Have you ever been called out for something you posted on social media?
It happened to me a couple of years ago. My friend was gracious enough to not call me out in public, but I did get a phonecall.
It was from my friend Brian, who was pastoring a church in the Seattle area. We’d worked together in ministry on and off for a few years. He checked in sometimes.
“Hey,” he started.
“Always good to hear from you, man. What’s up?”
He continued. “Honestly, I just saw, uh — you don’t usually post selfies. Seemed like there might be something behind the picture you posted this week. Just curious. How are you?”
I hesitated for a moment, incredulous. A selfie? Was he joking? People posted selfies all the time.
Then in a rush I knew I’d been seen.
All of it came tumbling out: Yeah, there was something behind the picture I posted that week. I explained I had been through a break-up. In an effort to make myself feel better, I’d taken a trip to Colorado, which was magical and at times incredibly lonely. The selfie was me riding a gondola to an alpine trailhead in the Rockies on a gorgeous summer day, nothing but adventure ahead and clear blue skies all around. The picture looked how I wanted to feel. It looked how I wanted to be seen.
In reality, what I needed was rest. I was at the end of my first year of full-time ministry work, much of it helping teams through difficult transitions. I’d just returned from living out of the country. I’d sold my home. I wasn’t sure what was next: a grad school fellowship or a gig I’d been offered. Someone walked out during all of that, and suddenly it felt like no one noticed or cared about all the hope and growth and disappointment that was mixed up in my heart.
But of course that wasn’t true. One friend had noticed.
It is astonishing to me how much human hearts matter to God. In the Hebrew scriptures, God explains this to the prophet Samuel, when Samuel is on assignment anointing a new king for Israel, and all he knows in advance is that God has already chosen one of Jesse’s sons. He just needs to recognize who it is. Samuel takes one look at the oldest and decides he’s the one. “But God told Samuel, ‘Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.’” (1 Samuel 16:7 MSG).
Many more scriptures mention this theme: Proverbs 16:2, Jeremiah 17:10, 1 Kings 8:39; Jeremiah 12:3, 1 Chronicles 28:9, Psalm 139, Psalm 44:21, and others, each describe a God who is constantly curious, hopeful, searching, examining, seeing, knowing, learning the deep places in the hidden hearts and motives of people.
Hearts matter to God. The secret spaces we don’t show anyone. The hopes we’ve held for years. The people we let in and the ones we keep out. The petty jealousies. The shortcuts. The gratitude. The generosity. The pleading prayer. The real reasons we did it.
When we look past behavior and meet people in those heart places too, it isn’t just the mature thing to do or the right thing to do. It’s what God does, so we are modeling God’s nature. It requires looking at people with God’s eyes and searching with that constant curiosity. It also requires a posture of gentleness, whether or not it’s deserved, and a promise that we’re not going to stomp all over whatever we find in those vulnerable places.
People rarely look into the heart as God describes it to Samuel. In our everyday lives, we are quick to judge what we see on the outside, and this can actually cause us to miss important things, things that are preoccupying God’s own heart. We get a glimpse of this in an earlier part of Samuel’s story, when his mother Hannah travels to worship with her extended family in 1 Samuel 1. She doesn’t have any children, and while she is worshiping, she begs the Lord for a son. The prophet Eli watches her praying and ridicules her, assuming she is drunk.
Hannah doesn’t know it yet, but within the year, she will be the mother of Samuel, who will grow to be one of Israel’s most courageous and beloved leaders. Eli, the pre-eminent prophet of his day — trained to see and interpret the heart of God — misses the whole thing God is about to do. He totally misses it. Because he is looking at Hannah’s behavior and judging her. She defends herself and Eli eventually blesses her as she leaves, but the story is a stark reminder of what is at stake beyond what we can see. Hannah was praying in her heart. That’s where God was moving.
All of that unseen movement would impact generations of people.
In my story, I want to be clear that there is nothing inherently wrong with posting a selfie. My friend knew me for years and simply recognized that it wasn’t normal behavior for me. He didn’t ridicule me in public or leave a comment on my Instagram account. He really didn’t focus on the behavior at all, but took a risk, picked up the phone, and aimed right for the underlying motivation: how are you?
Molly, how is your heart?
I don’t even remember what Brian said in response to the stuff I shared that day. I don’t think the point of the call was advice. I do remember feeling fully seen and still feeling fully loved. I remember thinking maybe it mattered less what things looked like for a while, as I sorted out my plans. Maybe having it all together wasn’t important to the friends I needed on this new journey. And I was grateful for one who noticed and listened to my heart.