“We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.” Mother Teresa
There are two types of people in this world; those whose faces flashed with excitement when, as little kids, sitting in the back of a car, they saw a hump back bridge approaching in the road ahead. And then there are the others, the ones who tried their best to hit hard whatever imaginary brake pedal was in front of them at the time, whose eyes grew wider and whose stomach’s turned knots at the site of the little blip in the road.
I fall into the first category. I’m pleased to say my daughter feels the same way, too.
My wife, however, is definitely the latter.
And yet, without fail, over every bridge, no matter how fast or slow we drive, or how queasy she feels, there’ll always the faintest trace of a little smile on her face too. Secretly, deep down, she knows the discomfort is temporary, that the moment will pass and that it’s worth it for the giggles coming from the back seat of the car.
Today is our Lenten hump day. We’re here, right in the middle of the forty days, smack bang in the middle of Lent.
However we got here, and I’m learning more and more on my Lenten experience that it’s the journey – not the mode or speed of transport – that matters, we’re here at the highest point of the bridge and can see the road stretching out before us towards Easter and the cross.
Some of those taking the 40acts generosity challenge have cruised comfortably to this point, while some of us are still playing catch up with the acts we’ve bombed out of so far, which is why I’m glad today’s suggestion seems like an easy one.
Today’s generosity challenge is to smile.
Smile at people.
Smile at your friends, colleagues, loved ones.
Smile at strangers in the street, on the bus, at the shops – and no, smizingdoesn’t count.
On the face of it this seems simple enough – in fact so simple that it begs the question whether a smile is really a gift at all.
Sure, I can do my best to grin a bit more at people today – though if you’ve seen my wedding photos you’ll be screaming, no, don’t do it; go and lock yourself away for a day and try a different generous act tomorrow. Sadly, smiling on demand is not my forte.
But a few creases of our facial muscles seem barely generous, and surely not the sort of gift Jesus had in mind when he commanded us to love our neighbour? Is shoving an extra winky smiley – or heck, why not even two – really a generous act?
As sacrificial gifts go, a smile barely even equates to the smallest sparrow.
But still, Paul is clear in Corinthians: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
So why is cheerfulness so important to God when it comes to our giving?
The word for cheerful that Paul uses here comes from the Greek –hilaros. Hilaros does give us the modern English word hilarious – but let’s not get fooled into thinking it means every gift we give should leave us rolling in the aisles and drowning in tears of laughter. Our modern understanding of hilarious is quite different from how those in the early Church would have understood it.
Back to the Greek — hilaros here describes something much deeper than a token smile or some sort of out of control joy overload. What Paul is describing, and what would have been understood by his audience, is a state of mind, and attitude, of being cheerfully ready to act.
Crucially this readiness to act is grounded in a firm belief, of having already been convinced of something. Convinced that everything we have, right now and for eternity, is a gift from God. We’ve been won over, sold out for Him and our desire and readiness to give (hilaros) is the natural expression of this relationship.
If our eyes are the windows to our soul, perhaps a smile is the welcome mat to what’s going on inside us each day? An early warning signal as to our readiness and willingness to act and give generously.
Today I’m taking the time to get back to basics, to reset my attitude and make sure I’m back in a grateful and won over place for the rest of my generous Lent.
If that doesn’t bring a smile to my face, I don’t know what will.