Most of the time, we don’t reach for God until we have to. Our hardest circumstances are often the ones God uses to call forth the deeper reach for Him.

Until I was in over my head with five children, I never needed to pray the Bible under my breath, up the stairs and down, from one bedroom to the next.

Until I sat feeling invisible in a crowd of peers, I never needed to ask God, daily, for strength to be unnoticed.

Until my friends’ bellies were round and I was barren and felt forgotten by God, I never prayed the Psalms as if they were my own cries.

Until I was mothering four former orphans and wondering just how far God goes to restore a life, I never scoured the Word of God for truths about restoration.

Until the voices of accolades around me suddenly got quiet, I never saw a need to sit before God in the silence and wait for His whispers.

Until all the other words around me fell short, I never considered meditating upon God’s Word, mulling it over and letting it dance around my mind for longer than a morning quiet time.

In all these experiences, it was as if God were the parent in my dream, the one slowly shaping my life from orphan to daughter. You don’t see it all like I do. I know what’s best—I know you best. The story you want, though not bad, isn’t the story I have for you. Will you let Me write your story?

This is the invitation God offers in the winters of my soul. An invitation to trust that my story is His story. And if I let Him winterize me, He will deepen my roots and help me to stretch my branches toward Him—for my good and for His glory.

Mary’s invisible story

Mary of Bethany also had plans, we might suppose. And planners don’t like to leave things to chance. Mary carried her plan in a jar around her neck. She held dignity and extravagance near her chest.

This spikenard oil was imported from India and cost a year’s wages. This was no impulse purchase. It was her assurance—her savings account and her security. She’d likely had it long before she met Jesus, and so it was part of her. Her scent mingled with the scent of this oil. It marked her. Until she saw a different function for its extravagance.

Yes, it was an extravagance that she carried, but it paled in light of the extravagance she experienced when she was with Jesus.

This man had comforted her when she grieved the death of her brother, had taught her truth and treated her with dignity in a culture that neither educated nor honored women. His kindness and His defiance of cultural norms emboldened her and prepared her to pour out brazen love as oil.

In a moment, her plans suddenly meant nothing to her. Letting go of them, while uncomfortable and unfamiliar, empowered her.

She’d grown safe within this otherworldly love He offered to her, so an exchange of her story for His no longer frightened her. She moved from fear to desire. She wanted it more than anything else.

Even the oil.

Mary was so in love with the God who had seen her when no one else did, the God who knew her and whispered His secrets to her, the God who breathed fresh life into her dead brother, that she’d do anything for Him. She would crack open what had once been her treasure in exchange for a new story. It was a costly exchange, but it was worth it because she was His.

Mary not only offered God her opportunity for greatness—that jar she carried around her neck—she broke it open. There was no going back. She was all in, and the oil was no longer hers for safekeeping. Mary was now Mary without the oil’s musk that had marked her.

In an instant, what had signified security and recognition spilled through her fingers. Those dreams of moving comfortably into old age with financial assurance, and perhaps even thoughts of clothing herself in the finest linens, all fell away as she looked at Him. She was close enough to see the lines on His face He was beautiful and powerful and safe.

Mary probably hadn’t told a soul about this ahead of time. Perhaps she hadn’t planned this moment at all. If she had and had told others about it, it’s likely they tried to talk her out of it.

But they didn’t yet know what she knew—that when she got near to Jesus, the glow of everything and everyone else dimmed. When she got near to this man, her life became great. He reveled in her story and in her participation in His story: This was greatness.

There are two stories in a person—the visible story and the invisible story.

To Jesus, Mary’s greatness was revealed in the very act that the onlookers called foolish. And in this weakened, wasted greatness, she got closer to Him—she participated in His story—and she grew.

There is great value in the private moments we spend with God

Times have shifted. In this digital age, we might well wonder, If it wasn’t posted on social media, did it really happen? We can’t live for the beauty of the hidden life while feeding on likes and comments. As long as we don’t make big impact synonymous with greatness, there’s nothing wrong with it. But the unintended consequence may be that we think that anything that isn’t big and observable isn’t great, which renders the rest of life a waiting room. Wasted time.

When we live a life of constantly reaching for the next big thing, we miss the greatness God is calling us to right here, right now. In the small, the ordinary, the hidden moments. The white space.

If the chief end of every human being is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, shouldn’t that glory and enjoyment be able to happen when no one is looking? Within the times when we don’t seem to be influencing the world at all, the moments when we pour ourselves out at Jesus’ feet?

Great kingdom impact comes not just from actions that make a dramatic and observable impact but from all the accumulated moments we spend looking at God, bringing Him glory in private, and letting Him shape our insides.

We aren’t forfeiting outward impact for private devotion to God. We are submitting to the understanding that life in God isn’t about God’s needing us to do His work for Him or to do it under our own power. It is instead about a glory we can’t always measure. It is the work that happens beneath the surface, deep in the soil of our hearts, that in time produces a great harvest of fruit and growth.

Listen to Sara Hagerty on FamilyLife Today® as she talks about what it means to live a life that is seemingly unnoticed.

Our culture applauds what we can produce, what we can show, what we can upload to social media. Yet the majority of what goes on in our lives is unwitnessed. We spend our days working, driving, parenting. We sometimes spend whole seasons feeling unnoticed and unappreciated. So how do we find contentment when we feel so hidden? In Sara’s book, Unseen, she suggests that this is exactly what God intended. Order the book to learn that when this truth seeps into our souls, we realize that only when we hide ourselves in God can we give ourselves to others in true freedom—and know the joy of a deeper relationship with the God who sees us.

Adapted from Unseen by Sara Hagerty. Copyright © 2017 by Sara Hagerty. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.