The Ministry of Smiles

the importance of being friendly

Moving has many advantages that are not easily recognizable when you see the long list of places we have lived. The closets get cleaned out more often, our wardrobes can face just about any weather condition, and our immediate family has spent lots of time together.

If you have moved with young children, you know that your focus is necessarily trained squarely on making sure that they adjust to their new schools, make friends, and receive the accommodations needed in their classrooms. It is easier to adjust to a move with children in tow as you explore your new area with little curious companions who want to discover what makes your new town unique.

Moving in middle age is lonely.

A Tough Transition

Without children to shepherd and act as a buffer, moving is drastically different. It is harder to make friends and get involved in a new parish. Where life had been consumed with caring for everyone around me, my husband now traveling more often, I discovered more hours in a day than I knew how to constructively fill.

After the first few months of unpacking passed by, the time came to plug into the new community. I found a school nearby serving children who did not yet speak English fluently that needed extra “room mom help.” Unfortunately, my college Spanish has not come back as quickly as I had hoped. Thankfully, the children and the teacher do not seem to mind.

When You Can’t Share Words

When you can’t share words, your primary means of communication is smiling. Seeing the children laugh as they play, forgetting their big worries, I forget my worries, too. Their smiles are contagious and I always leave feeling better than when I arrive.

Connecting is complicated.

God created each and every one of us with the ability and desire to connect with other people. This becomes difficult when we are running too fast, paying more attention to what we don’t have in common, or are afraid of rejection. A smile forms bonds of connection. But we have the choice about whether to be the first to reach out or not.

When we look into someone’s eyes and smile, we have the ability to acknowledge their dignity as a beloved child of God or ignore them altogether. We are often tempted to mask ourselves with a cloak of busy and rush through life with our eyes trained down.

Life has become so very contentious and there are many people who dwell on the margins of society due to their age, their health, where they were born, their financial status, their mental condition, their criminal record, or their addictions. At times, it just feels safer to keep our eyes in our own business and go about our day.

As an outsider, I knew what it was like to go an entire day without anyone looking me in the eye or acknowledging me. Thankfully, I also knew what it felt like to be an insider—someone who was deeply connected to a community, a family, and friends. And I knew how to bridge the gap.

Something so small makes all the difference in the world.

Smiling Invites Connection

Seeing what a difference eye contact and a smile made with the children, I began to make eye contact and smile at other people I saw during the day. At Mass, I gave big smiles to everyone and held their gaze a little longer than before. I was intentional about slowing down and looking people in the eye in the grocery store instead of rushing through the produce section with my eyes looking for the next item on my list.

It was awkward at first feeling like I was invading someone else’s personal space. But, the more that I smiled, the more natural it felt.

Once I got over myself, I began to see that I was surrounded by lonely people who were starved for attention. God, through my little smile, let other people know, without words or drama, that they were seen, known, and loved. I could minister to others with my smile. I did not need authority, permission, or a special degree.

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The Ministry of Smiles

The beautiful thing about the Ministry of Smiles is that we can each participate regardless of where we live and what our daily responsibilities might be. No training or special experience is necessary.

All you need to do is take the time to look another person in the eye just one beat longer than usual and smile long enough for them to respond.

God created us to smile and to respond to others when they smile. When we authentically smile, the kind of smile that causes our eyes to crinkle at the edges, we experience a cascade of positive sensory experiences. When you smile at someone, their body, again by God’s incredible plan, automatically responds by smiling as well. When they smile, they experience the same positive effects of their neurotransmitters that you felt. So, when you smile, you are giving the other person a gift. The most amazing part of all of this: it is all free.

Your Smile is Priceless

When you smile, you allow the Holy Spirit to make the love of Jesus known right where you are. He is present in your eyes, your smile, and in your laugh. Do not hoard this treasure for fear of how someone will respond.

Remember the priceless value of your smile when you are out at the grocery, sitting quietly in your pew next to someone you don’t know, or when you notice the homeless woman on the street.

Your ministry of smiles will impact people in ways you will never know this side of Heaven. Go make Him known in your smile.

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Katie Kibbe is the author of multiple Scripture Studies for Catholic women including The Spirit of Mary. She writes to encourage women to discover the small steps they can take to experience a vibrant faith, radiant hope, and the unfailing love of Jesus Christ in the midst of the chaos and crazy of everyday life. You can find out more about her here.

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