Think with me for a moment and imagine… In your life, who have you known to have kind eyes toward you? Whose face and eyes have been a safe place for you?

Looking back over my early life, the safe eyes that I remember are those of my cat, Garfield. Does that strike you as silly… or sad? It is true, and I think it’s true for many of us.

Why are so many people animal-lovers, so lavish with their pets and truly heartbroken when they die? I believe it’s because our animals offer us attunement when perhaps no human does. They look into our eyes without shame or judgment. They know how we’re feeling, perhaps better than any person. In the best and worst of times they offer to us their simple, but whole presence.

Isn’t this what we all desire? What we’re made for? The presence of another who truly sees us and understands our thoughts and feelings.

This universal human need for connection, attunement, and love is by God’s design. It is woven deep into the fabric of our hearts… indeed, studies have shown that we cannot live without the tender love of another person.

Consider newborn babies. Their development shows how radically God has hard-wired our brains for “face to face”. The entire world of a newborn baby is narrowed to facial expressions and eye contact. As a result, they are intensely in tune to the unspoken messages of their care-givers.

In his book, “How to Really Love your Child,” Dr. Ross Campbell writes, “An infant’s eyes begin focusing somewhere around two to four weeks of age. One of the first images that hold an infant’s attention is a human face, but in particular the baby focuses on the eyes… you will notice that the eyes are always moving and seem to be searching for something… Do you know what the baby is looking for? That’s right: the baby is searching for another set of eyes. As early as two months, the baby’s eyes lock on another set of eyes.”

This very basic need is most clearly seen in babies, however, it is a need of every single person regardless of age.

The need for face to face is a God-given design and furthermore, is essential to what it means to be made in the image of God. Our triune God is in essence a God of relationship. We reflect this quality in our life-sustaining need for relationship.

Our need for face to face is reflective of our need for God himself. We were designed to be face to face with our Creator.

“Shining like the Sun: A Biblical Theology of Meeting God Face to Face”  by (my own brother) David Wenkel is a book that exposits this point.

The book’s thesis is this: “Those who meet God face to face are changed. The face is the essence of a person… that reflects the person’s relationship to God.”

This book goes through God’s progressive revelation of His face and presence beginning in Genesis and ending with the person of Jesus and the full consummation in the New Heaven and New Earth.

I found this to be an enlightening and enriching way of viewing the Biblical narrative. It provided a unified story frame that is applicable and transformative to my own relationship with God.

God’s design and purpose in all of history is relationship with each one of us. The focal point is an intimate relationship of unity, and surrounding that are desire, delight, and love… *for us*!!

The following sections are questions that came up for me as I read David’s book.

What does God experience when he looks into our face?

“So God created man in his own image… and God blessed them… And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” ~ Genesis 1:27,28

When I read these words I have a sense of the sacred, holiness of this moment: God looked into Adam’s face and Eve’s face and he *delighted* in them… He was in awe of his own creation.

We were made for someone to look at us and be delighted.

However, there is a tension, or obstacle here… Evil has come into the picture and through sin has marred and thieved our goodness, beauty and glory. Instead, we are as a leper: sin-sick through and through… and yet, our need for love remains.

Into this impossible tension= our need for life-giving, life-sustaining love… and our total unloveliness (indeed, total depravity) comes a miraculous, stunningly scandalous rescue.

God turned His face away from Jesus so that He would not have to turn away from us. Jesus’s death on the cross means the removal of all sin, stain and shame—for those who receive Him. The total sum of our soul-sickness- past, present and future- was transferred from us to Jesus. He bore our sin, and paid for it with his death, and then he rose from the grave- conquering Evil, sin, and death! *For us*!!

Jesus said, “It is finished!” and “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  With the just satisfaction of God’s wrath, He now looks at his own with the same eyes of love he has toward His Son: “This is {Catherine} in whom I am well pleased.”  {Call upon the name of the Lord, and insert your own name!!}

This is the Gospel= we are loved when we are most unlovable. God’s face is toward us. His eyes are locked on us in love.

 “Let me see your face. It is lovely.”   (Songs 2)

Because of Jesus, this is now God’s voice to his own: Desire. Delight. Love. *For us*!!

Why are we changed from “face to face” encounters?

When Ryan and I were in premarital counseling, this one point was engraved deeply in my mind: “The feeling of being listened to is the *same feeling* as feeling loved… A person will feel loved in proportion to the extent they feel seen and heard.” 

Seeing and listening is the essence of love.

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is described as “love”… AND the first name he was given was “El Roi”… The God who Sees.

This is an earth-shattering truth. Let that reverberate in your mind and body: We are changed by face to face encounters because this is the purest channel of love.

And HOW are we changed?

We are changed BY love TO love. We are able to love because we’ve been loved.

 “We love him, because he first loved us.” – 1 John 4:19

This is the pattern.

Ryan’s experience with his counselor, Joel Murphy, is a wonderful example. My husband is a changed man. He is wise beyond what I could have imagined in loving Jeremiah and I with tenderness, grace and truth. I credit his change and growth to his time *face to face* with Joel. Ryan has received love and is able to give love. This is a visible example of the invisible experience we were made to have with God. We can *only give to others what we have first received.*

How do we respond? What is God calling us to?

First, those who know the love of God in their hearts are called to be face of Christ to others. We must not only share the Gospel of God’s grace with our words, but also with our eyes and our face. Otherwise our words are empty and void.

We must realize this: Our face communicates either judgment or blessing to those we interact with.

Are we actually anti-gospel with our eyes and our face?

The good news of Jesus is that we can draw near to God, finding mercy, in our time of need; this means that when we are most “unlovely”, we can look at God, not fearing condemnation… but finding kindness, forgiveness, and welcome… *For us*

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. ~ Romans 15:7

And yet, we punish, judge and shame another just with our *eyes alone*.

Think of your spouse… your children… those you interact with each day… Do your eyes show delight or distain? … Or worse still, do you not see at all? Do you withdraw your eyes and your presence… through escape to the TV, internet, video games… a thousand ways we find to disconnect from what face to face relationship asks of us.

Let me get specific on the range of anti-gospel interactions we have. There are two main categories: First, there are direct actions, and secondly, there are covert ways of withdrawing or withholding love. Both communicate a “conditional love”… instead of love and welcome to the unlovely, there is love available only when the other has earned our regard.

First, there is physical “defacing”- this is the action of slapping across a child’s face, or any person’s face for that matter. Any physical violence to a child’s face or head, no matter how light the force is *child abuse*, and is deeply damaging to a child’s heart. It is an acting out of a desire that most parents will not voice or consciously think: a heart-desire to remove the child’s face from existence. How many people were punished this way as children?

One person I know received blows to his face by both parents throughout his childhood. As an adult he seems to be confident, assured of himself and successful.  But in his private thoughts he struggles to believe that anyone would want to be his friend or enjoy his presence. In his heart he believes that he is unlovable, unworthy, and not good enough. He feels that he is only desirable through performance.

His experience of *conditional love* I believe is a common struggle. Most people have learned a *works-based acceptance* through the actions of their parents, which has been indelibly etched into their hearts.  The actions may be less violent then hitting… but may be a hardness in the eyes or a cold facial expression that communicates anger and judgment.

We may be completely unaware of these mannerisms until we take notice to examine what our eyes and face are doing in our relationships. And because we are not able to see our own face, we must open ourselves up to feedback from those who can see our face.

My four year old prophet-son said to me yesterday, “Mom, I don’t like the look on your face.”  I replied, “I’m so sorry, Jeremiah. Tell me what you see in my face.”  And he said, “You look mean.”  The vulnerability we both had in this moment opened up an invaluable opportunity to connect and repair… for repentance and forgiveness.

There are also covert ways in which we withdraw our eyes, face and presence. Consider the message that banishing a child to a “timeout” communicates: “When you misbehave, you are no longer acceptable to be in my presence. You cannot be face to face with me until you earn it by good behavior.”

For this reason, Ryan and I have been intentional about conducting our discipline of Jeremiah always within the context of relationship. However, I had another very revealing moment just the other day when Jeremiah was shining a flashlight in my eyes, after several requests that he would not do this, I stood up, and said in a huff, “I’m going in another room!” Jeremiah replied, “Don’t leave me!” Again, in that moment, my heart was unveiled by my little Prophet.

Conclusion

Have you experienced what your heart was made for: Have you had a face-to- face encounter with God?

We all need this- if you’ve never had it before, or have been walking with the Lord for many years- we need to be face-to face with God continually.  Like the prodigal, we need to come home every single day.

And like the prodigal, you must come to God with your presence, your heart, and your voice. The promise of welcome, grace and forgiveness is not for those who stand far off… but for those who draw near and actually *talk to God*. To all who *come*, His arms are wide open… and his eyes are full of kindness.

“…God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance…” ~ Romans 2:4

“if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved…  For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” ~ Romans 10:9-10, 13

And then…

Can we search our hearts and ask Jesus to show us how we have been anti-Gospel in our eyes and in our faces toward those nearest to us- our children, our spouses and our closest family?

Can we ask God to give us new eyes… seeing eyes… full of light… and love… grace and mercy… kindness… welcome.

Have you found safety in the eyes of the Living God?

and

Are your eyes a safe place?

 

First of all, I love Jesus. I am a wife to an amazing man, and mother of three: my 5 year old son Jeremiah, 1 year old son Judah, and my daughter, Tirzah, now 3 years, is waiting for me in the gardens of Heaven. I am also a Veterinarian. The goal of my blog: Creating community around an honest journey through the joy and grief of life. Blog Topics: Child loss and grief; Attachment Theory in Parenting; Mental Heatlh; Christian Theology and Ministry; Veterinary Medicine; and Community Stories.

4 Comment on “A Slap in the Face

  1. Pingback: Do you love me? : Every child’s question – delightofmylife

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