Van Wakeren: A single smile can go a long way


Not long ago, I was getting into my car at the gas station when a toddler from the car next to me gave me an exuberant wave and a "Hi!" as his mom lifted him out of his car seat. His wave brought an instant smile to my face as I waved back. It was the type of greeting you might give to someone you know, but we had never met before.

I've been thinking about this encounter ever since, because so often we adults can be pretty reserved when it comes to greeting one another. I'm guessing I'm not the only person who has passed someone else walking on a street without being able to make eye contact.

Walking down the street isn't the only place this happens, of course. Just think of all the times you have passed someone in the grocery store, while waiting in line to get your prescription, or at the gym and you haven't greeted them. There are lots of reasons why may be the case, but those reasons don't change the fact that greeting someone we don't know is a pretty simple and easy thing to do.

On days when I would rather stick to myself, I have to push myself to greet those I cross paths with. I try to remember what I want to pass on to my kids but am often humbled by how ready they are to greet someone they see walking across the road or coming out of the store. Kids can be such great teachers, helping us to unlearn some of our learned behaviors as adults.

Of course, what it really comes down to is the Golden Rule, something so many of us want our children and grandchildren to adhere to, yet fail to live out ourselves. Jesus tells us, "Do to others as you would have them do to you" (Luke 6:31). Sure, living out this principle isn't always easy, but God is more than willing to help us grow in the fruits of his Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, and self-control - as we abide in him.

With this in mind, imagine what it might be like if we smiled more readily at one another and exchanged a kind greeting more often. When I think of some of the reasons we don't, things like insecurity, shyness, and hectic schedules come to mind, but it seems to me these reasons don't need to become excuses.

After all, like I said, when that little boy waved at me, it brought a huge smile to my face. Little kids have a way of doing that anyway, simply because they are adorable, but a simple smile and "hello" from you will likely bring a smile to someone's face too. And even if it doesn't, I'm willing to guess that when you make the effort, you'll feel a little brighter yourself.

In a world where there is so much heartbreaking news, so much turmoil in the world, and such nastiness that can take place among people, I think we could all take a lesson from this little boy, and that we could all use a little extra kindness.  And, as is usually the case, a little can go a long way.