Have you ever watched a small child in the middle of a tantrum? In addition to the frustrated parent, something I’ve often seen is that the child—while screaming and flailing about with eyes squeezed shut—will occasionally open one eye as if to say, “Is Mommy still looking??! Is Daddy noticing me?”
While definitely not amusing to the parent, that open eye tells a story only too true of all of us. While we hopefully don’t employ tantrums, we all cry out to be noticed. One of the comforts of knowing God personally is that we come to realize that He is—and may be the only one—always noticing us. Jesus lives out the example as He did when while on His way to Jerusalem; He takes something of a side trip to eat dinner with a scoundrel. Luke describes the encounter this way: “He looked up and saw him…” The sense of those verbs is that Jesus noticed Zacchaeus. The psalmist records, “He took note of their distress when He heard their cry.” Similarly, we read these words when Ruth bows before Boaz: Why have I found favor in your eyes that you should notice me, when I am a foreigner? Primary meanings of this word adds great depth to the term: to look intently at (with recognition implied); care for, respect, revere, acknowledge, perceive…
One of the things wives frequently say is that “my husband loves me but he doesn’t notice me.” Before being accused of husband bashing, let me add that women can be guilty of this same seeming indifference, but more often we hear it from wives. In the plethora of books written for women, we’re frequently advised that men have a lot of important things on their minds and shouldn’t be expected to notice things like a just vacuumed carpet, a new haircut, a woman’s sadness, or her unspoken but evident weariness after a day with the children or at the office.
A much-respected friend of mine—a pastor and counselor—was speaking to a group of businesswomen one afternoon when the complaint described above was spoken. Cliff gently but forcefully replied, “I certainly don’t condone that attitude but I must say that perhaps you have encouraged it.” If the gasps were not audible, they were certainly evident since these women knew how highly Cliff admired, esteemed and encouraged women. He went on to explain that noticing is not necessarily inherent in women but they seem to have been “schooled” in it from an early age. Looking out for others—an admirable trait—is often taught in the home: “Go see what your brother is doing.” “Take care of your sister while I’m gone.” Or even, “Daddy’s tired so don’t bother him now.” All those admonitions are good and valid. But how often do daddies say, “I sense that your mother needs to spend some time alone. Let’s go play in the backyard.”
Cliff went on to say that often men need to be trained to notice. Not with manipulation, pouting or command, but with gentle suggestions and—for those who tend not to hear gentle suggestions!—with firm and loving statements: “I’m feeling ignored. I sense that you really don’t notice me.” He went on to say that men are quite able to grow in this area. “They are, after all, quite capable of noticing the make, model and year of a car that whizzes by on the freeway. The brains are there. Your husband’s love is there. He just needs to be made aware that he’s not noticing and that you need him to notice. Don’t retreat into silence. Tell him. Eventually he’ll catch on!” (Cliff didn’t say how long that “eventually” might be!)
Noticing is not just lacking in marriage. When we get busy with our job responsibilities, it’s easy to pay more attention to the accomplishment, to the finished goal, to our own interests than to the people involved in the job. A mere “good job” just doesn’t do it. Be careful to specify how the job was done, or comment on the person’s over-and-above work ethic. Ask questions. How is the family handling a crisis? How did a daughter do on her college entrance exams? What are the family’s Christmas plans? These questions, along with sincere listening, fall right in line with to look intently at (with recognition implied); care for, respect, revere, acknowledge, perceive…
After writing and re-reading the above, I am reminded that the call of Christians—of Christ-followers—is to be servants as was our Master. And so the primary responsibility is not that we shout, NOTICE ME!, but rather that we learn to notice others and help others grow in the skill of noticing. Poet Emily Dickinson wrote:
I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody too?
How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!*
Get busy noticing, fellow frogs!
Thoughts: How can we balance the need to be noticed with the Christian call to servanthood?
*Emily Dickinson, Mabel Loomis Todd and T.W. Higginson, ed. Favorite Poems, (New York: Avenel Books, 1978), 155