If you read my November 30 blog, you know that this Advent I'm asking God each day if He has a gift He wants me to unwrap. He's a tremendous Giver, and loves to give generously to His kids. Almost every day there's been something, and it's always exactly what I need. He's offered me wonderful things like peace, His presence, hope for a specific relationship, and other promises and graces--nothing terribly unexpected, but certainly things I want and deeply appreciate. The other day He caught me off guard, however. On that particular morning I sensed Him saying that His gift for the day was a smile.
Even though I was surprised, I was pretty sure I knew what He meant. I'd recently been reflecting on the power of a smile to encourage others--welcoming, assuring acceptance, affirming, lending courage, giving understanding, enjoying a mutual secret, and so on. If I'm confident that looking into a loved one's face will bring a smile in return, I'm eager to make that contact.
But if I think that looking into a person's face will indicate disapproval, rejection, disappointment, or something else I'd rather not see, I avoid making that contact. And sometimes, I'm sorry to say, I worry that God will look at me with similar discouraging glances. That's not who God really is--He always welcomes me with love--even though sometimes I forget that. So, on this particular morning He wanted me to "look full in His wonderful face" and see His smile for me. Whatever was happening in my day, I knew I could look at Him and know He would smile back.
It was an unusual day, as you might imagine. But it was more powerful than I could have ever imagined. Whenever I needed encouragement or was lonely or stressed, I'd turn the eyes of my spirit toward His face and "see" His smile for me. I loved it! And by the end of the day, I was having so much fun that I found myself initiating smiles toward Him. One time, for example, I was working on a project I didn't enjoy at all. I admit it, I was grumbling. Then I remembered about smiling. I looked up at the ceiling of my cubicle and flashed my most endearing smile. If anyone had seen me they probably would have wondered if my combo platter was short a burrito. But I did it anyway. And I sensed God's presence and pleasure almost instantly. I was blown away by how a simple physical gesture--a smile directed God-ward--could change my attitude and usher in God's presence.
The next day I was reflecting on my unusual experience with God. To be honest, I was wondering if it might have been a little wacky. But just as I was wondering that, a friend sent me an email that included an essay by the 17th century Scottish theologian Samuel Rutherford. In it, Rutherford said "In God's book, a look toward heaven or an uplifting of the eyes is set down as prayer. 'In the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up' (Ps. 5:3)."
I probably don't have to tell you that when I read that, I looked up at the ceiling of my bedroom and grinned. Just like I'm doing now.