Seeing and Being Seen

by Feb 26, 2016Cultivate, Deepen4 comments

“True hospitality is marked by an open response to the dignity of each and every person.”
Kathleen Norris


I recently learned this Zulu “hello” at a 2016 If Gathering simulcast. In the Zulu language it means, “I see you.” A speaker with us at the conference expanded the meaning to, “I see you. I see you as God has made you.”

But this exchange often begins with the first person saying, “Sikhona,” meaning “I am here to be seen.” So the full exchange, if we were to use these greetings, might go something like this:

Sikhona. I am here to be seen.

Sawubona. I see you. I see you as God has made you.

Beautiful. To see and greet each other in this way becomes a compassionate acknowledgement and intentional welcome of each person’s full presence.

Can you imagine entering a conversation fully present, ready to be seen and being greeted with words confirming you are seen? Or the other way around, fully acknowledging someone’s presence by responding with, “I see you”?

You are beautifully and amazingly created, here to be seen.
What do you long for others to see in you?
What would you courageously voice about who you are?

It’s interesting how once you become aware of something powerful like this, you begin to notice it in other contexts.

Attending a recent coach training intensive in Sacramento, my biggest take-away came from an emphasis on how we view our coaching clients, or really anyone. The instructors brought this in through various experiences. In one, we sat across from a fellow participant, knees nearly touching, looking straight into the other’s eyes.

Oh yes, this felt awkward. But as the workshop leader coached us in ways we were to view the person before us, I became less aware of my discomfort and began to focus on who that person might be. I didn’t need to know much yet, just that she was a human being, a deep well brimming with much to pour out to others.

To see her absolutely changed how I then listened and how I responded.

I saw this person before me as someone with gifts and dreams and contributions to make. What naturally flowed from that intentional viewpoint was deep value and curiosity. What else might I learn about this person and her ideas, interests and life goals? I wanted to cheer her on!

And I thought,

What if I were to see each person I meet this way? Each person I lead, each person I coach? What if we all were to do that? And what if as we met each person, we were fully present, ready to be seen by them?

Every person. Yes, even those—especially those—we find difficult to love or be around.

What contexts come to mind where you might practice
being fully present and seeing the person?
Who needs to know you see them?

With such authenticity needed behind a wholehearted greeting of presence and welcome, I cannot help but pray that Christ would allow me to see each person as he sees them, listen to them as he would listen to them, love them as he would love them.

For this is what he sees when we come to him:

Sikhona. I am here to be seen by you, Christ.

Sawubona. I see you.
You are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Deeply loved.
Died for.

How might you practice this seeing and being seen within the contexts of your relationships and leadership? Let’s talk about creative ways to cultivate a welcoming influence. We’d love to hear your story and experiences, your thoughts and ideas.


  1. Susan Sage

    It’s a problem that resonates with so many. Is anyone truly comfortable with someone truly seeing them fully? I don’t know. I think the more we stand in who God made us to be and the fact that God loves us so completely, maybe that’s the only way we can truly trust someone with our entire, honest self. There are some I’m free to be truly myself with and most, not so much. Still working on standing in who God knows and loves.
    Thanks for these thoughts, Jan and the heart you shared with them.

    • Jan Kern

      Hmm, yes. I think of how our culture can be one of status, judgment, and shame. But even beyond our culture, perhaps it’s our human default going back to the beginning of time when the first humans wrapped in their own shame hid from being seen. But God walked through the garden, in the cool of the day, and called to them, “Where are you?” He was inviting them to come out of hiding to be seen. It’s that love, His love, you talk about here, Susan. So complete. It’s quite a journey for all of us to take those steps of trust with the incomplete, inconsistent love of humans. I hope we all keep trying–both directions.

  2. Bethany Macklin

    Everyone has a fundamental need to be seen and known.One of my favorite names of God is “El Roi. the God who sees me.” While it’s comfortable for me to allow God to “see” me, I really struggle to allow any beyond a few trusted friends to see into my heart. I guess it’s the fear of rejection because I don’t feel like someone most people would really love, “if they really knew me.” My young daughter once said about some girls at her school, “I’m afraid to trust them with my personality.” I think that really nails it down. The fear that a deep, personal knowing will result in rejection. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Jan Kern

      Thank you for sharing, Bethany. Especially for being willing in this space to be seen and to let us catch a peek into your heart and story. It’s one many can relate to. Me too. The desire and need to be known, the fear of trusting others with our “personality”–you said it well as did your daughter. And you reminded us of the name of God, El Roi. Day after day he fully sees us and only loves us more. You’re a blessing to me and to the Voice of Courage community, Bethany.

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