What is the “Rule of Proximity?”

Have you ever noticed how, within five minutes of walking into a group of people, you find yourself standing or sitting closest to those you know or are most like in the room?

As a pastor of middle and high school students, I am amazed how quickly student with a tendency to make poor choices find kids in the room who struggle in the same way.  Hate to say it, but the rebels find the rebels…usually much faster than the kids making good choices find the other kids making good choices.

What about when you are in a large group in which several interests are represented?  My observation has been, we tend to gravitate physically (proximity) toward those who have interests similar to ours, or toward those we are interested in getting to know better.

Proximity is “nearness in place, time, order, occurrence, or relation” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/proximity).

What is the rule of proximity?  It is simply this:  You can tell where a person’s heart is, to some degree, by whom or what they physically are nearest to… and how often… especially when that proximity is not required to fulfill a responsibility (and sometimes when it is).

So right now you may be saying “give me an example!”

 Negative examples

  • Lot, in Genesis, pitched his tent further and further east…closer and closer to Sodom and Gomorrah, until he was “sitting at the gate.”  In other words, he had become a leader.  He physically moved closer to a sinful location and ended up having significant influence…without the purpose of pleasing God in any way.
  • What about the student who begins to hang out around at a set of lockers with different people…those who talk rudely about teachers and other students.
  • The person ensnared in alcohol that habitually takes the route home that passes his favorite bar.
  • What about the man who decides to take his break at the same time as a certain attractive young lady and makes provisions to have more and longer discussions with this young lady? Think there is no harm in that?  Lot thought the same thing.
  • What about the teenage girl who begins to text a boy (or a man who claims to be a teenage boy) more personal information, more often, and with increasing excitement and anticipation of a return text?  This is emotional proximity that can suddenly bolt into physical destruction.

Positive examples

  • Hannah, in book of I Samuel 2, was praying for a son and annually going to the temple to worship with her husband.  She faithfully was found with her husband and at the temple.
  • The family who notices a neighbor boy that lacks attention at home and enjoys being at their house.  The boy spends more and more time with that family.  They encourage, love, and invest in him as a family.
  • The husband and wife that sit together, hold hands, and put their arms around one another.
  • The godly young single person that goes out of her way to attend a sports or ministry event of a godly single young man…and this begins to happen more frequently.
  • The little boy that follows his big brother around.
  • The person who faithfully spends time daily in prayer.

Proximity reveals the fondness of the heart.  Show me who or what you spend time with or near, and I will show you what has your heart’s attention. 

So, “does absence make the heart grow fonder?”  Sometimes!  But proximity reveals the fondness of the heart.  Show me who or what you spend time with or near, and I will show you what has your heart’s attention.

Much more can be said here, but you get the point.

Applying the rule of proximity…To whom or what is your heart most drawn right now?  Does your physical nearness, or frequency of nearness, to an object, place, or person need to change?

Andy Woodall
Andy Woodall served as the Pastor of Student Ministries at Faith from 1999-2012.