It’s been an odd, minor thing to get used to, but we’ve tried to have fun with it as well. For instance, we hold regular rounds of what we now call “Guess the Face.” Basically, while wearing our masks, we have to try to guess if the other is smiling or not by looking in their eyes. I know, I know, we’re the coolest ever and this game sounds amazing and you can’t wait to try it yourself. It’s groundbreaking, really.
It is interesting though, because wearing masks kind of forces us to look each other in the eye. And that can be a powerful thing.
Yet it’s often something I avoid. I might be sitting at a red light, and avoid making eye contact with the person standing on the side of the road with a sign. I don’t have any cash, and I don’t want to mislead them into thinking that I do. Or I’m rushing through my errands and just want to be finished and get home, so I avoid eye contact with the people I pass in the aisle or the person helping me in the checkout line. No need for conversation and thank goodness for the stores with self-checkout. Or maybe I’ve done or said something that hurt Brad, and I avoid looking him in the eye. Doing so would mean acknowledging the hurt and pain that I caused, and I’m not ready for that.
Sometimes it’s easier to stay in our own little bubbles of comfort and assumption. And sometimes, we’re forced out of those bubbles.
Not too long ago, I found myself in the drive-thru line at Chic-Fil-A. It was packed with cars, I was in a bad mood after a frustrating day and all I wanted was my number three 8-count with a cherry coke. I placed my order with the friendly employee and pulled forward. Not too far back, the line had split in two, and I was approaching the part where the two lines would merge together once again. Typically one car from one line moves forward, then a car from the other line, and so on and so forth, each line taking turns. But when it was my turn to join the one line, a car from the other side kept pulling forward. It was NOT their turn. Road rage full on bubbled up inside me. I started voicing my frustration out loud, all while I tried to inch my way forward to keep MY place in line before this other car took it. In a split second, this particular car had become my worst enemy.
The car kept moving forward and I kept getting angrier. And then, it fully rounded the corner and I inadvertently made eye contact with the driver. And in that moment, my heart dropped to my stomach.
The eye contact meant that this wasn’t just about a car anymore. She was a person. I could see the confusion in her eyes and I’m positive she could see the anger in mine. She waved me on, urging me to go in front of her, and I did the same. In the end, I sheepishly pulled forward. I felt awful. Before I made eye contact, I assumed she was a pushy, selfish driver who wanted her food as fast as she could get it. But when I looked her in the eye, I realized the person I assumed her to be, was actually the person I was. I saw that she genuinely wasn’t sure or familiar with how this worked, and I was anything but gracious toward her. All because of a few chicken nuggets.
In her book, Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown wrote, “People are hard to hate close up.” And she’s right. I mean, of course she’s right - she’s Brene Brown. When we keep our distance, it’s easier for others to remain an obstacle, a statistic, a label, a commodity, a threat, or a headline. We can ignore their stories, the fact that they’re nuanced and layered. Keeping them at arms length allows us to overlook who they are - daughters and sons, children of God.
But something happens when we look someone in the eye. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge their humanity, their personhood, the Image of God within them.
When we read in Genesis about God creating humanity in God’s image, that detail is not reserved for one particular group of people who look alike, talk alike, think alike or live nearby . It’s a detail that applies to each and every unique, imperfect individual, and it makes each and every one of us worthy of a closer look.
In Genesis 16, we read the story of Hagar, slave to Abram and Sarai. Hagar was used, mistreated, and fled to the desert while pregnant with Abram’s son. While in the desert, God finds her and listens to her and comforts her. And after that experience with the Living God, she calls God, “The One Who Sees Me.” An overlooked, disregarded person was noticed and known and fully seen by her Creator. It’s one of my favorite characteristics of God.
In Jesus, we see that characteristic personified over and over again. Jesus reaching out to the unclean. Jesus breaking bread with the tax collector. Jesus making time for the lowly. Jesus forgiving the worst of the sinners. Jesus conversing with the so-called enemy. Jesus calling the unqualified. Story after story, account after account, of Jesus truly seeing each individual and pulling up a seat for them at the table. The same table where we belong. And I have to believe that each interaction began with a closer look, maybe even a look in the eye.
We are seen. We are known. We are loved. And in response, we are called to follow Jesus’ example. To be reminders of the God Who Sees. So how might we take a closer look?
We might literally look a stranger in the eye and recognize their worth as a person
We assume the best in people, instead of the worst
We seek to understand before completely writing someone off
We recognize that differences often add value, but there also might be more in common than we originally thought at first glance.
We take the time to learn someone’s story and how they’ve been shaped, because listening is a great place to start.
We acknowledge that the name and tiny photo online belong to a real-live human being, and making them feel small isn’t a good goal.
We try our best to see others the way God sees them, the way God sees you, the way God sees me. With compassion, patience, grace, and hope. As valued, loved, dignified, and known.
Today, may we remember that we are seen, and that we are called to take a closer look. To look for the Image of God in each person we come across, and treat them accordingly. And may we always keep our eyes on the One Who Sees.