As Shakespeare once penned, the eyes are the window to the soul. Earlier still, the Bible calls the eyes the lamp of the body in Matthew 6:22-23. Our inner man peers out through our eyes, revealing the light we claim to walk in. When darkness clouds our vision, dimming the light, those who hold our gaze will see and feel its effects.
Have you ever been in a store or at an event and run into someone that you, for some reason, didn’t want to see or talk to? Perhaps you were in a hurry and knew they would talk your ear off and simply didn’t have time. Maybe there was unresolved relational pain that caused you to bolt the other way.
Have you ever dismissed your kids to their rooms out of frustration because you didn’t want to look at them at that moment?
What we place out of sight is easier to keep out of our minds.
We humans often avoid eye contact because the eyes reveal what is truly in someone’s heart toward us, and we are afraid to behold it; to confront any truth in it. We wiggle in discomfort. More often than not, it is a perceived assumption, not a reality, allowing fear to hold us back from entering in. At other times, our gaze becomes a weapon of punishment, not a gift of love. Through the simple gesture of holding or refusing someone’s gaze, we either coldly keep others at a distance or warmly welcome them into our lives.
I know at times of great embarrassment, I have walked with my head low, averting my gaze, as a means of protecting myself from piercing glances or eyes of laughter and scorn. When I am nervous in front of people, I look over their heads to a fixed point as not to be distracted by feelings revealed through the eyes. My insecurity hinders me from connecting with others on a deeper level. As a defense mechanism, we convince ourselves that if we can’t see it, it can’t hurt us.
The act of looking into the eyes of another, unashamed of what resides behind the gaze, is a gift of love. Especially for children, holding their eyes says we see and value them. Looking away says we are ashamed to look at them and don’t find beauty in their existence.
Yes, holding someone’s gaze is intimate and revealing, creating relationship through seeing and knowing. Viewing the world through their eyes without judgment is a godly kind of love.
A Gaze in Scripture
One of my favorite passages in Scripture is found in Genesis 16:13 (ESV):
“So, she (Hagar) called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”
If you are unfamiliar with this story, Hagar was the mistress of Abraham, who was married to Sarah. Abraham and Sarah had been promised an heir, but they were reaching centenarian status and had lost faith in God’s promise, so Sarah decided to take matters into her own hands…or rather, place her husband in the hands of another. Hagar became pregnant with Abraham’s child and the Bible records that Sarah saw contempt in Hagar’s eyes. Whether that was perceived, spurned by her own jealousy, or accurate of what was in Hagar’s heart, we don’t know. But the situation grew so tense that Hagar fled, feeling outcast and alone.
In her isolation, ready to die, an angel visited Hagar and assured her God still had plans for her and her son, regardless of the situation with Abraham and Sarah. In that moment, her eyes were enlightened to who God truly is and she called Him, El Roi, the God who sees. What a beautiful description of God’s awareness and love for us. He sees us as we are and invites us in.
Seeing people as God sees is one of the most powerful demonstrations of Christ-like love. Just as He saw Hagar, looking past her sin, so we must behold, through eyes of love, who people are and not what they have done. We shouldn’t be afraid to hold the gaze long enough for a clear understanding of exchange to occur. This is the way of love.
This is the gift of holding the gaze.
Terri Prahl is a Christian writer who is passionate about helping other believers make every effort to grow in their understanding of Scripture and pursue Christ in practical living. She was recently published in a collaborative book, Life, Repurposed, where she shared her story of infant loss and restored faith through sorrow. Terri is an introverted soul who loves mentoring young adult women in their faith, meandering antique malls, decorating her home on a budget, reading, and processing life through writing. She lives in the beauty of the Ozarks with her husband of 27 years and young adult daughter. You can find her writing and applying the truths of Scripture to daily living on her blog @terriprahl.com.
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