The LORD looks down from heaven and sees the whole human race. – Psalm 33:13
Seeing the people, He [Jesus] felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. – Matthew 9:36
When was the last time you looked a stranger straight in the eyes? Or even lingered on a friend’s face? When was the last time you looked long enough in someone’s face that you saw her heart or sensed his struggle?
I grew up in the South during a time that everyone made eye contact to wave or say hello. It was unthinkable to look past a person…whether you knew them or not. There was a shared sense of community – a familiarity that brought people close, closer than just their geography.
For many years, we lived in the Arab world. My friends there would coach me as a woman not to be too familiar in encounters outside of family or close friends. I should divert my eyes, or just acknowledge them formally. Making eye contact was just too intimate. This didn’t apply to women, but in public situations, I had begun to change even with them. I just didn’t make eye contact much at all…with anyone I didn’t know. Daily outings, doing errands, were completed with my thoughts elsewhere, pretty much on auto-pilot.
When we came back to the US after the 9/11 attacks, we returned briefly to our old ways of making eye contact, smiling at strangers along our way . This didn’t last long, because we saw more and more people didn’t really look at each other. It was as if a whole country had become more guarded, more isolated. Safety and security mattered more than the common space we shared and the common courtesies that came out of noticing need.
Not wanting to remain in this insular frame of mind returning back to the Arab World, I made the decision to really look at people…really see them, and notice their lives. Those were some of the richest years we spent overseas. It become easy to catch the eye of women, to smile at them, or greet them, or help in some small way. With men, less so…but my encounters with women became much more real and intentional and neighborly.
Back in the US now, I really don’t want to miss people. We are separated by so much – not looking at each other, ear buds in our own private soundtracked worlds. Our cell phones make it so easy to choose to focus on those not in front of us. We can miss that chance encounter – that divine appointment. All our mobile devices, in fact, draw us to news being made by other people, entertainment to fill our times in between, and fantasy worlds of smiling people on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat (or whatever will come next). People (some real friends, some not) whose lives we try to match with our own. It makes me tired.
Resolved – to see people as Jesus saw them. To not be so distracted that I miss in-the-moment opportunities to serve or encourage others. To learn from them. People I may never see again. People who won’t necessarily give anything back except that momentary shared community. Oh, and the possibility of seeing them through the eyes of God…wow!
Many, many times, people have come to my aid…as if they were angels in disguise…through whom I’ve known the mercy of God. If they only knew how often they were a hand-up for me, a rope to hold onto, a real friend, even for a moment. They make me ambitious to be like them…to see the need…to notice those around me…whether it be another stranger…or a friend…and to be aware enough to respond.
I am resolved to put my phone away and to look up…to see your face…to listen for what’s really going on…and to respond with kindness. I am resolved.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about for awhile – this whole attending thing. Then a song came up on the radio by the Sidewalk Prophets entitled Save My Life, and my resolve was fueled. I’ve posted the lyrics below (and the links to the YouTube videos).
Save My Life by Sidewalk Prophets from Live Like That Album
We’ve met half a dozen times
I know your name I know you don’t know mine
But I won’t hold that against you
You come here every Friday night
I take your order and try to be polite
And hide what I’ve been going through
If you looked me right in the eye
Would you see the pain deep inside
Would you take the time to
Tell me what I need to hear
Tell me that I’m not forgotten
Show me there’s a God
Who can be more than all I’ve ever wanted
‘Cause right now I need a little hope
I need to know that I’m not alone
Maybe God is calling you tonight
To tell me something
That might save my life
I’m the pastor at your church
For all these years you’ve listened to my words
You think I know all the answers
But I’ve got doubts and questions too
Behind this smile I’m really just like you
Afraid and tired and insecure
If you look me right in the eye
Would you see the real me inside
Would you take the time to
Save my life
I am just like everyone
Jesus, I need You, I need Your Love
To save my life*