When God Smiles Back at Us
Many people feel intimidated by spiritual life. They think sacred truths are for people who are better or wiser than we are. It is easy for us to believe spiritual life is about following a set of rules.
We assume we are supposed to act certain ways or be interested in particular topics. When do not behave like that or share those interests we can feel bad. We might feel guilty or ashamed or bored. It might be we are just uncomfortable with people do not share our interests.
Some of us feel like spiritual life is designed to make us uncomfortable. It all sounds vague and conceptual, not particularly tangible or accessible.
Why is spiritual life so difficult to understand? Is it possible for spiritual life to be practical, to apply to everyday life? Why does spiritual life feel so much like calculus?
When we find something we think we do understand, why is it so judgmental? Is spiritual life really about God looking over our shoulder checking our work?
We feel our experience of spiritual life is God finding what we do wrong. Spiritual life seems to be like a micromanager keeping track of every mistake we make.
I experience spiritual life differently. We are not trying to win favor with God by following all the rules or agreeing with all the right ideas.
Spiritual life is a relationship, not a system of ideas nor a checklist for how we live our lives. God is love and spiritual life is about love.
We spend time learning how to live into spiritual life. Listening and breathing deeply, we open ourselves to spiritual life. We listen to sacred stillness and look into God’s face with anticipation.
God smiles back at us in love.
Recognizing When God Smiles Back at Us
We have learned to expect to fall short, not to be living spiritual life well. Whether we inherited our expectations or we taught ourselves, we anticipate making mistakes. Looking into God’s face is a challenge for us, particularly when we expect God will not be pleased.
There are people who often are not happy with what I do or what I say. As I spend time with them I become less enthusiastic about looking to see how they respond to me. After a few times of registering their disappointment or disagreement, I know what to expect.
We may experience spiritual life in similar ways. If we are told we are wrong or are falling short often enough, we grow tired of trying. Why work our way through the confusion and frustration of spiritual life when we already know what will happen?
The challenge for us is looking and seeing for ourselves. What do we hear when we listen to sacred stillness? How does spiritual life respond when we give ourselves time to be open and listen?
Can we see God’s face when we close our eyes and look? Is there disappointment or disapproval in God’s eyes or do we see the joy when God smiles back at us?
The only way we can know what we see is to look for ourselves. My experience, looking for myself, is spiritual life filling me and the world around me with love. I may be reluctant to accept it, it may take me by surprise, I sometimes forget it.
When God smiles back at us it reminds us what it feels like to be deeply embraced.
What Does It Mean When God Smiles Back at Us?
I find I am much harder and more judgmental on myself than God is on me.
The time I spend listening to sacred stillness, looking God in the face, restores me. I am not perfect, and often find I am the only who expects me to be.
Spiritual life fills us and reminds us, again, of our own potential, our own value. There is nothing more we can do to earn the times when God smiles back at us. Nothing we do will make those times happen less often. Regardless of the mistakes we make or the questions in our minds, God smiles back at us.
When we look into God’s face, God smiles back at us.
The love in spiritual life is not conditional, not dependent on anything we do. God smiles back at us whenever we look and we can rely on it.
We look into God’s face and it is ageless. Childlike and aware, the face smiling back at us knows us for who we are and still smiles.
How We See Ourselves When God Smiles Back at Us
Listening to sacred stillness, we close our eyes and make eye contact with the face of God. We look God deeply in the face, right in the eyes, and we smile. God returns our gaze and smiles back at us, reassuring us.
We listen and see ourselves reflected in God’s eyes.
I do not always find what I expect in God’s face, but there is always something there I need. God is always honest with me, more honest than I am with myself sometimes.
When I look God in the face I remember God knows me better than I know myself. I may be pulled away in different directions most of the time. When I pause long enough to listen and look, God is there smiling back.
God apparently sees depths and possibilities in me I usually miss. As we sit together the hidden truths emerge and I am able to appreciate them.
There may be things which show themselves over time, or are on the verge of being revealed. We sit together listening and looking and smiling.
What we see revealed in God’s eyes makes us smile and God smiles back at us.
What do we see when God smiles back at us?
How do we respond when God smiles back at us?
[Image by Bill Selak]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com, and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.