We often hear that suffering is a personal path – walked alone. If Christian teaching has reached our hearts we understand that we are never alone – Christ is with us. But during times of suffering that heart felt emotion is sometimes replaced with just the dry bone truth of Christ’s presence. We know it but we don’t feel it at the heart level.
Today started out with a lack of heartfelt-ness; not because I was in a particular state of suffering but because I was on autopilot. I was going to another appointment. The surgeon would be checking on the healing process from the surgery. Though still in pain I knew the healing was going well; which it was. I knew we would review the pathology report on the tissue removed during surgery and confirm the earlier biopsy report. I was wrong. The pathology showed more cancer than originally thought. My stage was ‘upgraded’ to 3 from 2. I immediately came off autopilot and moved to emotional crisis management. I felt my husband doing the same. (I have grown to deeply respect cancer caregivers.) As the report was explained I can’t say that I was “feeling-God” with me. I was feeling more cancer with me. My heart did feel something – another little break.
The Chance to Smile
David and I walked out of the clinic’s waiting room. I wanted to sit in the airy light filled Roswell Park atrium with coffee in hand. I wasn’t ready to leave and return to regular world. I wanted to be surrounded by my new tribe – people with cancer and those accompanying them or treating them or volunteering for them. My radar was beeping away for some incoming light. I could feel the encroachment of darkness wanting to gain a foothold but something else within me was determined to resist. David and I sat for a while quietly and then talked through what was still positive in spite of a deepening awareness of the seriousness of the disease. After encouraging phone calls from daughters I wanted to walk about aimlessly but not leave. David said we could stay as long as I wanted. I walked towards the balcony and looked down at people walking towards the various cancer clinics. I imagined angels among them or Christ, himself. The harpist in the Lobby was playing music that wafted up to the higher levels (hmm, in heaven already?). I continued with my stroll as David sat and watched. I would occasionally look back at him, meeting his broad smiling face. I felt uplifted. As I walked and looked at people I realized I was looking for a chance to smile at someone, anyone and hopefully get a smile back. With each smile it seemed as if a little more darkness was dispelled.
I wandered around and then purposely struck up a conversation with a middle age woman. She looked annoyed at something but that didn’t stop me. I sat down next to her with David watching from afar. And at the perfect moment I said something really profound, “Hi, I couldn’t help noticing how cute you are in that hat and as I will be going bald soon (awkward) I was wondering if you could tell me where you got your hat?” She smiled. I was reassured and we ended up having a delightful conversation about this and that. I like to think that she felt less annoyed about waiting so long for her chemo treatment. I felt more determined to get a cute hat.
So, what was it that I wanted to experience before I left the cancer institute? Was it as simple as I wanted to smile and get a genuine smiles back? I think so. These smiles were after all a human connection akin to love. It came by bits and pieces but at some point I was filled up enough to leave my tribe for regular world. This shouldn’t surprise me for the scriptures and the church has taught through the ages that God is Love. Why wouldn’t He be? He has eternally lived in perpetual community within the trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit forever loving and smiling at each other. As one of his children I get to get in on this and hopefully pass it on.
Is It Really that Basic?
It still seems trite on the surface, though. We all have been told as children that it takes 450 muscles to frown and only 3 muscles to smile. (I don’t think this has ever been validated.) David remembers being told, ‘If you can’t smile I’ll give you one of mine.’ And, ‘Smile, it lets your teeth breathe.’
But PsychCentral posted an article on their blog about this very subject….. Here’s the take-home point:
“The researchers say their findings suggest smiling during brief periods of stress may help reduce the body’s stress response, regardless of whether the person actually feels happy or not.”
And if that’s not enough…
According to Mark Stibich, a consultant at Columbia University, and contributor to a Guide to Longevity at about.com, smiling:
1. Makes Us Attractive to others .There is an automatic attraction to people who smile.
2. Changes Mood If you try, even when it’s difficult, to smile when you are not feeling good, there is a change it might improve your affect and change the way you are feeling.
3. Contagious Others will want to be with you. You will be helping others feel good.
4. Relieves Stress Stress does express itself right in our faces. When we smile, it can help us look better, less tired, less worn down.
5. Boosts Immune System Smiling can actually stimulate your immune response by helping you relax.
6. Lowers Blood Pressure When you smile, there is evidence that your blood pressure can decrease.
7. Releases Endorphins and Serotonin Research has reported that smiling releases endorphins, which are natural pain relievers, along with serotonin, which is also associated with feel good properties.
Duchenne smiles are the only type of smile that creates this positive effects. These smiles engage the muscles in the mouth, cheeks, and eyes and are considered to be genuine smiles. ‘When you smile at someone else and they smile a real smile in return – you are helping to create physiological changes in their bodies that may benefit them, as well as yourself.’ (Karen Kleiman, LCSW postpartumstress.com)
“Peace begins with a smile.” (Mother Theresa)
“The shortest distance between two people is a smile.” (Unknown)
And most helpfully:
Bible verse translations (New Living Translation) that take the reasonable liberty to change “shine your face on us” to “smile on us”
- May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. (Numbers 6: 25)
- May God be merciful and bless us. May his face smile with favor on us. (Psalm 67: 1)
- Truth springs up from the earth, and righteousness smiles down from heaven. (Psalm 85:11)
- When the king smiles, there is life; his favor refreshes like a spring rain. (Proverbs 16: 15)
- O our God, hear your servant’s prayer! Listen as I plead. For your own sake, Lord, smile again on your desolate sanctuary. (Daniel 9: 17)
My prayer for you and me:
‘May the Lord bless you and keep you. May you feel His smile on you, and may you smile back. Amen.’
Dona, your words helped me feel and see what you are experiencing. It helps me to pray for you. A thought came to me that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are “3” – that is the “3” to dwell on. Keeping you in prayer and a smile ready to share.
Dona, reading through this blog has been amazing… We continue to pray for your full recovery… Thank you for being such a big encouragement to all of us during this time!
This Thursday, I will be lighting a candle for you at the Church of Resurrection in the old city of Jerusalem… will send you a picture.