“May I have this dance?” I asked Teresa as “Knights in White Satin” blared through our high school gymnasium after the football game. Teresa was a blond-haired, blue-eyed cheerleader with whom I was enamored. When she said, “Yes,” with a pearly white smile, my sixteen-year-old heart popped out of my sweaty T-shirt.
I took Teresa’s hands in mine. She rested her head on my chest as our feet shuffled across the floor. The warmth of our bodies, the dim lights, the slow music became magical as Teresa and I held each other close in a teenager’s dancing embrace.
Just as I was about to plant a kiss on Teresa’s ruby-red cheek, a gentle tap on my shoulder interrupted the passion-pit moment.
“Leave room for Jesus!” four-foot Sister Carmella said with a leprechaun grin that filled her tiny face. Dressed in black and white Dominican nun garb, Sister carried out her chaperone duties with a gentle touch and a fun flair. As Teresa and I untangled our bodies, we chuckled with Sister for a moment, then left the dance floor and cooled off with a cold pop.
I never got that kiss with Teresa. Both she and I have moved on and created our own lives. But as I reflect on that long-ago night, I realize Sister Carmella shared two pieces of wisdom I’ll never forget: to leave room for Jesus and the healing power of a smile.
Leave Room for Jesus
Sister taught us that leaving room for Jesus, God, the Creator—whomever our Higher Power might be for us—is key to living happy and joy-filled lives. We create space for the wisdom and guidance God offers by taking time to be alone each day with him. In those moments of quiet time, we reconnect with our world-weary hearts. We hear the tiny whisper, the voice of love that reminds us of who we are, that gives us good orderly direction (G.O.D.) for navigating our roller coaster lives.
We also learn to create space for Jesus in our relationships. Sometimes we’re called to partner with friends like Teresa, family, spouses, or friends. We walk alongside them offering encouragement and love as they live out their journeys.
But when relationships become strained, we’re called to leave room for Jesus by letting the other person have space and time to heal and grow. During those times, we pray for them, trusting the Holy Spirit is at work in their lives in ways we cannot fully understand or imagine. We deepen our relationship with God and seek divine guidance to determine how we can best love those from whom we have become separated.
Leaving room for Jesus becomes a metaphor for ourselves and for those who are part of our lives. We create space for God each day in our hearts so we can co-create with the grace and guidance of the Holy Spirit. And, when appropriate, we back off from those who need time and space for inner growth.
The Healing Power of a Smile
I remember Sister Carmella’s warm grin at that high school dance and over the four years she served as our religion teacher. It was gentle, loving, kind. You might say it was a Buddha smile—it radiated a sense of inner peace, wisdom, and compassion.
As I’ve grown older, my teachers have taught that smiling triggers the release in our brains of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. These chemicals are associated with feelings of happiness and pleasure. Dopamine is linked to reward and reinforces behaviors that contribute to well-being.
According to Ron Gutman in his Ted Talk, “The Hidden Power of Smiling,” smiling restores our inner peace physically, mentally, and spiritually by inviting us to lighten up and laugh. Our smile can also invite others to mirror back its healing and uplifting power.
Smiling is an important part of the Loving-Kindness practice taught by many spiritual teachers. When sitting in meditation and throughout the day, lifting our lips into a gentle smile and noticing how it radiates love and peace in our hearts can transform our moods and open our lives to the pathway of joy.
Tools for Your Spiritual Toolbox
Consider integrating Sister Carmella’s wisdom into your daily life. Where do you create room for Jesus regularly? What practices do you enjoy that deepen your relationship with your Higher Power?
And when relationships become strained, ask the Creator if you’re being invited to create room for Jesus by giving the other person time and space for the Holy Spirit to work within them. Take your hands off and trust God to do the slow and patient work of transformation.
Consider also adopting a smiling practice. Smile during your meditation time. Throughout the day, bring a smile to your face whenever you get stressed, angry, or need a gentle boost.
Sometimes life is as simple as what Sister Carmella modeled in that high school gymnasium and through the way she lived her devoted life.
Smile. Leave room for Jesus. Notice how these practices become life-giving for you and for others.
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