As a shy child, I found it difficult to look people in the eye. Even as I got older, it was challenging, but little by little I got better at it.
When I started taking public speaking and communication classes in high school and college, I discovered just how much of a connection there is when you make eye contact with someone, and how looking them in the eye is a way to acknowledge their presence as a person.
I also discovered the powerful message it can send to a person when you don’t acknowledge someone’s presence.
I learned from experience.
I remember walking into a colleague’s office one day years ago to ask him a question. He never even turned around from his computer to look at me. Do you know what that’s like? It’s not even that he didn’t stop what he was doing; it’s that he didn’t even look at me. This happened repeatedly, not just with this individual, but with others.
That’s why, when I started teaching my own public speaking and communication classes, I very intentionally taught students to stop and look. Stop and look when someone walks into the room. Stop and look at the people sitting in your audience. Stop and look when someone starts talking to you.
Stop and look and acknowledge their presence.
This simple act of “stopping and looking” lets people know that they matter.
In Mark 10, a young man comes running up to Jesus, kneels down, and asks Jesus what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus starts listing some of the commandments. The young man declares that he has done all that. And that’s when “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” Another translation says, “Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him.”
Jesus saw past the external question of how to inherit eternal life and into the depths of this young man’s heart. He saw what was getting in the way of this man following Him. He saw the conflict waging in this man’s soul. He saw past the signs of wealth and status. And He looked at him with love. Not scorn. Not disgust. Love.
But this isn’t the only man Jesus looked at and loved. Jesus reached out to the unclean leper and touched him with healing fingers. Jesus placed His hands on the blind man’s broken eyes. He saw crafty Zacchaeus sitting in the tree and called out to him by name. He saw the poor widow place her meager coins in the offering plate.
Jesus saw them all–all the hurt, lonely, ostracized people whom others ignored. And He looked at them with love.
Stop, Look, and Love
I try my best to follow Christ’s example. I don’t want to overlook those on the sidelines or who might otherwise go ignored.
To be honest, too many times, this means my children. I don’t always want to stop what I’m doing to hear what they have to say. And while there are definitely moments when I need to get work done, the majority of the time, it’s something that I can easily set aside so I can give them my full attention, my presence. I can look them in the eye and show them how much I love them.
I’ve been working on this for awhile now. It’s a process of letting Jesus do His work in my heart so I can love others like He does.
Our “looks” (or lack of them) say a lot. Who else might be getting the message that they don’t matter? Who can we be sure to “look” at and “love” this week?