I hate face masks! But yes, like you, as a matter of courtesy, kindness and respect, I usually wear them as advised. However, unlike a few other folks I’ve seen around town, I don’t wear a mask when I’m driving my car, walking our dog or kayaking in the middle of a lake. True confession, I’ve even shared several meals and conversations with family and friends, mostly on our deck, and once again I was mask-less.
I have no doubt that in some settings masks are essential and possibly life saving. One of those places may be when our church soon re-gathers. In several states this is not an option, it’s mandatory. My concern is what we are losing in terms of genuine connection. I find that it’s really hard to read a face when most of the face is covered!
Stacy Cornay, the owner of “Communication Concepts,” recently wrote a timely column on the relational challenges of our time. Psychological research has classified six facial expressions that correspond to distinct universal emotions: disgust, sadness, happiness, fear, anger and surprise. Other research estimates that we can make and recognize around 250,000 facial expressions. The verbal component of our face-to-face conversations is less than 35 percent. Up to 65 percent of communication is done nonverbally.
In a recent Zoom call I noted that one of the seven men on screen seemed very unhappy. When I asked him about that later, he said he’s been told that he sometimes comes across as disgusted - but he’s not. He said that he just has trouble seeing the screen!
We all need to put our best face forward. Craig Groeschel recently interviewed Patrick Lencioni, author of a new favorite book of mine, The Motive. Pat shared how his team gave him the feedback that certain facial expressions of his mess up communication. Pat quickly acknowledged that his wife had sometimes said the same thing. He said that his wife called it “The Face” - an expression implying he thought she was stupid.
The faces we make, make a difference! The smiling faces of family and friends warm our hearts. The angry faces we see on the news alarm and frighten us. We generally know how to interpret extreme expressions, but sometimes we struggle with subtle expressions somewhere in between. I once thought that I had seriously offended a leader in our church through a Sunday message, so much so that I called to apologize that afternoon. Larry sat with his arms folded across his chest and seemed very stern and angry throughout the entire sermon. I was really concerned. When I called to connect he was surprised by my concern. He went on to explain that he had deliberately cultivated a poker face so that no one would know what he was thinking. In that case, a mask would have been a definite improvement in the communication process!
Massive misunderstandings will be among the longterm impacts of our current COVID crisis. The lingering damages will be not only financial and political, but relational. How many unmarried people will miss the opportunity to find a mate due to masks? How many kids will feel uncared for because they can’t see an adult smile? How many light shining gospel opportunities will be missed due to canceled lunches? How many strained relationships will never be repaired due to social distancing requirements?
When Jacob and his brother had a blow up, Jacob lived for years assuming that Esau still wanted to kill him. When the day came that their paths finally crossed, Jacob was shocked to discover that his brother was no longer his enemy, but his friend. Jacob said, “And what a relief to see your friendly smile. It is like seeing the face of God.” (Genesis 33:10 - NLT)
Who needs to see your face smiling - and whose smiling face do you long to see? We were hard wired for relationships and simply cannot flourish without them. Talking on the phone or via Zoom may be good, but it’s not ideal. The men I mentor and connect with in groups are longing to be together again face to face. The same is true for our son and his family serving in Okinawa. Distance is more than difficult, it can even be disruptive to family relationships. The Christian faith has always been and will always be rooted in high touch relationships. Those relationships must be intentionally cultivated.
Even the best relationships need to be treasured and tended, and it’s always been that way! “One of the things I always pray for is the opportunity, God willing, to come at last to see you. For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.” (Romans 1:10-12 NLT).
The apostle Paul said it well, and reminded me why I’m looking forward to seeing my friends face to face … soon and very soon!