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FIRST-PERSON: What language are you speaking?

DORA, Ala. (BP)–Did you know that body language accounts for over 90 percent of conversation?

For example, fidgeting indicates impatience or nervousness. The fidgeter is either self-conscious, uncomfortable in the other person’s presence or just eager to get away from the other person.

The more a person uses his hands when talking, and the bigger the movements -– these things indicate a more outgoing personality. A quiet person usually doesn’t move his arms away from his body very often or very far.

And what about crossed arms? On any given Sunday, you can look across a church’s congregation and spot a sea of them! Crossed arms are the ultimate body language defense or rejection mechanism. They say, “Try all you want –- you’re not getting any closer to me. You’re not going to reach inside me, and you’re not going to change my opinion.” Or this posture can flat-out say, “I am so bored with all this. I’m here because I have to be. Just get it over with and let me out of here.” In other words, “I hear you, but I’m not listening.”

Even the angle of the body in relation to others gives away our attitudes and feelings. We tend to angle toward people we respond positively to, and we angle away from those we’d rather not be around or so close to.

Stand or sit too far away and you’re signaling the other person to keep his distance — you’re not wanting your relationship to get any closer and you just want the conversation over with so you can move on to other and maybe better things.

Where you stand distance-wise in relation to a person you’re having a conversation with is significant. Stand too close and you’re showing that you’re over-eager or aggressive -– you’re an “in your face” person. And that very expression, “in your face,” says so much, because so much is said through our facial expressions.

For example, eye contact. Eye contact is a person’s conscious and unconscious way of letting someone know how much he is or isn’t significant. You can walk past without any eye contact, saying, “I am not remotely interested in you,” or you can casually glance a person’s way, and the expression you use again tells that person exactly what you think:

A frown announces, “You’re in my space. Don’t bother me -– I’m not in the mood. Out of my way –- I don’t have time for you.”

A blank expression says, “I see you, but I have no interest in you one way or the other. I simply acknowledge your existence.”

But a smile! You’ve told the person you’re passing that he has value. You personally, if only for one brief moment of time, see him as a person and want to show him that he matters in this world.

As a Christian, your smile can also be saying, “I want to share with you my own joy.” What kind of joy? The joy the Bible talks about in Nehemiah 8:10: “The joy of the Lord”

For years, I worked at a major city hospital. One day, I decided to exert a conscious effort to smile and make eye contact with the people I passed, especially when I was out in the areas where I would see visitors or patients. My mother was battling leukemia during that time and was in and out of the hospital, and I knew from our own experience how many days there were when we desperately needed every smile we could collect.

Think about the Lord Jesus as He walked the earth. Along with throngs of adults, children flocked to Him. I can guarantee that His body language spoke welcoming volumes!

Now don’t get all paranoid on me, but take a minute to reflect on your body language, your normal facial expressions, your eye contact with people you walk by. How do people respond to you? Are you, as was Jesus, a welcoming presence?

Every person you meet is going, has gone, or will go through some very trying times. And sometimes, your smile will be the only encouragement any person will give them that day. Some days, your willingness to make eye contact with that person will be the only thing that lets him know he has value.

But if all that isn’t enough to convince you to acknowledge the people you pass in the hallway or on the sidewalk or in the store aisle, then consider this — a self-defense course I took taught me a very interesting fact: Muggers and other predators have a keen perception of body language.

Through interviews with hundreds of these types of criminals, researchers learned that whenever a person made direct eye contact with the “scouting” predator, that person was rejected as a victim almost 98 percent of the time. Just like predators in the animal kingdom, these criminals were looking for people whose facial expressions and body language indicated that they were fearful, or more easily intimidated.

So, on that cheery note, I hope you’ll start consciously watching your body language. Look people in the face and let them know that they matter to you and to the God you serve.

Ephesians 4:24 says that a believer has taken off the old man and “put on the new man, the one created according to God’s likeness.”

Jesus said in John 9:5: “I am the light of the world.” But what did He say in Matthew 5:14? “You are the light of the world.”

A lighthouse has one source of light, but that one light is reflected by countless prisms until it becomes so brilliant that it can be seen from incredible distances. All of us have heard it said about a smile “lighting up a room.” Make a commitment to the Lord and to yourself to be that beaming lighthouse -– reflect the Light of the One who shines within you. Who knows whose day you may brighten!
Judy Woodward Bates is a freelance writer, author, speaker and creator of Bargainomics, a Bible-based time and money management philosophy, and the author of “The Gospel Truth about Money Management.” Visit her website at www.bargainomics.com.

    About the Author

  • Judy Woodward Bates