Have you ever showed up at church on one of “those days,” seen people smiling all over the place, and thought one of the following:
- Oh bugger, I forgot my happy face at home today.
- I think I’ll turn around right now and go someplace where I can feel [insert rated PG—or worse—feeling here] and not feel guilty about it.
You’re not alone. In fact, I think we should stop making smiles an unspoken requirement for church attendance.
I know I, for one, do not want to smile at church—or anywhere, really—when I show up smelling faintly of urine because my too-old-for-accidents kid left her wet clothes in the back of the car where I misguidedly sat to braid my oldest’s hair on the way to the service.
No, I don’t want to smile when that happens.
But I did it anyway that morning.
Because when people greet me or say, “How’s it going?” at church, I’ve learned to smile and say nothing. Sometimes it’s because of the usual get-the-family-to-church craziness, and sometimes it’s because the situations we’re facing with one or the other of our older girls is a boxed set of War and Peace and Webster’s Dictionary, and I don’t want to cause anyone’s eyes to glaze over.
The smile-but-don’t-answer tactic is an adaptation that allows for two things:
- That way I’m not (technically) lying, and,
- That way I know who my friends are.
Because people who smile back don’t want to know how you are really doing when you grimace at them. It’s the ones who say, “That bad, huh?” or “Let’s go get you some coffee. STAT,” who are actually friends… who invite us to live joy.
That recent morning, when I walked in to church stinky and my relatively-new friend asked, “How are you?” and I
grimaced smiled and said nothing, this woman proved herself a true friend.
When I snuck off from the service midway, emerged reeking of the Bath and Body Works spray in the ladies room, and she wrapped her arms around me and said, “Feel better?” she proved she was a true friend.
And she opened a door someplace in my heart for joy.
When I said, “Yes. And I’m really glad for the Bath and Body Works ministry at our church,” and we laughed together and she hugged me again (brave woman… did I mention the odor thing from our car?) and she grabbed my hand with an unmistakable, “You are precious to me, no matter how stinky” squeeze… I knew beyond any doubt that she’s the real deal. And joy pushed that door in my heart open a bit wider.
Come to think of it, that’s the whole Kay Warren train-track joy thing, again, isn’t it? The reality of joy in the struggle: that you can laugh deep and true about the Ministry of Body Spray while your heart is aching that your child is still such a challenge after almost a decade. The two-at-once nature of true joy, that pairs what might have been a humiliating, isolating moment with the surprise of a new friendship.
Joy: the both/and reality of life. The tightrope between loss and hope. The glue connecting what’s hard with what’s beautiful. The gift waiting in a friend’s eyes when you have the courage to let her see your own.
Do you have a friend like that? Are you willing to take the risk to let someone in long enough to find her… to find joy?