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You’ve lost your smile

Over the holidays, Karen's dad and I were looking at 20 years of old photos that we want to digitize. Karen and I have lived lives filled with adventure. There we are at a colorful Hindu temple on the slopes of a volcano in Bali. There we are on the beach in the Dominican Republic. Fast fo…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Over the holidays, Karen's dad and I were looking at 20 years of old photos that we want to digitize.

Karen and I have lived lives filled with adventure. There we are at a colorful Hindu temple on the slopes of a volcano in Bali. There we are on the beach in the Dominican Republic. Fast forward a few years and we're raising kids in Virginia and Florida or on a mission trip somewhere in the world.

Wherever we are, usually I've got a smile on my face. But in recent years, something has changed. Maybe it's too much responsibility; maybe it's the burden of my dreams. Lately, I have a lot of decisions I'm mulling over.

Often during the holidays, I'd be lost in my thoughts while in the other room they were playing "Settlers of Catan."

As we flipped through the photos, my father-in-law turned to me and, in a matter-of-fact way, said, "You've lost your smile."

He wasn't being mean, just pointing out the contrast between the carefree younger me, and the more sober man I've become. And it caused me to reflect.

Is this tradeoff I've made a good thing? We take on more responsibility and we can have less space to enjoy life. One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy. What does it say when there is less of it in your life?

We watched a documentary called Happy last night. It explores why some nations are generally a lot happier than others. Japan is the unhappiest nation in the world. The Japanese work their fingers to the bone. So many people die from overwork that they have a name for the syndrome: Karoshi – death from working too hard.

I wonder if I'm part of a larger trend of people becoming grumpier and more stressed-out. Are we working harder and smiling less? Are we missing out on the games in the other room? Is something broken about the way that we're living? Are you smiling more or less these days than in years past?

So many of us face more challenges than ever as we start a new year. The fiscal cliff is a metaphor for what we're experiencing internally. We feel swept along by events beyond our control.

The makers of Happy interviewed a surfer in Brazil and a guy living on a Louisiana bayou – guys who felt joyful everyday. They weren't particularly wealthy, but they were rich in two things: in relationships and in purpose.

As I look at the changes I want to make in 2013, I'm going to give greater priority to my key relationships and the things that give me a sense of purpose. Maybe you'll find me smiling more. How about you?

Comments (32)

  • Seth, I have pndered this question myself alot in recent years. I wonder if it is partly because we have such high expectations of ourselves and what we produce. I often catch myself looking down on people who are not “hundred-folders” in God’s Kingdom. The result is that I am often too hard on myself and others. I am learning to relax and be more content these days. Let’s remember to smile more. You and I both have much to smile about! Thanks for the reminder.

  • Jesus showed me how He wants me to be this next year: to dance and laugh when there is no music. I want more joy this year too! Thanks for sharing this… It’s always a good reminder.

  • thank you for your honesty {and your father-in-law’s, too…}. “unhappy/smile-loss” is an epidemic i think far too many of us face. but i think about how Jesus said, “i came that they may have life to the FULL!” now, not positive on this, but i’m sure the “full” portion of that statement included joy and smiling. He loves to see His children smile, i just know it. so in this next, new year, I’ll be challenging myself too, to do so regularly, asking the Spirit for His joy to be made complete in me. let’s all hold one another accountable to this–not those fake, posed smiles, but the REAL, candid, hilarious, goofy grins that make up who we are in Christ.

    i’ll be seeing you in a day or so at Search Light!
    🙂 <----- {that is real, by the way.}

  • Absolute great Seth – brilliant! Are you still fasting the first week of the year. Lets pray for a JOY full year with lots of smiles. PS I played recently the settlers of Catan as well and really enjoyed it. Stay Blessed. LEO

  • Looking forward to some laughs this next week with you and Karen! God wants to deliver HIS good and perfect gifts. Thanks for the reminder!

  • This is right where I am too. I think most of the things I am doing are good things but the weight of needs unmet is bringing me down. I so wish I could feel good about joining the games in the other room, but there are chores to be done and I’d feel bad ‘just sitting’ but the burden is tireing (and probably a lie too). Thanks for the great post.

  • Thank you! Asking the Holy Spirit to clearly define what is your responsibility and what isn’t,asking for me as well. Asking for a baptism of joy for all believers in 2013. praying God would increase your intercessory prayer group to hold your arms up.
    May His Blessings overtake you, Karen, your family and your ministry! May waves of encouragement overtake you.

  • Seth, this is exactly what I experienced squad leading at times. The enemy wants duty to replace life. People kept telling me to breathe. I asked jesus and he FREQUENTLY told me to calm down and dance and even start water fights. He is a playful guy yet also the most powerful and influential man ever. Im convinced He is a goofball.

    I will be seeing u soon too. And ill be at cga. I will enjoy bringing out the goofy side of u and just continuing to learn how breathe and live.

    I will leave you with a quote from one of my favorite movies..tommy boy! “You’ve never been cow tippin before? Get ready to live!!!”


