What is a smile worth?
Just back at work one week and I am already checking my diary for when I can next carve out a few days off. I suppose because I was away for so long I was so self-consious about being percieved to be having a 7 week "holiday" that in actual fact I only really took 10 days actual holiday. But also the time since my return has been a fairly hectic whirl with some difficult situations pastorally and administratively arising. Indeed I joked with one group of corresdondents that I was seriously thinking of applying for the up-coming vacancy in Faith UMC, Grand Rapids. But I am only joking... Honest!
Last night I was involved in a particularly painful meeting, with a lot of deep hurt being expressed, and I, in this case, was the representative of the institution which was percieved to have contibuted greatly to this hurt. I tried to address some of the issues that stand in the way of healing, but I probably also opened up other wounds... old ones and perhaps new ones... I also tried to express my sense that others, who were coming at the issue in hand from a polar opposite perspective, were also hurting deeply, which some were perhaps not ready to hear. So when the meeting was over, and people were leaving I extended my hand to each of them in turn at the door to say goodnight... Some took it... Some didn't... With some of the latter I have no doubt that it is because, for one reason or another, they didn't actually see it... For the others... well, I'm truly sorry they are hurting so much that even a handshake with myself would be too painful. And I really mean that.
This morning then, I was not feeling full of the joys of spring myself, both because of last night's meeting, and other difficult situations. Despite that I dragged myself around the hospital for my chaplaincy round, stirring myself to be as cheery and upbeat as possible, and as appropriate, for each of the patients, and as ever, most of them seemed genuinely grateful for the short time we were able to spend together. And as I was walking around the corridors, I chatted and joked with staff, of all types, were there was an opportunity... Or if not, I simply gave them a smile... There are times when I'm so self-absorbed that I don't do this (and if I have ever passed you without a smile, please forgive me), but it was always taught to me that a smile costs nothing, but is worth a lot to those who recieve it... And generally people will respond in kind.
However, that certainly wasn't the case with one member of staff (a consultant it must be said). He clearly saw me smiling at him but his response to my smile was certainly not "in kind..." He jerked his head away from me so quickly as he walked past he's probably suffering from whiplash now!
Initially, as with the refused handshakes last night, I was indignant... But, as with them, I wondered what this man saw in me with my collar on, smiling (or perhaps percieving it as a sneer, as someone did at one point last night)? How often we don't realise that people are responding not simply to us as individuals, or to a simple smile or offered hand... But to a whole panoply of people and organisations that we represent to them... We can be for others the very human incarnation of their hurt... Even though we don't realise it.
But the key thing is that we cannot take these slights and hurts (real or imagined) on ourselves. Christ, the Suffering Servant has already taken them on himself (Isaiah 53), together with the hurts of all those we encounter, and through his sacrifice and his Spirit at work in and through us, we can be, not only the incarnation of their hurt... but perhaps our simple smiles and offered hands might be the beginning of healing for them...