Just One Look
Sometimes silly becomes sensible and foolish becomes wise. Take the case I’ve come to regard as, “The Smiling Church Lady.”
It was 2009 and I was trying to raise money to help a substance recovery ministry. To that end I had mailed a letter to each of the 3,000 or so people on my customer list. The money had been trickling in at a discouraging rate, with about $1 coming back for every $3 I spent on stamps. Uh-oh!
Then one day I got a letter from the Smiling Church Lady, who at that time had not yet been given her nickname. Hoping the envelope contained a fat check I tore it open, only to find that there was no check at all, just a brief note on a small card. It read as follows:
Dear Mr. Scribbins,
“All the ladies in my church group here at St. John Neuman are excited about your fundraiser. We hope to get involved as soon as we complete our current project. Blessings to you and the drugs.”
After reading the note, curiosity compelled me to look up Sonya’s phone number and give her a call. I thanked her for the note and her interest, and I explained that the money was not for drugs, it was to fight drug addiction. Then I asked her about the nature of her “current project.”
“Oh, we’re so thrilled about it!” she explained. “There are 12 of us gals–she pronounced it “gells” with a hard g–in a Friday morning Coffee with Christ, and what we’re doing is, all during Lent for one day a week, we’re smiling at everybody we meet!” The way Sonya said it, it would take about 50 exclamation points to convey her enthusiasm. I wanted to say, “You’ve got to be kidding, me,” but I kept quiet.
“You know, Mr. Scribbins,” she continued, I never knew how much power I had in this old face of mine until I started smiling at people. It’s really something. You should try it!” For the rest of that day and the next few days I shook my head at the futility of the Smiling Church Lady’s “smiling project.” How silly it was. How foolish it was. And it was during those few days, as the Holy Spirit gave me a good talking-to, that silly became sensible and foolishness became wisdom—at least to me.
Of all the people with whom we make eye contact, we will never see many of them again. There’s the card dealer, the cabby and the cashier in Las Vegas. There’s the beggar, the bellhop and the bartender in New Orleans. There’s the vagrant, the vendor and the vocal fan at the ballpark. There’s the face in the crowd, the guy beside you at the stoplight and the TSA agent who scans your boarding pass. Chances are you’ll never lay eyes on any of them again until you get to heaven.
Seeing, then, as how our first impression is often our final impression, doesn’t it make sense to love people with a kind look? Doesn’t it make sense to do as Jesus did and to “go about, doing good?” (Acts 10:38)
If you believe that just one look can’t possibly make any difference in the War on RD, think again. Life is a precarious tug-of-war between faith and unbelief. If one more straw can break a camel’s back, then one less straw can save it. When you have a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with a stranger, as you do every day, your conduct could well determine whether faith or unbelief carry that day in that person’s life. Of the hundreds of interactions that person may have that day, your interaction could well cast the deciding vote between faith and unbelief.
You may think that how you look at strangers doesn’t matter, but it does. You have a better chance of influencing a stranger’s faith by smiling than you do of influencing an election by voting or saving the environment by recycling. So if you vote and recycle, which are good things, why not smile, which is a very good thing?
As a Christian you are an ambassador all day, every day (2 Co. 5:20). That’s why a hostile blast of your car horn, a temperamental display of your middle finger, a childish refusal to say “excuse me,” or a selfish withholding of a smile may feel good in the moment yet never leave you with a pleasant afterglow.
Every instance of Christian indifference (?!?) brings the taste of honey in the mouth followed by the grumbling of gravel in the belly (Rev. 10:10). No episode of indifference yields good fruit, and when that indifference involves the other color, it yields doubly bad fruit. There’s the indifference for one, plus the suspicion of racially-motivated indifference for two.
Jesus says we won’t be trusted with much if we can’t be trusted with little (Lk. 16:10). Loving people with a look is a little thing but it opens the door to bigger things. Plus, it’s a great way to begin our personal involvement in the War on RD. So let’s be like the Smiling Church Lady and dazzle the other color with our faces. Let’s smile, because we’re on heaven’s camera!
Red Racial Nugget #6: “Jesus looked at him and loved him (Mk. 10:21).”
Be street smart yet harmless. Peace.