When I was in kindergarten I thought I had to show all of my teeth when I smiled for a photo. It didn’t matter what clever technique my mother tried to use, I wasn’t going to grasp the concept of a natural smile. Needless to say, she didn’t have to worry about spending a ton of money on school pictures that year.
But as I got older, I actually became pretty good at smiling. Scratch that. I became great at smiling.
In fact, I became so great at smiling that I eventually decided it had to go hand-in-hand with my Christianity. I believed in God with every fiber of my being, and I knew He saved me. So how couldn’t I smile?
If I wanted others to know this God, they needed to see how happy He made me…right?
Then freshman year of college hit.
And my world fell in on me.
My close-knit family was struggling, and we didn’t feel so close-knit anymore. In fact, I was rarely calling or visiting home like I used to.
Home didn’t feel like home and campus certainly didn’t feel like home.
But I held onto the one thing I knew I had to as a Christian.
It didn’t matter that my weight was dropping and I was barely sleeping out of anxiety. It didn’t matter that I began doubting God or my purpose.
I wish I could say that by sophomore year I found my joy in Christ again, but I didn’t.
Instead, I kept the mess at home hidden, and the mess within in me hidden. I figured if no one could see it, it would just go away. I just had to keep smiling and acting like I was a joyful Christian and soon enough I would be.
But the mess didn’t disappear. It kept growing inside of me until it consumed me. Smiling began feeling like I was lifting a 200-pound weight. And by that time, I had spent enough time in the weight room. I could lift it, no matter how loud my mind and body screamed at me not to.
And the ironic thing is, I now know the thing keeping me from living in the joy of Christ was the thing I held most dear: my smile.
After finally learning to unveil my mess, I’ve realized four reasons why Christians should stop smiling in a season of sorrow:
1. There is a season to be sad.
Scripture makes it clear that it is not “un-Christian” to be sad or to mourn. In fact, sadness is a major aspect of the true Christian life. I far too long believed a false theology- that my (fake) happiness meant I was walking with God. Instead, I was walking away from Him. By not embracing the season God has us in, we choose not to walk with Him through the season.
2. Our sorrow dethrones us and puts God in the proper place.
In the happy times, it’s easy to feel like we are in control of our lives. It often takes us hitting rock bottom to realize that we’re not. But it’s in those sobering, tear-filled moments that we turn our dependency away from ourselves and to our Savior. And we remember that He is not only worthy of our lives, but he is a much better director of them.
3. God gives us joy in the midst of sorrow.
It’s here that the irony sets in. When we sit God at the throne of our hearts, we have an indescribable joy. It’s this joy that so many Christians hear about and think they have to fake. But faking isn’t necessary, because the joy is real when God is in the proper place, and it is unlike anything we could ever manufacture. I did have about three paragraphs here attempting to describe this joy…then I remembered it’s simply indescribable.
4. God uses our sorrow for His purpose.
When we slap on a fake smile to cover the mess within, we are covering the beauty of the Gospel. Jesus didn’t die for us because we are perfect beings. He died because of the opposite. Unveiling our mess makes way for our Master.
Somehow this often becomes twisted in the church. We smile pretty. Act like our lives our pretty. Give pretty, Sunday school answers. Then we are shocked at the multitude of unbelievers around us. Why would anyone messy think they could approach God when Christians seem to have no messes? Exposing our mess in light of the Gospel is the most powerful thing we could ever do on this side of heaven (2 Corinthians 12:1-10).
I don’t know what mess you may be facing, but I do know that exposing it is the holiest choice you can make. It’s hard. It’s awkward. It’s worth it.
Let go of the weight, my friend.
You can stop smiling.
Question: What is your experience with sadness? Have you ever experienced God in the midst of your sadness? I’d love to hear your story below.
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