She smiled at me—it was such a lovely thing! Shy, hiding behind her mom’s skirts at the Meadow Stream family greenhouse outside of Plymouth, about 5 years old and cute as a button, I first asked if she would help me count the seedlings I was getting. That didn’t quite do the trick, but after sharing a few of my smiles and a little chat with the mom, she finally shared one of hers! I didn’t find something at another greenhouse, so back to Meadow Stream I went to get the last of the plants.
There she was again, playing on the lawn mower, so not with her mom when I checked out this time. But the mom shared another of the little girl’s smiles with me– a smile the little girl had colored after I left the first time, on the bottom of one of the cardboard plant carriers, so I was able to take this smile home with me! In the process, I think I might have left a smile or two with the mom, who might even have shared them with the rest of the family, too.
Believe it or not, I never used to talk much with strangers. But when I keep preaching this Jesus stuff, some of the virtue of reaching out and cultivating smiles has been rubbing off on me. Hexis is the Greek word often translated as virtues. I’ve not been able to find this exact word in the Bible, though the closely related term, arete—excellence or moral virtue–is used a bit in the New Testament. Hexis is often translated in Latin as habitus, from which we get “habit” in English, but it’s more of a habit on steroids—habitual behavior PLUS tastes, preferences, tendencies, interests.
A lot of people have heard of Aristotle, even if we don’t fully appreciate this ancient Greek philosopher and founder of Western education these days, but he was all about cultivating, or working to grow more excellence (arete) in virtues (hexis/habitus, or good habits/tastes/inclinations). He, too, would have gotten a good smile from my exchange with the good folk at Meadow Stream, because my habit/habitus/hexis of talking with strangers, is something I have learned and developed over time, which fits so well his model of education, or personal formation of excellence in virtues.
Whenever I talk about reaching out or sharing with people outside our normal bubble of relationships, I very often hear responses like “I’m not comfortable…” or “that’s just not me…”. But even though this habit/habitus IS a part of me now, it never USED to be something I was comfortable with, and certainly not something that came natural to me. Until I started cultivating smiles. And like our gardens, it starts with just a little seedling, or even smaller, with a planting of seeds that we then water and care for, and uproot the weeds around it that would choke out what we’re trying to cultivate.
Cultivating smiles is a lot like propagating in the garden. We cultivate smiles by sharing smiles—especially with cute little kids with whom it’s so easy to smile! Then when we keep on sharing smiles a little bit at a time, and weed out the grumpiness that too often gets in the way, it becomes easier. And a smile– as with that mom at Meadow Streams– often leads to a conversation—even though the other may be a stranger. And you CAN smile, even when you feel like frowning! When you do, the smiling muscles in your face are directly connected to the happy neurons in your brain, and a plastered on smile starts working right away on changing your feelings. Ask any neurologist, they’ll tell you!
Most of the time, too, sharing smiles is like a two for one deal—you share one, and get two or more back in return—so you never run out! It’s that time of year anyway for cultivating—both our gardens, and our smiles! So keep cultivating those smiles, and be abundantly blessed in return!