• Rev. Izzy Harbin

To Be Seen, Known, and Valued

“Connection is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued—when they can give and receive without judgment.” Brené Brown.


When I was a child, I wanted so desperately to be seen, heard, and valued by the adults in my life, by my peers, and even by strangers. I was looking for a way to fit into a world that didn’t make sense to me. I knew I was different, but I didn’t have the language to articulate how I was different. And I could sense that these differences were keeping me from feeling connected, but again, I didn’t know how to be what I wasn’t, nor how to fix what I could not name.


Brené Brown tells us that we are “hardwired for connection.” Unfortunately, most of us are taught that connection is either too risky because we might get hurt, or that we must connect with everyone regardless of boundaries. I was taught both. I tried to hold these in tension, but this only created more confusion. A lack of boundaries makes for unhealthy relationship, and when we are too afraid to risk getting hurt, we also keep ourselves from knowing true belonging.


As we continue our series on women from the bible and their modern-day counterparts, we see this theme play out in the lives of Jochebed and Sara Cunningham. In Jochebed’s case, she was willing to risk everything for the sake of her child. She willingly gave him up in hopes of saving his life. In the end, she was called upon to nurse the child, which not only gave her a connection to her own child, but also to the Pharoah’s daughter. By taking a risk, she created expansion in her life. At the same time, she also created some clear boundaries for herself. She was willing to nurse her own son, but she was not willing to sell her soul to Pharoah or his daughter.


Sara Cunningham brings the need for connection into the present day, in the most tangible of ways, by providing hugs to those who have lost connection. When Sara’s son came out as gay, it was a huge adjustment for Sara. She valued the connection with her son so much, though, that she was willing to risk her own comfort in order to remain connected with her child. What she found on the other side of this equation were a whole group of people who are often ostracized by their families and friends and who have few people in their lives who show genuine care and love for them.


Through the Free Mom Hugs program, she provided a safe and effective way for folks to have their need for connection to be met without violating boundaries. Sara provides the perfect vehicle with which to see, hear, and value those who are often dismissed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The importance of creating safe space for people was more important than her own comfort, and worth the risk. Thousands of LGBT individuals have been embraced by individuals who genuinely care about the lives and welfare of those in the LGBT community.


What can we do in our own lives to show others that we are not risk adverse and that we want to make healthy connections?


As a church community, we are often seen as the last place that LGBT folks would look for care and comfort, which means that we have to be intentional with our gestures of welcome. When we call ourselves open and affirming, it places the burden of proof on us to show that we are both open AND affirming. To open the door to create genuine connection while at the same time withdrawing support would only damage our message of inclusion. Intentionally creating safe spaces for those who are maligned and marginalized by society should be an integral part of our identity.


Jesus made a point of inviting the last, the lost, and the least. He didn’t hesitate to dine with tax collectors or to touch lepers so that they may be healed. He talked with women and encouraged them to be more than what society projected for them. If we follow Jesus’ example, he made the effort to see others for who they really were, to hear the pain and cries of the brokenhearted, and to value their contributions to God’s kingdom, regardless of what they had to offer, but especially when what they offered was themselves.


May we all be fortunate enough to see God’s kingdom through the eyes of Jesus, to know what it means to love with our whole hearts, and to reach beyond our comfort zones to see, hear, and value those around us.


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