Our nine-year-old has been practicing her smile for two days now. School pictures are this morning.
She set out her shirt last night, along with a matching hair-clip and cubic-zirconia earrings. These things, she could plan for. But that smile? She’s not sure what will happen when the photographer snaps the shutter.
“Will you pray for my smile, Mommy?” She asked me this morning at the end of driveway, right before yellow bus NO. 44 crested the hill.
More than anything, she says, the success of a fourth-grade portrait hinges on that smile. Trouble is, she doesn’t like hers. She thinks her eyes are too squinty. Her permanent teeth aren’t perfectly lined up. Her head tilt is just … off.
We prayed at the end of the driveway this morning, for the real smile — not the one where the corners of her mouth are pinned back and the eyes are forced open wide.
“Be you, Lydia,” I told her. “Your real smile is the best one of all.”
How about us? What smile are we wearing today?
Yeah, I’ve been there, practicing the look that says, “I’m fine. Really!” It’s the kind of smile where you could grind the enamel off your back teeth, if you aren’t careful. It pairs nicely with the hidden knot in the stomach.
My favorite place to wear the airbrushed smile: church. When I couldn’t quite muster up a real smile, I’ve pulled my fake-happy from the shelf and slapped that on, along with a little pink lipstick.
Because the truth is, I sometimes fear what might happen if I wear my hurt on the outside. Vulnerability threatens the shined-up veneer I practice in the mirror. Real feels risky. I wonder: Will they still like me if they see the mess I am underneath?
But false veneers assault our Real. Truth is, we can’t maintain a crooked smile to cover up the junk underneath. That’s too much pressure.
A while back, I threw out the fake-happy with the garbage. But occasionally, a recycled version makes a reappearance. I’m working on that. I’m working on letting the only smile on this face be the real one that God created uniquely for me.
I’m looking at the clock now, and in just a few minutes, my nine-year-old will be sitting in front of a camera. I promised her I’d pray, so I’ll do that right now:
Dear Child, my prayer for you (and for me) is this: May we always and only wear our real smiles — the ones that crinkle our nose, and make our eyes squint. May we know the freedom that if we can’t smile, we don’t have to. And may every true smile spring up from a place of inner joy, not manufactured happiness.