“Girl, that smile could light up a room.”
I’m never far away from a grin. The happy just kind of creeps out across my cheeks and up into my eyes. Very much like Buddy the elf, smiling’s my favorite.
In high school, I apparently looked so bubbly that the JROTC instructor asked if I was a believer. When I answered in the affirmative, he responded, “Anyone who smiles that much has to know God’s on His throne.” Little did I know I had encountered a profound bit of theology.
My quickness to beam used to feel like a personal quirk; now I think of it as a ministry.
The longer I’m in New England, the more I’m convinced that this area is dominated by a spirit of darkness: a thick, hunkering, heavy weight that steals the light so that it’s always just out of reach. (Visitors have actually remarked on the oppressive density they sense when spending time up here.) The typical posture is one of slightly slumped shoulders and a stoic countenance, conveying the quiet desperation Thoreau mentions in “Walden.” If you can manage to lock eyes with anyone, the hopelessness that gazes back might knock you to your knees.
I’m growing more and more suspicious that God means for His people to light up the dark with our faces and to act as little flashlights beaming His heart. Each grin is a gift, inviting the lost to come taste and see that the Lord is good.
If you’re not sold on this ministry of joy, I’m guessing there’s an emotional roadblock. Here are some common culprits:
- Smiling makes you feel self-conscious. If you’ve never liked your smile, please don’t hide it—Jesus bought that part of you with His blood and would do so again if He needed to. He finds it precious and unique and formed it on purpose. The gospel is rich with treasures of security, so smile away.
- Smiling makes you feel unintelligent. Where did we get the idea that discernment equals seriousness? Sure, nitpicking and criticism might sound more grown-up than constantly brimming with joy, but Jesus welcomes the childlike. The more I discover, the more humor and wonder I find lurking in the fabric of reality.
- Smiling makes you feel unholy. If God’s rescue mission depends on a big bunch of curmudgeons, it’s doomed from the start. Thank goodness it doesn’t—it depends on Himself, and He happens to take great joy in a good many things. To take delight is to be like God.
- Smiling makes you feel fake. Listen, I can melancholy with the best of them (sure, it can verb), and there are very real wounds and injustices that deserve to be felt all the way to the bottom. But for souls set this kind of free, our most truthful default position can’t be anything other than buoyant. On the contrary, to be as pressed down as the rest of the world in spite of the brightness and beauty of the cross would be the pinnacle of a counterfeit life.
What if all it took to engage in spiritual warfare was deciding to show some teeth? Scarier yet: what if our smiles are our God-given secret weapon in the war against our own self-importance?
Richard Foster concludes his book The Celebration of Discipline with a chapter called ‘The Discipline of Celebration.’ (It’s okay if you have to read that twice.) He says:
“Far and away the most important benefit of celebration is that it saves us from taking ourselves too seriously. This is a desperately needed grace for all those who are earnest about the spiritual disciplines. It is an occupational hazard of devout folk to become stuffy bores. This should not be. Of all people, we should be the most free, alive, interesting. Celebration adds a note of gaiety, festivity, hilarity to our lives. After all, Jesus rejoiced so fully in life that He was accused of being a wine-bibber and a glutton. Many of us lead such sour lives that we cannot possibly be accused of such things.”
I’m not saying we should eat all the things or drink all the things to prove our freedom. Just that as kids grow up, they can’t help looking increasingly like their parents. God revels in happiness and holiness. We can too. As Keller notes, it’s only in the gospel that we can find gladness that is neither sarcastic nor self-deprecating. Let’s spread that stuff around like candy.
Your smile could be the only one someone sees today. So consider it your kingdom mission to get out there and shine your light.
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