I learned at a young age to judge the emotional temperature of a person by the look on their face. If my mom’s face looked sad I braced myself for an emotional outburst. If my mom’s boyfriend looked angry I looked for an escape route. If my mom was smiling as she sang along with Stevie Ray Vaughn then I knew it was safe.
I think the face of a person communicates a lot about where that person is at emotionally and I also think the face of a person indicates a lot about how safe it is to be in their presence. This probably isn’t always the case because looks can be deceiving but I know I’ve been deeply affected in my emotional development by the faces of people who were responsible for my care and growth as a man.
This thought process leads me introspectively too. In other words, it’s not just important for me to identify how I’ve been developed by the external emotional processes of others who cared for me. It’s vitally important for me to think about the emotional presence I bring into the relational spaces of my life. What does my face convey about how I’m doing emotionally? And what kind of impact does my emotional presence make on others?
Do I convey anger that causes people to shy away from me? Do I convey sadness that causes others to feel uneasy? Do I convey superiority that causes others to shrink in my presence? Do I convey peace that brings a sense of calm to others? Do I convey care and concern that helps others to feel welcome? Do I convey annoyance that causes others to feel belittled or devalued?
I know that at the end of the day, their are times when a stern look or a sober look or a serious look or even an angry look are warranted and beneficial. But I must confess that I don’t struggle with allowing my face to convey those looks. Just ask my wife and kids. I wear my emotions on my face. In other words, these are my go-to default facial expressions. Batman’s Joker saying: “Why so serious?” or the Hulk saying: “I’m always angry!” are much closer to my mode of operating.
And so I must intentionally regulate the emotions that produce these facial expressions for the appropriate times. And not in a contrived sort of a way either. I’m not interested in the plastic smile. I’m also not as concerned here, right now, with dealing with the: “When is the appropriate time?” kind of question. That’s for another day.
I’m more concerned right now with the how. How do I regulate my emotions in a way that produces facial expressions that bring an emotional presence of healing and wholeness into the relational spaces of my life?
Insert Psalm 67 into this. The Psalmist makes this short statement in verse one: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.”
This got me to thinking about my rhythms of relational space with my Heavenly Father and I began to ask this question: “What face do I imagine the Lord has on when I enter into his presence?” How often am I prone to project my earthly parental image onto my Heavenly Father? More often than I realize.
It’s much easier for me to view God’s face upon me in a look of disgust or frustration or anger or annoyance. What does this do to my emotions then? What if I began to see my Heavenly Father as someone who is infinitely in love with me because of Christ’s work at the cross? What if I could begin to really hang onto a picture of my Heavenly Father with a facial expression of peace in the midst of my storms? Care in the midst of my suffering? Joy in the midst of my depression? Firm concern and disciplinary care in the midst of my failures?
If I began there, with spending time in the presence of my Heavenly Father, with his face shining upon me in love, joy and care, I believe it would radically change the kind of emotional presence my face brings into my earthly relational spaces. Maybe then… my face would convey the saving power of the Lord’s presence among the furthest regions of relational connection.
So while looks can be deceiving… my face is also like a mirror that images the emotional presence within me. And the question is… whose emotional presence am I connecting my face to?