How far can reach a smile?

Getting ready for the onslaught of turkey and thanks coming this week, I found myself thinking about family politics. Just then a title in our hymnal came to mind (How Far Can Reach a Smile?), and I held onto that question throughout the day.

Later that night, a Buddhist newsgroup deposited this message in my inbox: “Some smiles are sarcastic,” the email said. “Some smiles are artificial, diplomatic smiles. These smiles do not produce satisfaction, but rather fear or suspicion. But a genuine smile gives us hope, freshness.”

If we want a genuine smile, then first we must produce the basis or set-up for the smile to come. To practice this just get a mirror and look at your smile. Then keep smiling until you feel that it comes from a place of inner peace or authenticity.

“Yeah, right!” I chuckled as I just wrote that sentence. “Just smile and change the world, is that it?” I was in a particularly sarcastic mood that day. I was feeling a little disappointed about some random-yet-seemingly-very-meaningful-thing that would not go my way. And I must admit, when disappointed, I sometimes want to rant a lot more than I want to reconcile.

Then I started thinking about my childhood friend Joanne. She was often (cruelly) called the “toothless wonder” because she had lost all of her teeth in a serious car accident when we were young teenagers. I was one of very few that never did see Joanne as toothless but often saw the wonder in her.

You see, even without teeth, Joanne had one of the most radiant smiles I have ever seen, the kind that lights a whole face and makes one’s eyes dance. At a time when most kids struggle mightily with issues of identity, esteem, fitting in—and what was surely unimaginable disappointment for a teenaged girl—Joanne simply smiled with sincerity, warmth, and conviction.

Hmmm. Maybe there is something to this practice of “genuine smiling” after all.  So this week I’ve started smiling more. And I practiced. And, wonder of wonders, somewhere in all this teeth-flashing, I am becoming more convinced that our smiles—if they truly do come from our deepest inner wells—really could inspire the kind of wonder we really need as the holidays approach.

Joanne never did get any replacement teeth. For a while she ended up a single parent on welfare. Then she smiled her way through nursing school. Then she became a foster parent. Today, Joanne parents and fosters eleven critical children in her hospice home in Texas. She does this heartbreakingly beautiful work alone. She tells me she has deep peace. And she’s still smiling.

How far can reach a smile? As we enter the holiday season and its attending wishes for “peace on Earth and goodwill to all,” I can’t help but wonder.

If reading this brought a smile to your face, go out into the world and flash those pearly whites, my friends! Who knows what will begin and how far it can go? Either way, you’ll be amazed at what a gift your smile is. Happy Thanksgiving!

See you in church.

Rev. Roger