In 1997, a researcher named Arthur Aron made two complete strangers fall in love in a laboratory in Berkley, California in 90 minutes. He used no tricks, had no sophisticated pairing algorithm, no alcohol or drugs were used, and the subjects did not even share a meal. His secret? He simply sat his subjects down across a table from each other and gave them 36 questions to ask each other. The questions were designed to gradually become more intense, with each question requiring an increase in vulnerability. Then, the subjects ended their session by staring directly into each other’s eyes for 4 minutes without saying a word. That’s it.
Two of his subjects ended up getting married.
Why? Dr. Aron’s theory is that there is a connection between behaving relationally close and feeling relationally close. So, if you want to get close to someone, you have to act the way you want to feel.
I was reminded of Dr. Aron’s study when I recently read a famous passage in Acts 3 of Peter and the beggar at the gate called Beautiful. Having grown up in Sunday school, I have burned into my mind the phrase, “silver and gold have I not…”. But what jumped out to me this time were the three preceding verses. You have this poor man who cannot walk begging outside the temple. He sees Peter and John coming to the temple, asks them for money, but isn’t making eye contact with them. Peter and John have to literally say to the man in verse 4, “look at us”.
How broken this man must have been.
Eye contact is profoundly powerful. The first social interactions that all of us had involved no words, only sounds and faces. Psychologists disagree on the exact percentage of communication that is non-verbal, but they all agree that the number is above 50%. For this man to not even have the ability within himself to look his fellow man in the face is profoundly sad.
And yet what is convicting about this passage for me personally is how Peter and John react to this man. Because they do not just offer him healing, they also offer him dignity. They look him in the eye and say, “I don’t have money, but how would you like to walk?”
It’s so easy to walk through our world and turn a blind eye to the pain. To not ask questions of the hurting. To avert our gaze in the presence of injustice. To avoid problems and conversations that have no easy answers. And yet it is often those very problems and conversations that our world needs the people of God to wade into the most. But if we won’t relationally and lovingly engage broken people, we will sacrifice the relational platform the miraculous power of God requires.
Maybe the reason this story has been personally convicting for me is that I’m an introvert. I’m quiet, new people can make me uncomfortable, and so averting your gaze can become a self-protective habit for people like me. But I also want to be a follower of Jesus that loves the people in my community the way God loves the people in my community. I think I have some distance to travel on that journey, and maybe you do too. If that’s the case, Dr. Aron’s research gives us the first step on that journey. Let’s be a church that looks our neighbors in the eye and moves towards the hurting and broken. Let’s be a church that acts the way we want to feel.
Tony Lutyk is the Campus Pastor at The Life Church Manassas. He’s an excellent leader and communicator who has a talent for throwing in some wit and humor when he preaches. He’s passionate about God’s Word, seeing people reach their full potential in Christ, and he misses hockey more than he can adequately express.
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