  • I lost my smile too, Seth! Quit literally actually 🙂 I’ve had to stop and examine where my joy is coming from, my circumstances or from His goodness. Let’s enjoy God so much more this year, yeah?!!!!

    Thanks for this post!

  • This is GOOD stuff Seth!! The American culture is so “busy” booking it’s daily schedules with list of do’s and don’ts that they have lost sight of the goal – ENJOY the days God gives us! Whether good or bad; silly or serious.

    This is a good thing to ponder Seth… More of HIM and less of “stuff” is what I pray I choose in 2013!! :o)

  • Thanks for your honesty. May we all find our smiles and may 2013 be filled with joy that surpasses all of our deep anxiety.

  • Maybe a good joke will help:

    A kindergarten teacher was walking around observing her classroom of children while they were drawing pictures. As she got to one girl who was working diligently, she asked what the drawing was.
    The girl replied, “I’m drawing God.”
    The teacher paused and said, “But no one knows what God looks like.”
    Without looking up from her drawing, the girl replied, “They will in a minute.”

  • My dear friend Seth.

    I have known you much longer than many of your vital and sometimes newfound friends.

    Your smile has never changed.

    Your passions are real.

    Your vision keeps expanding.

    I am your “tenured” friend and after 30 years of personally knowing you challenge anyone outside of your family to say otherwise. 🙂

    We have both seen so much of the world and life.

    But the smile is still there.

    Love from Knoxville….


  • Thanks for this. I have noticed a lot less smiling in me for 6-7 years as the burdens of this world, life, and relationships have weighed heavier on me than they used to. I’ve always been tuned into the suffering of this world, but previously I was described as full of joy- being intensely sober/serious, but also intensely fun/full of life. I am aware of this greater burden and thus have been thinking, praying and trying to move into a more freer heart space.

    This post reminds me of an article I wrote almost 15 years ago about busyness, and a quote I included from Henri Nouwen. He talked about being back in Holland and being struck by how unhappy so many wealthy people were there, which was such a contrast to the desperately poor happy people in S America he had just lived with. In fact, when I read your post, my first thought was how hanging out with some ‘poor’ people in Haiti could probably cure some of those downward smiles into upward ones- for those who truly know Jesus there know such deep abiding joy- even in the midst of their desperate circumstances- because they have such bedrock faith AND they experience real connection and fellowship in their relationships. I remember a number of the teams I helped debrief for AIM in Haiti would zero in on this fact about the Haitians. In fact, a few of the Americans didn’t even want to go home because they had found true riches in the midst of what the Haitians had.

    I can’t find the Nouwen quote I was referring to right now, but if I do, I will return here with it. For now, this is the closest one I can find to it:

    “What strikes me, being back in the United States, is the full force of the restlessness, the loneliness, and the tension that holds so many people. The conversations today were about spiritual survival. There seems to be a mountain of obstacles preventing people from where their hearts want to be. It is so painful to watch and experience. The astonishing thing is that the battle for survival has become so ‘normal’ that few people really believe that it can be different. Oh how important is discipline, community, prayer, caring presence, simple listening and deep, lasting, faithful friendship.” Henri Nouwen.

  • Ron, that is one of the many things I love about you. You struggle as I do with expecting to always get better. Yes – we need the reminder to smile.

  • Thanks, Butch. It’s great to have friends who believe in you, even when you begin to stop believing in yourself.

  • Yes, Melinda, there does seem to be a mountain of obstacles preventing people from where their hearts want to be. And yes, it is so painful to watch.

    As for me, I’m committed to praying and smiling more.

  • Wow. Powerful. It’s so easy to lose our smiles, sometimes, isn’t it? When the world seems to be falling apart and the burden of responsibility weighs down on us, cracking a grin can be a discipline. But maybe it’s worth the effort. I always feel better when I’m smiling.

  • You hit it right on the sore spot Seth- awesome to the point blog. How many times I stop in the middle of the day and realize that I am not smiling, but instead looked concerned. I have every reason in the world to smile and have been trying to be more aware of this throughout the day.

  • How true this is but isn’t it unfortunate to realize that we have lost our smile. I keep telling myself “count your blessings” and yes, the year 2012 brought smile back on my face because I found friends from different age groups and different backgrounds and this reaffirms my faith that every thing is okay as long as you accept others for what they are and try not to expect any change in others to suit your fancy.

  • Well…something that might help would be to reignite random rubber band wars, food fights in the middle of projects, laser tag in the office where keys get lost in the ceiling because Blaine thought it was a good place to hide. Times when leaders get blind folded and kidnapped by their team members just because, offices were sabotaged and rigged for who knows what when they were gone for more than 20 minutes, your staff slowly empties the office only to go find phones to call in on so you and Dave are the only ones left to answer the 20 phone lines ringing, or have your staff see how many desks they can pile on yours and still plead the 5th on knowing anything about it. Or you could make up a story to staff and interns while you are interpreting what a man in Mexico is saying while he reinacts swimming across a river in the dirt. I am in tears and trying not to laugh hard enough to wake my kids while remembering these stories. It’s a good reminder that I have two little disciples with loads to teach them….I have been taught by the best after all. 🙂

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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