result it would be possible for Sarai to have Hagar perform a variety of household tasks as well as to use her as a surrogate for her own barren womb” (IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament). Through such an arrangement, both Rachel and Leah allowed their female servants to conceive by Jacob (Genesis 30:1–24).