I don’t usually care very much about fortunes from fortune cookies. They’re usually cheesy, vague, and blandly positive. “You will have a good experience” and “Friendship opportunities await you soon” are not going to change your life (and I once saw a friend get a fortune which read “You are mumph,” which was just befuddling).
But I actually got a fortune that meant something to me recently, and it really underscored my experiences over the past few months. It said: Smile when you are ready.
Here’s some context: I woke up one particular Sunday morning on the wrong side of the bed. I used to believe that was a dumb expression, but I’ve experienced waking up in a bad mood for no reason a handful of times now. This unlucky Sunday, things that normally irritate me a little were making me want to scream, and I had no patience for anything. It culminated with my walking out of the sanctuary halfway through the worship service and going off to a quiet place to sulk.
Fortunately, I ended up sulking real close to a bible, so I spent the next 45 minutes or so reading and praying, meditating on my life and my relationship to God, and gaining a refreshed understanding of some things (which I’ll flesh out in a minute). I didn’t come out of that time feeling cheerful and upbeat, but I definitely felt better. Then I went to lunch, enjoying the company of some wonderful people, and had a little fun for the first time that day. That was when I got that fortune, and it instantly made the whole morning make sense to me. Again, it didn’t totally wash away the gloom, but strangely, I’m glad it didn’t.
Let me see if I can explain why this was profound for me.
In the past few years, I’ve been reminded again and again by Scripture, by friends, and by experience that being a Christian doesn’t make life automatically easy. It’s not a promise of a life free from worry, or pain, or trial. In fact, we are to cherish those trials, because surviving them makes us stronger (James 1:2-4). In general, I have appreciated and acknowledged this wisdom, but filed it away under “good to know” but not pulled it out when things actually got bad. That Sunday, I stared that in the face, and leaned in. I realized, “Here I am, having a bad day, but I’m a Christian, and part of that is difficulty. I can’t deny or reject this bad experience without also denying and rejecting the joy of Jesus’ gift of salvation.”
This ties in a bit with a lesson I’ve learned from the school of mindfulness meditation. A fundamental tenet of mindfulness is to focus on what is, presently, and not to focus on wishes or dreams. Simply acknowledge that whatever’s going on is who you are at that moment. There’s something beautiful about owning your experience, even a crappy one; it doesn’t solve the problems, and it doesn’t make you happy, but sometimes all you need in order to keep going is a reminder that the world hasn’t ended yet.
There’s one more key reason this is helpful: faking it usually makes things worse. You’re lying to yourself, you’re hiding your struggle from the people who might be able to help you, and you can’t fix a problem you keep pretending isn’t there. It is basically always better to acknowledge that things are not great than to pretend that they are. (Of course, there are also plenty of times where you need to keep moving, even if you don’t feel up to it, but you can own up to how you feel and still move on, rather than pretending you’re not struggling.)
I felt all of this summarized and crystallized when I read that simple phrase, “Smile when you are ready.” I’m struggling to capture it in words, because that’s just how profound moments of clarity work, but I hope you’ve taken some encouragement from this short reflection.
Don’t forget to smile, but don’t force a smile you don’t mean.
What do you think? Let me know.