Housewife Theologian

The Gospel Interrupting the Ordinary

Reading Reflection:

Written By: Aimee Byrd - May• 18•12

Loving Well, William P. Smith (New Growth Press, 2012)

I am enjoying this book as my mind and heart are being well-stretched by Smith’s warm prose. I would like to do a full review on it, but am only about half way done at the moment. (This is the part where I wonder whether to share how I started another book but couldn’t get into it, which pleasantly led me to the church library…) So, as I have been one busy mama lately, I thought I’d give a short reflection on a particular line that got me thinking. It is in a section about truly sharing our inner struggles with others. Smith addresses the whole “How are you?” greeting and our usually closed off responses. He suggests that if we confess our own struggles it may help us to make more genuine connections in relationships. The author gives us an example of how he has done just that and it was a stepping stone for a deeper friendship:

It happened simply because I was willing to be slightly open about what was happening beneath my smile (47).

You know that smile he’s talking about—the plastic, “My life is great” smile. I don’t realize how often I give off that smile until someone makes a comment about how well I’ve got it together. That’s when I know I must be doing some shucking and jiving.

Smiles have many messages. You can really make someone feel good with a smile—the “I’m so happy to see you” smile can really be encouraging. But we can even hurt people with a smile—take the “You’re full of malarkey” smile for example. There’s also the “I’m better than you” smile.

We can read many smile languages, but the “My life is great” smile can be pretty deceiving. It may cause others to feel like they don’t compare. Mostly, it achieves its purpose of keeping others at arms length. It’s the same as when you ask your teenager how their day was and they disinterestedly reply, “fine.” Translation: “I don’t want to tell you.”

In being loving toward others, Smith suggests that we should take the lead in sharing. This leaves us a bit vulnerable, and even uncomfortable, but Smith explains it like this:

Friendships in which people feel free to share their difficulties give them permission to drop their guard and ask for help as they grow into the fullness of Christ. But if you want to have those kind of relationships, you have to take the lead in sharing your difficulties. Look for these opportunities and intentionally share yourself to others (46).

Is this a challenge for you? Do you find it easier to listen to another’s struggles than to share your own?  Do you think that a person in a leadership position should not share personal matters? Well, Smith is a counseling pastor at his church and he is not above it. But he gives an even greater reason why we should reach out in this way:

Jesus…in his awesome majesty was unafraid of earthly humility.

He talked to his creatures about his inner life. The creatures were infinitely below him on every conceivable scale, yet he didn’t treat them that way. He invited them into a relationship far beyond their imagination, sharing himself in ways they never could know otherwise. And he has done the same with you. In doing so, he points the way for how we ought to share ourselves with each other (48).

So I encourage you to be more inviting with your smiles—by sharing what is beneath them.

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11 Comments

  1. Courtney Shank says:

    The passages you took from this book really struck me. Daily I am guilty of the “I’m well how are you” response and i always walk away unfulfilled in missing out on a human conection. Thank you for reminding me how important it is to be open and not just “phone in” on relationships. You also got me thinking about how often i tell God I’m fine when I really need to be open. Thank you!!!!

  2. Tim says:

    Aimee, the idea that we can use smiles to mask, deceive, even hurt, is such a stark example of how even the good can be corrupted. I felt a stab when I read “the ‘My life is great’ smile can be pretty deceiving. It may cause others to feel like they don’t compare.” How heart-wrenching to think my smiles have hurt people that way!

    This whole piece reminds me of Nat King Cole’s Smile:

    Smile though your heart is aching
    Smile even though it’s breaking
    When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by

    God offers us so much more than just getting by, and he uses us to help others see this too. I hope to be more careful with my smiles, Aimee, thanks.

    Tim

    P.S. I have a new piece up at Nick McDonald’s place: http://theradicaljourney.com/2012/05/18/only-kill-the-bad-man/
    Hope you get a chance to see it!

    • Tom says:

      Hi Tim,

      I wrote a long post below but I don’t think we need to be careful with our smiles (unless they are hiding true deceit!)

      But I generally greet everyone with a big “I am great, how are you?” I SMILE! Even on days I don’t feel my best. And you know what? By doing that I begin to feel better! And that allows me to be a better servant to all!

      And I can’t tell you how many people have thanked me, THANKED me!, for brightening up their day. So I will not be careful with my smiles! I will hand them out gladly in the hopes of making someone’s day a bit better (and funny enough, my own day gets better)

      So as I said below, I am a little concerned with what the author of that book is trying to portray.

