“Smile more” is not working

I had a conversation today with someone I treasure. Someone I see as a strong force, a usually joyful person. Someone going through a tough time, and still smiling. My thoughts as she expressed her frustration in her struggle, and her desire to continue to temper her growing anger were that she wore it so well. I would never have known, but should it be this way? Should she continue to smile and pretend her way through this?

I have a phrase I hate to hear. It’s because it’s been said to me frequently: “Smile. You need to smile more. You look so mean.” Yes, I have been told I would “look” so much nicer if I would simply smile. 

I am a deep thinker. I am also a deep feeler. If I feel happy, I smile. If something funny happens I laugh. If I am observing, and watching others, and taking it all in-I am most likely not all grins. I assure you, I am also kind, and full of compassion towards others.

But why the desire for me to smile more? Should I continue this facade even if things are going horribly? Does it make you more comfortable to know that I am “faking it ’til I make it?”

Paul was pretty clear about our responsibility when others were burdened: Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2, NLT

I don’t see in here where he told anyone to “smile more.” To “fake it.” To hide all their problems away because privacy was power. He was clear we needed to be there for each other.

And it’s clear if you look around at the hurting world, the news headlines, and the people around you-smiles are not working. People are hurting underneath that mask. 

I see masks daily as a therapist. Clients who come into my office with their lives falling apart who tell me everything is great, fine, OK. And I know underneath the surface is a simmering volcano of bottled up emotions about to erupt. 

Why do they hide it? Because someone told them that was the “family tradition.” Therapy wasn’t cool. Smile more. Don’t you dare disconnect, or set a boundary-you may make someone mad. 

There is an acronym I learned in grad school for the word “fine.” Fearful. Insecure. Neurotic. And Emotional. 

But we are totally ok with “fine.” 

The world is not ok. 

Smiling is getting us no where, and “fine,” is an overused word to make someone else feel comfortable.

I think it’s time to shoulder those burdens. Even if it makes you uncomfortable. We ask that WWJD question, but are we comfortable with the answer? 

He would be comfortable looking past the smiles, and asking “Are you really doing OK?” And then be comfortable sitting with the tears. 

He would be comfortable checking on someone who has gone silent, instead of assuming they are being distant, rude, or don’t have the same “energy” as you. He would check on them, and make sure it’s not the heavy burdens they are lifting that have given them no energy at all. 

He would look beyond someone’s contemplative resting face, deem them worthy of approach, and engage them in a chat. Seeing them as worthy, and not someone to be avoided. 

So, I wonder…if we consistently did this. Approached this broken world in the way of Jesus, instead of retreating from what we deem uncomfortable, would we not even have to tell people to smile more? Would we just see more of them? 

Would we see more burdens carried? More hearts lifted? More people who feel they have reasons to smile? 

I wonder. 

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