At the Heart of our Universe is a Relationship
By Tonia Davidson
British researchers recently discovered that one smile stimulates the pleasure center of the brain as much as 2,000 chocolate bars! