The glass mirror as we know it today is only about 200 or so years old. For most of human history it was only in still water where one could see what one ‘looked’ like. Which begs the question: at any moment, do you know what you ‘look’ like? Not identifying features such as the shape of your nose or color of your eyes … but do you know what you ‘look’ like to others? When others see your face, do they want to approach you or avoid you? When others see your face, do they feel welcomed and loved or not so much? When God looks at you, does He see His own Light reflected back? Heidi Lepper Barrett explores these questions and more below.
Hello again! Thank you for following along with my blogposts. This one will be a bit more technical than the last few so please be patient as I try to explain in writing what I can more easily do in person. For now stick Proverbs 27:19 in your back pocket: “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects man.”
In biblical times, a still puddle, stream, lake or sea was about the only way most could see what they looked like. Sure ancient Egyptians did use metals to make mirrors, but I will guess those were only for the richest of rich. The glass mirror as you know it today is only about 200 or so years old. For most of human history it was only in still water where one could see what one ‘looked’ like.
Which begs the question: at any moment, do you know what you ‘look’ like?
Sure you know your identifying features, the shape of your nose, the color of your eyes, where a new w
wrinkle has crept in and so forth. But that is not what I am asking. Do you know what you ‘look’ like? When others see your face, do they want to approach you or avoid you? When others see your face, do they feel welcomed and loved or not so much? When God looks at you, does He see His own Light reflected back? For most of us, in our days of stress and strain, to-do lists, sleep deprivation and perfectionistic strivings, we do not often wholly welcome others to us or reflect God’s light through our face, our voice nor our body. But there is so much hope! We have wonderfully plastic brains even into old age and are always able to learn a new way. And part of this hope and learning lies in your mirror at home, the mirror in your car, or even in the reverse camera on your phone.
For all of human history, in face to face interactions a few things have been occurring between self and other. We are constantly exchanging social information about who we are, what we are feeling, what we are doing or perhaps going to do and so forth. While we will never be privy to what another is thinking and we are not mind readers what one’s face is expressing gives us a hint of what the inner thought might be. Within all humans there exists a constant interplay of thoughts and feelings that automatically get expressed on our faces, in our voices, in our postures, in our touches, in our use of space and so forth. In the realm of psychology we call these expressions ‘nonverbal behavior.’
No matter the channel of nonverbal behavior — face, voice, body, etc. — one of four communications is occurring from self to other:
1. That we are approachable,
2. that we are to be avoided,
3. that we are approaching,
4. or that we are avoiding.
In my face, my voice, my posture and so forth, I communicate that you may approach me or that you need to avoid me, or that I am approaching you or avoiding you. This begs the question: are you aware of what you are communicating or expressing? In a given moment are you aware of what your face, voice, body are expressing to the other? Jesus said “out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). And out of the fullness of the heart the face expresses, the body moves and the voice sounds. What is in your heart in any given moment will be felt by the other. Is it what you are intending to express or have you perhaps wrapped up something else into your behavior that has little to do with the other? Think of MIRROR: My inner responses reflect on relationships. Your inner responses reflect on relationships. What is going on inside is written onto you as a reflection and the other receives that reflection and then responds.
Do I know that when I wake up tired and cranky my family may not hear a sweet lilt to my voice and soft expression on my face and so they respond to me with their own crankiness? Do I know that when someone says something unkind to me I can become deep in thought about it and not respond to another person with a loving face? Am I aware of how scary I look when I am mad? Do I roll my eyes with disgust when someone says something I find disgusting? Do I appreciate fully just how far eye contact and a smile can go to letting someone know that I accept them?
The paradox is that we do not naturally see our own faces … nor do we even really see our own bodies. And because we do not naturally see our own faces we can only have feedback cues from the underlying musculature and resultant tension or relaxation – if we are skilled enough at being aware of it that is. As well as from how others respond to us – again if we are skilled enough at being aware of others around us and non-defensive to their inquiries. Have you ever contemplated that you cannot do that and neither can any other human. You hopefully know your inside but cannot naturally see your outside. Others can see your outside but cannot naturally see your inside. God is the only One who can see both your inside and your outside simultaneously and He absolutely does so without any bias whatsoever! Simply put, we will need a physical mirror to see what others and God sees on our outsides and you will have to be honest with yourself about what might be going on on the inside.
Mirrors themselves so long as they are untarnished or broken are unbiased reflections of what is before it. Mirrors do not and cannot lie. Before we proceed: You are beautiful just as you are. Pimples, dark circles, wrinkles, scars, freckles, all of it. Beautiful! Collectively, can we agree to limit the judgments about ‘how’ we look? And move instead to use our mirrors to help provide us with feedback on what we are expressing to the world but uncovering what thoughts we may be having and feelings we might be feeling. Can we use our mirrors to be constructive and healthy in our relationships rather than destructive and unhealthy?
When we note our faces in the mirror, we gain awareness of ourselves and how and what others might feel when they see our face. Is our face holding negative tension, is it looking angry or disgusted, does it look stressed and scared, is it showing relaxation and peace? Outside of beauty and age markers, rarely are we taught to ‘see’ what others see. And even further, we often defend ourselves when someone says ‘you don’t look alright, what is going on?’ (Think of your most common inner response back to that question: is it a loving, curious response or a defensive one?)
To increase inner and outer awareness, get an erasable marker and mark up your mirror at home. Write on it My Inner Responses Reflect on Relationships. Use it to check in with yourself several times a day and most especially when you are aware that you are feeling something. But also when you know you have not had enough sleep because you likely show an angry, sad or disgusted expression. And you likely have inner thoughts that are supporting this face. For example, you might be sad that your life is so tiring, you might be angry your dog woke you up and you couldn’t go back to sleep, you might be disgusted with yourself for not being more organized and getting to bed earlier.
Go to your mirror. Look. Do not judge. Just look. What do you see? Is there tension anywhere? Around your mouth, between your eyebrows, corners of your eyes? If you are uncertain, then move your face in all sorts of shapes and form to get the sensation and see the movement. Glare. Show fear. Smile. Pout. What do those expressions do to your face? Which expressions look approachable? Which do not? Are you desiring to approach or avoid others? How come? What might your inner thoughts be? When we are in a negative state we avoid those things that call out our awareness so its very unlikely you really know what you look like when you are upset, mad, disgusted, sad and so forth. Physical tension held in the brow, the eyes or around the mouth is almost universally perceived as less approachable than a relaxed face or one with an upturned expression because it suggests one is likely to move in a negative way. Humans universally approach someone perceived as more open than someone closed. Think of a metal spring. It is wound tight and is ready to move when released due to its physical tension! Remember my earlier blog about emotion and how it creates motion? What motion is your face suggesting to another it is going to do? Will that other person be harmed or helped, loved or unloved, judged or accepted?
How might prayer be helpful in this new learning? Is it possible to ask the Holy Spirit to help you right then and there bring you the Gifts of understanding, knowledge and so forth. Can you relax those areas of tension in your face? Might you ask for help in being filled up with Divine Light so that you can shine forth in a new way so that your relationships are happier, healthier, and more whole? After all it is written (James 1:23-25) “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.”
To live out the Gospel with intention is to be transformed inside and out, to be open to movement and change, to be universally approachable and loving in both word and in expression.My inner responses reflect on relationships.