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Put on a Good Face and Follow Its Lead

One of the many attributes I love about my daughter is I never have to guess what she’s thinking. She has no problem letting me know—either through what she says (and how she says it) or by the look on her face.

Some people have told me, on the other hand, they don’t always know what I’m thinking, because “they can’t read me.” Maybe that’s a good quality at a poker table but not at the dining room table.

As a pastor I have developed a particular facial expression I like to refer to as “pastoral concern,” but those close to me call it “emotional dullness.” Whatever one calls it, I like that facial expression, because people can tell me anything—literally—and I don’t appear shocked. Good news, bad news, horrible news? I can make my facial expression appear interested, calm, and pensive. At least that’s what I thought I was doing. I didn’t realize that what others saw was disengaged, disinterested, and distant.

I need to be more like my daughter.

Here’s what I’m learning: I can change. And so can you. Not long ago, I read about a study conducted by a German team of psychologists on emotion and facial expression. They had a group of subjects look at a cartoon while either holding a pen between their lips (which made it difficult to smile) or clenching a pen between their teeth (which forced them to smile). What they discovered is that the people who clenched a pen between their teeth found the cartoons much funnier. The results may seem hard to believe, because we assume the emotion comes first, then the facial expression.

Most of us think our facial expressions are the residue of emotions, and they often are. But what the research showed is that the process also works in the opposite direction. Emotion can begin on the face and travel to the heart. As Malcolm Gladwell writes, “The face is not a secondary billboard for our internal feelings. It is an equal partner in the emotional process” (Blink, 208).

If someone says to me, “You need to learn how to smile more,” they actually are more right than they realize. The good news is, I can learn this, and in so doing my emotions will follow.

The Apostle Paul tells us to dwell on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). We can choose which road our minds travel. And we can choose the path to healthier emotions. Often is the case that our faces will lead the way.

Write Your Own Story, By The Grace And Power Of Jesus Christ

When you find yourself facedown on the arena floor, what do you do—blame, claim or re-frame? At some point in your life you have had, or will have, a major setback, fall, or disappointment. You can do your best to live a sheltered life with the hope of avoiding any such displeasure, but a shielded life is an empty life. Rather than the balloon popping all at once, a sheltered life is a balloon with a slow leak, but both lead to an empty balloon.

We live in a culture of blame. “It’s not my fault. I’m the victim.” When things go awry, we try to make sense of what’s happening, and we tell ourselves a story of blame in order to self-protect. “If only this person hadn’t done that, decided this, acted this way, spoke to me that way, then all of this wouldn’t have happened.” If we play the blame game, we will never grow. Growth often comes through pain and a willingness to learn from that pain rather than deny it, numb it, or run from it. To grow from pain, we have to go through pain. There is no shortcut to physical, emotional or spiritual health. Jesus had to go through the cross in order to be seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

The opposite of blame is claim. While we should claim responsibility for our choices, attitudes, and actions, we tend to swing the pendulum too far and claim things beyond our scope of ownership. I’ll be honest with you—I beat myself up far more than anyone else ever could. When I’m facedown in the arena, my default mode is not to blame others but to claim responsibility for things beyond my control. I continue to learn the hard lesson of owning my decisions and letting others own theirs.

When you find yourself facedown on the arena floor, the best way to rise up, dust off, and move forward is re-framing. Don’t blame others for all that happened, but don’t claim that which doesn’t belong to you. Have the courage to face reality and frame a future based on God’s grace and transformative power. Re-frame your story through the lens of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: Act I—Adventure of life in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), Act II—Facedown in the arena (Romans 3:23), Act III—Redemption (Ephesians 1:7), Act IV—Moving forward (Romans 6:4).

Don’t spend your life being defined by or denying your facedown moment, whether that be divorce, loss of a job, financial ruin, or a church split. That’s not the end of the story. That’s Act II, but there’s more to come after Intermission.

Shonda Rhimes is a storyteller and the creator of the hit TV series, Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. When asked about the role of facedown moments in storytelling, she said, “I don’t even know who a character is until I’ve seen how they handle adversity. Onscreen and offscreen, that’s how you know who someone is” (Brene Brown, Rising Strong, 42).

You have a choice to make. Will you write your own story, by the grace and power of Jesus Christ, or will you let others write it for you? Choosing to write your own story will require courage over comfort and surrender over safety, but just remember, your story is worth living…and worth telling.

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:10-11).

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