The Mrs. and I, long before we were, in fact, Mr. and Mrs., once played an innocent little party game at a friend’s apartment when we were in college. The object of the game was for a guy or gal to get the other one to smile by getting up in their space, without ever touching, and saying something like, “if you love me, honey, you’ll smile.” It was the other’s herculean task to keep from smiling. That was the catch. As if that weren’t enough, that person would also have to call upon all their inner reserves to stare ahead, flinty-faced—without even the slightest twitch at the corner of their mouth—and say the words, “You know I love you, honey, but I just can’t smile.”
Silly? Not hardly. The school had rules against holding hands, so this was golden entertainment, I assure you.
The beauty of the game was that you could pick any girl in the room—the prettier the better—and get so close in proximity to someone who might never, ever, let you get that close to her under normal circumstances, and milk the moment for all it’s worth! You can easily see where I’m going with this: it really wasn’t in the strategy to get a girl to smile. Not right away, anyway. You wanted to, ummm, play it out.
Sandy and I weren’t dating each other when we first played the game, but I knew when it was my turn, I would pick her. Sandy was easily the knock-out of the room so I motioned for her to sit in front of me, at perfect eye level. I leaned in, ever so close, my breath the only partition between the lower region of our faces, lips so tantalizingly close, tension mounting. I barely opened my mouth when she absolutely cracked up!
It was over before it even began.
I rolled my eyes because I wanted our little game to play out. “C’mon, Sandy…” I groused. She straightened herself and playfully put on an exaggerated frown. “Sorry. Okay,” she said, pulling back her shoulders and adjusting in her seat. An exaggerated frown, then “I’m ready.” And so was I.
“Saaaaaaannnnnndyyyyy…if you love me, you’ll smiiiiiiiiiiillllllle…”
My eyes were looking deeply and dreamily into her green-blue speckled irises now, lips so close sparks were almost visible to the naked eye. Close enough to kiss. My heart thumped. A long pause. This time, however, Sandy sat still as a stone, never breaking with that deadpan, almost cold, stare, when finally her lips parted in a dead-straight line and she spoke the scripted words in measured cadence, “I love you…honey…(oooh, almost a smile!)…but…”
A theatrical pause.
“I. Just. Can’t. Smile.”
The next day, I broke up with my girlfriend, asked Sandy out and she and I have been together ever since…
It occurs to me just now that silly little game should be the commercial for the modern professing church.
Jesus said, “If you love Me, you’ll…keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) It is often said of the western church that for all its creeds and confessions, there seems to be a vast disconnect between all her beautiful homilies and its testimony in a barely noticing pagan culture. We do pretty well at INforming but not TRANSforming modern culture. IN the world and also, far too sadly, OF the world.
“We love You, Jesus, but we just can’t (or won’t) obey those commands You’ve left with us.”
“You weren’t really serious about these things, were You?”
Lay not in store for yourselves treasures on earth.
You must say ‘good-bye’ to everything in order to be My disciple.
Take up your cross daily.
In order to save your life, lose it.
Go make disciples.
“No, I don’t expect YOU to do them…I expect to do them…through you. So smile!”
To this church, our Lord asks, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46) So the Spirit comes again and again to this church, coaxing and cajoling, hoping for a sign, a ‘tell’, a flinch, a twitch or a blink. Something. Anything. The church, unmoved, sits behind her stone walls and glazed stained-glass eyes, going through the motions, saying some nice things, yet wholly noncommittal. An outside observer might say with consternation, “Is that a yes? Was that a no? I can’t tell.”
Of course, our Lord doesn’t have to ask that question.
The church of the New Testament, she who is being perfected and readied for her Bridegroom Lord, is not enigmatic but emblematic. She has a “yes” in her heart for her Lord. She does not play at love but moves closer, ever closer, as she is pulled into the inner chamber of intimacy with Christ. Whatever He asks, she capitulates gladly. Even when He asks her to smile.
May it always be said of us: “She obeyed! She smiled! She really does love her Lord!”