Smile! (Even When You Don’t Feel Like It)

Our smiles—yours and mine—can enlighten a moment and a heart. Our smiles can extend graciousness and, indeed, godliness. This can occur without us even knowing we have had an impact, or that we have left a happy little ripple behind us somewhere in the world.

I don’t always feel like smiling. Sometimes I’m sad, anxious, defeated, tired, annoyed, angry. I want to pull the covers over my head and hide for a while, stewing in darkness.

How about you?

Sometimes I cave to another’s cruel words, a bad memory, traffic jams, rejection, cloudy days. I fall prey to sour moods wrought by any number of triggers that would easily set just about anyone racing off down a ranting path.

Sound familiar?

All these things—ranging from the frivolous and petty to the serious—are a smile’s natural predators.

Several years ago while riding with my dad in his truck, I noticed him smiling and waving to every vehicle we passed. The other drivers always smiled and waved back.
“Who was that?” I asked each time he smiled and waved. “I don’t know,” he’d reply. “Then why are you smiling and waving at them?” My dad—a humble butcher and gravedigger turned tombstone salesman—looked me in the eye and said, “The quickest way to make a friend is to smile at a stranger.”

It’s so true that we never really know what goes on behind someone else’s front door. Almost two decades on the board of our local domestic and sexual abuse shelter has taught me this. Years of traveling the country and meeting thousands of my neighbors have taught me this. For better and for worse.

Learning how to listen—really listen—to others has also opened my heart and mind to this: Folks coming up to me on the street, at the grocery store, and even in bars, asking, “Can I talk to you for a moment?” We step to the side, letting the world pass by, and I listen. A mother dealing with her son’s drug addiction; a young man contemplating suicide; a woman seeking solace from a destructive partner; a homeless person craving a connection with another human being; someone questioning how and why to forgive.

In the beginning, I would wonder, Why me? What draws these people to me, to confide and seek comfort?

Then I understood. It’s my smile.

Our smiles—yours and mine—can enlighten a moment and a heart. Our smiles can extend graciousness and, indeed, godliness. This can occur without us even knowing we have had an impact, or that we have left a happy little ripple behind us somewhere in the world.

John Schlimm, International award-winning artist, activist, educator, and author of FIVE YEARS IN HEAVEN

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