Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Power of Facial Expressions

Have you ever stopped to think what a blessing, what a God-given gift, is the ability to express our emotions in facial expressions?

Reader’s Digest had an article about ‘smiling’ in its May edition entitled “The Power of the Smile”.
The article said that “while some people are born with happier temperaments, which set them up for success, others can become happier by being taught how to cultivate a genuine smile.”
University of Wisconsin neuroscientist discovered that ”Putting on a happy face not only helps us make friends, it translates into altered brain chemistry that makes us feel better.”

Many years ago I watch a documentary by David Suzuki. It was fascinating and I never forgot it.
The program followed the study of the relationship between facial expressions and emotions.
The specific question explored was how do babies learn to respond with appropriate emotions to life’s circumstances?
I think we have all observed the intense concentration with which a baby studies his mother’s face. It is much more than just an adoring gaze; the baby is learning how to do life!
The study had mothers with a scowl on their face engage their baby’s eyes. It did not take long for the baby to scrunch up its face and begin to howl. On the contrary if a mother’s smiling face was the object of her baby’s gaze, the child responded with a happy baby grin and delighted cooing.
The theory was that babies learn to connect emotions with the situation at hand by observing their mother’s facial reactions, then ‘copy and paste’ their mother’s expression to their own faces which allows them to actually ‘feel’ what their mother is feeling.
To test this theory, they did another experiment.
They put adults in a small room by themselves in front of a mirror. The adult was instructed to put on an angry expression and hold it for five minutes staring at themselves in the mirror.
The surprising conclusion was that very few could hold the expression for as long as five minutes. They were all shocked at the strength of the emotion that rose within them, even though they had no reason to be angry.
The opposite also held true. Those who stared at their smiling reflection found that corresponding happy emotions bubbled up within them.
The conclusion was that babies do learn how to respond to life by watching the facial expressions of their caregivers.
Did you ever wonder why , when you were already having a bad day , your baby or toddler would chose that time to be difficult? Had you looked at yourself in the mirror you would have had your answer.

It always gives me a satisfied ‘could have told you so’ feeling when science after a great deal of invested time, energy and money comes up with the answer they could have had simply by reading God’s word.
Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”
If two people interact and one person’s face has an angry expression it will ‘sharpen’ the other’s countenance into a like expression. Or a happy countenance will encourage the response of a happy expression.

Prov.15:13 declares that emotions ARE directly connected to facial expressions. “A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance.“
How many times have you suddenly felt foolish realising that thinking some very happy thoughts had caused you to walk down the street with a silly grin on your face?!? And you only became aware of it when you wondered why everyone you passed smiled at you!!

While we recognize that facial expressions are vital to our emotional connection and communication with one another….we often do not follow the implications so far as to recognize that the same principles holds true in our spiritual relationship with God.

How you ‘see’ God’s face will result in how you ‘feel’ in your relationship with Him.

Prov. 16:15 says, “In the light of the king’s face is life!” In ancient royal courts when the King’s whim was the law, I’m sure there was great motivation to search out the King’s expressions. When the King was smiling everyone smiled in relief; their life was spared – at least for the time being!!
We do not have to 'guess' at what mood our God is in today and it is in our God’s loving gaze upon us that we find ‘life’.

Because we are prevented from physically seeing God’s face we don’t naturally translate God’s emotions into facial expressions. Think for example of God’s wrath. Have you ever tried to imagine how that would ‘look’ as an expression on His face?

King David knew. “They perish at the rebuke of Your countenance. “ (Psalm 80:16) Simply seeing God’s expression of wrath is terrifying enough to cause people to perish.

I am so thankful that God declares Himself a God of love to His children. We need not fear our Heavenly Father, but with the confidence of a child can look into His face, learning to be like Him.
Does simply observing Him cause us to feel ‘like emotions’ and consequently right actions?
It appears that it does according to I Cor.3:18 “But we all with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

So often we try to be ‘good’ by our own efforts and how difficult we find that to be ! God ‘knowing we are but dust, and pitying us as a father pities his children' (Psalm 103:14) has given us an easier way.
Study God’s ‘face’ or character, and you will become what you are looking at.

King David learned, as God’s child, that “Mercy and truth go before Your face, blessed are the people…….who walk, O Lord, in the light of Your countenance”. (Prov.89:14,15)
David, looking into God’s face , saw His goodness and responded in kind. “There are many who say, ‘Who will show us any good?’ Lord, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us . You have put gladness in my heart!” (Psalm 4:6)

Is it not easy to be good when you are with someone who is Good, whose facial expression is one of approval and love?
How can we not respond with joy in our heart when we look into the face of our loving heavenly Father? “You have made him exceedingly glad with Your countenance.” (Psalm 21:6)

In that glorious moment when we first look into Jesus’ face and see displayed there all the expression of His character….will He be just like we learned to know Him?
And will He be able to look back at us and see that we have truly become like Him?

Rev. 1:16 “ He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength!”


Lovella said...

well you are a smiley person Julie, I can testify to that.

It is so amazing at how detailed God made us, and we don't even most days stop to realize it.
I'm heading to look in the mirror.

. . .smiling

Thoughts on Life and Millinery. said...

After losing the ability to move one side of my face for a few weeks, and having each smile become a twisted grimace, let me assure you that smiling is a very precious gift. I missed having people smile back at me when I happily "smiled" wrong. And I encourage everyone to take pictures with sincere scowls or neutral expression and then a fake smile. A fake smile is still better looking than a neutral expression or a scowl. Sometimes vanity CAN be a good thing if it encourages people to smile.