By Jill Briscoe
Have you ever put on your smile in the line of duty and greeted all those you meet with a lie?
“How are you today, Jill?”
“Fine thank you, how are you?”
After all, it wouldn’t be appropriate, you reason, to tell the truth! “Awful – I’m dying inside!” doesn’t sound quite right – or what a good ministry leader should say.
A few years ago I was in South Africa with my husband, Stuart. We went from morning to night, meeting to meeting. We spoke in schools and in churches, on radio, and on TV talking our heads off. The folks who had invited us for that particular ministry tour had the philosophy, “Here comes the preacher (and his wife), let’s kill them!” I remember halfway through the grueling five-week itinerary being totally spent and feeling as if I was going to snap.We were in yet one more meeting when the hymn was announced. We stood up, hymn books all ready. The panic began to rise in my throat. “Lord,” I whispered, “If I sing one more hymn I’m going to SCREAM!” But I didn’t. I just kept smiling.
In our ministry lives, we so often portray a lie in word or body language. It’s very easy to do. Now obviously we can’t start screaming whenever we sing one hymn too many, or reply to the lady who asks us how we are, “Lousy and I don’t really care how you are either.” But we can start by being authentic, developing some integrity by being honest with God about what’s behind the smile.
A number of years ago I was on a Christian college campus as the speaker for the week. I was living in the visitors’ dorm among the students; I became aware that I was being watched! Each morning I got up early and jogged around the block (If I were honest, I would say I lumbered around). A sweet student and two friends approached me after chapel and said, “Oh, Mrs. Briscoe, we’ve been watching you every morning and I said to my friends, ‘What do you think Mrs. Briscoe is thinking about?’ One of my friends suggested this verse of Scripture and I suggested another.” I looked at their eager appreciative faces and a struggle ensued behind the speaker smile on my face. Should I tell them and dash my image in their eyes? God won. “Well girls,” I said with a grin (different from the smile), “I need to be honest and tell you what I was thinking – Oh Lord, one more tree – just let me get around this block and I’ll never bother you again – help me to get to just one more tree!!!” I’m sure those young women were disappointed as I deliberately stepped off my pedestal – but I know the Lord was pleased. I had been honest!
Quite honestly, there has been many a day when the muscles in my face are aching with “the smile” outside while my heart is aching with the sorrow inside. Sometimes we need to minister in misery through our pain, but we don’t need to pretend. We can reply in truth to people’s questions by saying something like, “Well now that you ask, quite frankly this isn’t one of my favorite days.” Of course we can always add, “But I will yet praise Him!”
A pastor friend lost a son – a beloved only child. You can imagine his grief. A parishioner met him in the village the week of the funeral and asked him, “Pastor, are we going to hear a sermon on Sunday about how God is helping you rejoice in your sufferings?” He smiled (but sadly) and appropriately and honestly responded, “No dear lady, you’re not.” Looking rather startled and a bit disapproving the lady began to exhort her pastor to praise the Lord. The pastor forestalled her and added, “But I will yet praise Him.”
“Yet – but not yet.” Why can’t we be that honest? Because we have to project the image, “I’m always up?” I’d let the smile down if I ever stopped sing, smiling, and lying.
May God help us have a little more integrity. After all, even Jesus said to His disciples, at a dark spot in His life, “my soul is sorrowful even unto death.” Jesus wept openly with Martha and Mary at their brother’s tomb. He never hid the truth behind a false façade. Neither should we. So what’s behind the smile? Be honest. Be real. God is waiting to grow us up in the matter of integrity.