      • Tim says:

        Thanks Tom. As you have experienced, a sincerely and gladly offered smile, offered even when one is not feeling all that chipper, can be a blessing given and received all in one.

        My idea of being careful with my smiles, though, is not meant to suggest being stingy with them. I too hand them out gladly, as I think encouragement should be given generously. But I don’t like fake smiles any more than I like fake generosity, and I hope to be careful to make sure I am not falling into either of those traps!

        Tim

  3. Tom says:

    Hi Aimee,

    I understand what the author is trying to get across by encouraging us to share our burdens with others. It is VERY important to have an inner circle with whom one can share, lean on, and count on! (and visa versa!)

    BUT, I do NOT think they there is anything wrong with the “My life is great” smile in most contexts. And I believe that it is dangerous for the author of that book to insinuate otherwise. (if I am missing the point please let me know…but I don’t think I am)

    I do not believe we are to share our burdens with everyone. Sometimes we are to just smile and be warm even if we don’t feel that way. Unless we are interacting with a person of our inner circle (which hopefully gets larger and/or better as we grow) the “my life is great’ smile is the best response.

    We invite the person in with that smile! We MAY unknowingly brighten that person’s day when they may have been having a worse day than us.

    And we don’t need to be martyrs!!

    And there is something VERY concrete to the old, “act is if” theory!!

    If we act happy (I am obviously not talking about major tragic life events) we will start to be happy. If we are able to share our burdens with Jesus Christ and then pray for that peace only He can provide, we will then be peaceful and therefore be a better light to others!

    Again, I am not saying we don’t share, but it seems that the author of that book is heading down a slippery slope.

    Based on the advent of social media and the prevailing social conventions, I’d say we share too much!

    We should share with the ones we love. We should be ready to share with new people who are making their way into our inner circle.

    BUT we should also be able to put up that front and be strong. We should find our peace and joy in Jesus Christ and then do our best to pass that along to others. (be a light, as it were)

    For if we are able to be a person who can rise above daily worries, only then will we be able to be better servants to other people, and most importantly, be better servants to God. And by being better servants we will help others rise above their daily worries. And by doing so we will MOST LIKELY increase the quantity and quality of inner circle! Thus giving us more people to share with when we truly need to. An awesome circle is thus created!

    Just my two cents.

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      Tom, you make some very good points. Perhaps the weakness of doing a Reading Reflection is that I am reflecting on an excerpt from a book that got me thinking–not necessarily the whole point of the book. The author was not implying that we should not offer smiles to others if we are struggling, nor that we should over-share. I was not meaning to portray that either. We need to exercise much discernment and wisdom in what we share with whom. The point the author was making is that if you want others to feel comfortable reaching out to you, you need to be willing to be open as well. He was merely showing that his willingness to share what was beneath his smile with a friend helped that friend to see how alike they really are.
      That caused me to reflect on how we hide so many things and build false images with something as simple as a smile. I love smiles, and tried to show how they can be very encouraging (as you pointed out as well). But, sometimes we hide behind them and keep people at arms length. I was merely hoping to get people thinking about the motivations behind our smiles, and the signals we send with them. Looks like you did just that!
      But I do want to apologize if I suggested that the author of this book was implying that we unload our burdens on everyone or withhold a smile. This is a solid book, and I will hopefully do it justice with an upcoming review.

      • Tom says:

        Hi Aimee!

        Thanks for the reply!

        It is always a little dicey when we take things out of context. I hope I didn’t come off too brusque. :)

        I used to read a lot more Christian books but now spend the bulk of my time just diving into the Word itself. I should probably come up for air once in awhile!

        You have a great blog!! Keep up the great work!

  4. Dana Tuttle says:

    “Smiling is my favorite!” Buddy the Elf! (You knew someone would write it!:)<Haha, how bout the fake over used text smile!

  5. Margie Stemple says:

    I love this! I used to always keep everything in and just be the person everyone could come to and shave their grievances. Then, through my “inner circle” I realized I never shared any of my problems so they always thought I was this happy-go-lucky person with a great life! I’ve learned to …still smile, but put my heart out there with certain ones. In doing so, I believe all those I meet with know they have a true friend they can trust, in me. The smile tells them I’m usually optomistic even in the mist of situations…God will get me through!

What do you think?