The Sacrifice of a Smile

I have been reading a lot of St. Josemaría Escrivá lately, as well as a daily meditation based on the spirituality of Escrivá, and I am often struck how often smiling is mentioned. St. Josemaría’s spirituality is based on the notion that we can all become saints in our ordinary lives, with our ordinary jobs and responsibilities, amidst the ordinary events and occurrences of the day. When he speaks about ways to grow in holiness, he’s often not speaking about dramatic martyrdoms or fantastic sacrifices, but about the commonplace things that cross our path every day: waking up with our alarm, not losing our tempers with coworkers, and smiling.

Yes, smiling. At first I thought this was pretty trivial. When we think about sacrifice, we at least think of something somewhat painful and trying.  Smiling? How can smiling be a sacrifice?

Try it for a week, and get back to me about that.

Yes, smiling can be a sacrifice.  Rarely do we feel like smiling all day every day, unless we’re on vacation at the beach. And even then I can probably think of reasons to be less than cheerful.  Yet have you ever noticed what a smile can do for someone else?  Perhaps you have a coworker that is suffering silently and secretly. A simple smile and greeting as you pass in the hallway might be the only smile they see all day.  Maybe there is someone who constantly sees the pain and division in our culture. A smile from you—even if you’re a stranger passing them in the grocery store—might help restore their faith in humanity.

In his chapter on Mortification, Escrivá explains, “That joke, that witty remark held on the tip of your tongue; the cheerful smile for those who annoy you; that silence when you’re unjustly accused; your friendly conversation with people whom you find boring and tactless; the daily effort to overlook one irritating detail or another in the persons who live with you… this, with perseverance, is indeed solid interior mortification.”

In some ways, this notion can be rather consoling. My path to holiness doesn’t have to be filled with grand gestures and enormous demonstrations of faith. The things Escriva lists are quite ordinary and things we face daily. On the other hand, this can be daunting.  Yes, the things he lists are things I face every day.  And every day I probably fail at them.

At times, biting my tongue when I have a witty retort or smiling at someone who annoys me is the hardest thing God may be asking of me.  Small, yes. Ordinary, sure. But difficult? You bet.

Smile, and you will risk people thinking that you don’t have care in the world, even when you might be struggling under a heavy cross.  You will suffer through pain without people around you even knowing.  The people who annoying you might seek you out more frequently because you always have a smile for them.  These are the risks and the crosses that come with the smile.

But you will also find peace and joy.  You can’t smile all day without starting to feel a piece of that happiness yourself.  In the end, does scowling or taking your bad mood out on others really make you feel better?  Of course not.  So try to smile today.  At strangers you pass on the grocery store, at the guy who cuts you off in traffic, at your coworkers, your kids, and your spouse.  The sacrifice of a smile.  Because sacrifices don’t have to be dramatic to be powerful.

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About the Author

Joannie Watson

Joan Watson was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, but college and graduate school took her to Virginia, Ohio, and Rome. After graduating from Christendom College with a B.A. in History and Franciscan University with a M.A. in Theology, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be part of the explosion of Catholic culture in the middle of the Bible Belt.

She has been blessed to work for Dr. Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Aquinas College. She is presently the Director of Adult Formation for the Diocese of Nashville. She also serves as the Associate Editor of Integrated Catholic Life.

When she’s not testing the culinary exploits of new restaurants or catching up on the latest BBC miniseries, she’s FaceTiming with her eight nephews and nieces and enjoying her role as coolest aunt. She likes gelato, bourbon, and the color orange.

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