“Smile. It can’t be that bad, can it?”
“You really should smile. You look so much prettier when you smile.”
“Why do you look so serious? Can’t you try to look happy?”
I’ve heard these lines from the time I was a little girl. From strangers. From well-meaning adults who must have thought they were encouraging a child to smile more. But it only made me feel scrutinized. Self-conscious. I worried what others would think my face is saying. Because although my serious face might have communicated that I was a reserved child, I wasn’t unhappy, angry or unfriendly. I was just thinking about something. I tend to think a lot. I always have a lot of chatter going on in my head. Most of it directed at myself. Wondering what others are thinking about me. And my face.
So I’ve tried to make a concentrated effort to affix a friendly smile to my face as I walk. Tried to remember to turn up the corners of my mouth in a congenial expression. But without fail after a few minutes of smiling, something captures my attention and I’m all of a sudden deep in thought. And the tiny smile is gone. My eyebrows are knitted together again in an unfriendly expression. I’ve thought that maybe it’s my eyebrows’ fault. Their dark and threatening image contributes to my stern facial expression. I’ve tried thinning them so that when knit together in thought, they look less imposing. I’ve tried raising them in a look of wonderment. But this is a difficult expression to hold steady. I’ve considered plucking my eyebrows out entirely. But that might look more alarming than welcoming.
More than any other type of art, I like portraits of ladies to adorn the walls of my home. I study their faces. I wonder what they’re thinking. In some of the pictures, they look happy and pleasant; some look mysterious; some look like they have faraway thoughts on their minds. One of my favorites is a fashion drawing of a woman whose profile looks a little sharp. She’s not drawn as softly as she could have been. But I like her. She’s looking down and you’re not sure what she’s thinking about.
In Paris, I spent Saturday morning at a flea market, where I found a charming tiny watercolor of a girl. She looks a little wistful. I also found an illustration from a fashion costume book with a scrap of fabric attached to the page. The picture shows the woman from the back so you can’t see her face, but her heavy eyebrow is visible. I like that her eyebrows are a strong feature.
But no mater what my facial expression may convey about me, it doesn’t say who I really am. I don’t wear the labels unsmiling, angry or sad when I think about how God sees me. Smiling or not, God invites me into his presence with the same compassion, mercy and understanding that he offers to everyone. There is not a hint of judgment that I don’t meet his expectations. I’ve found a refuge where nothing more is asked of me except that I ask him to come alongside me as I live out my life. And that brings a smile to my face. Maybe even a beaming grin. From ear to ear.