Guest Post by Leneita Fix
I had watched her run out of small group.
Anger, shame, frustration all blanketed her face.
Our Bible study focusing on our identities in Christ had pierced something deep inside her. Finding her outside, eyes were slightly puffy as a hardened resolve took over. Approaching, I began to talk to her.
Backed against the wall, her eyes were everywhere but on me. We knew each other quite well. We talked several times a day. “Please look at me.” Her eyes lifted and looked over my shoulder. Although she stood at least a foot taller than me, she wanted nothing more than to avoid my gaze. She had known me long enough to know that this was not going to fly.
“I need you to look me in the eye,” came my request once more.
After another minute of rolling her eyes she finally looked me in the eye. This, of course, is when everything began to change.
As we stood staring, I could not help tearing up as I laid out the person God had created this amazing child to be. This was the moment when I would not allow her to look away. What had started as a teen tantrum had turned to a triumphant moment due to the power of eye contact and a healthy dose of Truth.
Getting youth to look you in the eye is an incredibly powerful tool that should not be underestimated. In my opinion it is a helpful tool in both diffusing a difficult situation and changing the direction of any conversation to a positive focus.
Here are a few thoughts on establishing and maintaining good eye contact in students:
Positioning Is Everything
When you have the opportunity to speak with a student one-on-one, consider asking them to face you. Position yourself in such away that they are able to easily make eye contact. If you have a challenging student in a group setting remove them and place them in a situation where you are sitting or standing opposite them.
Be Ready To Wait
Establishing eye contact may take a few moments. It may require moving beyond comfort zones to make this happen. You might have to ask them bluntly to look you in the eye. Don’t feel foolish taking the time needed to make eye contact. I have spent many conversations taking what feels like five minutes just asking a student to look at me. Looking ridiculous, I have followed their gaze until we connect. Students who know me well, know that I will wait to talk until we are peering eye to eye. It serves for an easier talking time.
Make Your Time Count
Once you’ve established eye contact, take the time to talk to students about how they are feeling about what is going on in their hearts. Quote Bible verses over them, not at them. Tell them what God thinks of them, think of something you like about them and speak it out. Spend this precious time breaking through with words of life, and love. I have witnessed it soften the hardest of hearts.
Be Prepared For Students To Open Up
Remember to always approach without force or pretense. Come with tenderness and love, as you look each other in the eye. Allow the youth to see you, also. Let them see your compassion. Allow them to ask tough questions. Answer them as best you can. These moments where we really make a connection are those moments of victory. Isn’t that what each of us is looking for?
Be Prepared For Something To Happen To You, As Well
The Lord often uses these times to soften your heart and remind you why He has called you. I have often found myself reduced to a pile of jelly inside just by making eye contact with a student in the midst of a troubled conversation. I’ve watched tears come from the toughest of kids. These are the instances when I have gained insight into the lives of the youth I walk with.
It may sound like a simple thing, but the art of eye contact is powerful tool in building deep, meaningful relationships with your students. It’s true, after all, that the eyes are the windows to the soul.
Leneita Fix is the founder and lead consultant for Blue Sky/Green Sky Consulting. She has over 18 years of experience in youth ministry, in suburban, urban and rural contexts. Most of her time has been spent in the urban community, living as a neighbor to those around her.