Nothing says “I Love You” like a small gift from your special someone, something that says “I’ve noticed you.” For me and my man this has often looks like paper cups with a green circled goddess on the side. He never asked me how I liked to prepare my coffee, but somehow he noticed. Dark Roast, less half and half then he prefers and three Equals. Nothing special. Nothing big. But whenever my husband brings me one made just like that my heart melts. “He must love me” runs across my mind like a banner behind an airplane. Why? Because love is in the unseen.
God is the same way.
There is a man in the book of John, named Nathanael. The Bible doesn’t say much about him, just that he knew the book of Moses (AKA: the Torah, or the main parts of the Old Testament) and he was friends with Philip and lived in Galilee. But between the lines I imagine him to be like most of us. Holding on to hope in an invisible God, doing the daily grind the best he can, and trying hard not to get swallowed up by life in the mean time.
Nathanael’s story is found in John chapter 1, verses 43-50. His story isn’t much, just a small something that means a lot in this thing called love.
The story picks up in verse 44 when Philip, Nathanael’s good friend comes sprinting down the dirt road shouting, “Dude! The one Moses wrote about is here, He is really here! He’s from Nazareth, He’s the son of Joseph.” He’d just encountered Jesus and wanted Nathanael to meet Him too.
Now, Nathanael, who perhaps like you and I, had gotten weary in the waiting and was feeling a bit unseen by this God they’d been serving and worshiping for centuries. He touts back to Philip a sarcastic, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
His friend, who could handle a bit of sarcasm from his brother-from-another-mother didn’t waver, he just grabbed Nathanael’s arm and said, “Come, see for yourself.”
Have you been there? About ready to give up on love? Feeling lost in the day-in-day out of living your faith life? I have. And it usually starts when I keep doing the faith things but feel completely unseen, like this doesn’t matter to at all to God. We long in the marrow of our bones for His whispered words of love to be true, tangible in the here and now. Being seen verifies His love, validates us in a way.
Oh but He does see, even when we can’t see Him.
“When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, He said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” John 1:47
Jesus recognized Nathanael. From a distance.
It knocks the wind out of Nathanael’s chest. Taken back, he asks, “How do you know me?”
And with a rushing flood of love, Jesus touches Nathanael’s arm and says, “Because I saw you under your fig tree.”
I saw you.
When no one else was looking, when no one else can even verify that you were there under that tree, I saw you.
When your uttered prayers and whispered worship fell only on dead leaves, I saw you.
When you wanted to give up but didn’t, I saw you.
There’s no other mention of this fig tree, probably because the author of this book didn’t notice Nathanael under its branches either. No one can verify Nathanael’s presence under the fig tree.
But Jesus saw.
Being seen in this verse (John 1:47) means more than just “laid eyes on,” it means experience, discern, see with the mind. Jesus knew Nathanael because He had experienced him at the fig tree. Perhaps the fig tree was Nathanael’s place to pray, or read the scriptures. Perhaps he sat at its base in the dead and dry leaves and poured his heart out.
Nobody else saw him there. Unseen, unheard, no one can verify his time at the tree. No one.
Nathanael was more than noticed by God, he was known. Known through personal experience. That is why Jesus can speak about Nathanael’s character, calling him a true Israelite full of honest authenticity. Nathanael wasn’t unseen, He was intimately known.
That’s what love feels like.
Nathanael goes on to become one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. But at this moment right here on a dusty road in Galilee, before Nathanael had done anything for the ministry of Christ, Jesus affirms him with the fullness of his identity. It’s as if Jesus is saying to Nathanael, “Before you were called to the spotlight, I saw you.” And I didn’t just see your depravity, I saw your wholeness. I saw your integrity. I saw your purity.
Like Nathanael, Jesus sees you; even when no one else does; you are known and you matter. Before you are doing the great big things that catch everyone’s attention–you are known and seen. Before the testimony of your promise is fulfilled–you are seen. Not just seen, but intimately known. No matter what fig tree you stand under waiting for the promise to come, let Jesus’ words wash over you, “Daughter, I see you.”
*portions of this blog post were published in REZ Women’s Magazine “She Is” Winter/Spring 2018
One more thing: I wrote about someone else who felt Unseen HERE. (Sometimes your own words move you like you’ve never seen them before.)
Join me this Friday for Friday Friends! We’re gonna talk about love. (I dare you to say that in your best Princess Bride voice.) Click the graphic below to find out more about Friday Friends.