One of my favorite lines from the movie Elf is when Buddy says “I just like to smile. Smiling is my favorite.”
I like to smile, too, and these days, it’s truly coming from an authentic place. But when I was younger, it was sometimes to hide pain that was too shameful to talk about.
This younger generation, the millennials, has something I didn’t have at their age, and something they’re helping me discover I do have: courage. Courage to talk about things that are difficult to talk about. Courage to embrace my story and share it, even the parts I’m ashamed of and the parts I’d like to forget.
I was a teen in the late 70s and early 80s in the “Christian” religious world and let me tell you, it was a bizarre time that continued on into the 90s that was confusing to figure out. I thought it was normal to “hate the sin but love the sinner” but what it really looked like was hate the sinner, too. When I became the “sinner,” life came crashing down hard.
Religion has done harm to people by forcing them into hiding. Because of the negative response to things like homosexuality and abortion, Christians have added pain to people’s lives, not love and joy.
That pain has caused people to hide behind their smiles. They try so hard to fit in with everyone, they smile, laugh at all the jokes, but they’re hiding pain in their hearts that they don’t feel safe to talk about. We have so many around us who are battling depression and anxiety, and addictions.
Some may feel terrified of how their family will respond if they tell them their truth. There are children who are traumatized by domestic violence and they respond in anger or withdrawal.
There are kids who live with violence outside of their homes every day and can’t talk about it but need patience and understanding. There are women who’ve had abortions and they’d rather take that secret to their grave than tell a soul. There are men who were sexually abused as boys or teens who can’t talk about their abuse because of the shame they carry. Young women self-harm because their pain is so great, they can’t feel anything unless they cut. There are children who have lost parents to death and that’s a grief that will stay with them forever.
We must, MUST, Christians, be kinder and more loving. Some of the Facebook posts I see trouble me so much. We justify unkind attitudes towards “other people’s” children that we’d be appalled and outraged if those same attitudes were directed towards “our” children. You know of what I speak. Do we not care about these children? And ironically, the approach to abortion is hurting more than helping. It really is. We’re not saving babies. We’re not drawing anyone in to the love of Christ by comments like “baby killers”, “murderers” or “I just weep for the babies”. No scared pregnant woman is going to want to come to the church for help if they’ve been bombarded with that rhetoric. No woman who’s had an abortion will ever want to walk into a church if she reads posts like the ones I’ve read. It’s the approach that is repulsive. It’s the opposite of loving. Do we not care about these women and the men who also played a part in the abortion? Or are we only interested in politics where we think we’re protecting “babies”, but we don’t protect real children because they’re “illegal?”
In a way, I’m addressing two issues here, but they intersect in meaningful ways: mental health and how the church sometimes makes people feel. Many therapists will agree that a client who has a strong faith (not religion) has a better prognosis than someone who doesn’t. If the Christian church wants to be a part of the strong faith support system, it needs to change how they view and respond to the human condition. God loves us unconditionally and there is NO condemnation in Christ; so why do we condemn?
Behind the smile, we may be hiding something deeply painful. But it’s good to know that the pain and struggles we go through make us who we are. They shape us and grow us; it’s what makes this earth-living so unique.
But, let’s play a part in the building up of people, not the tearing down. Let’s help carry their burdens, not add to them. The more people feel loved and accepted for who they are, the more their smile will be an authentic reflection of how they feel inside.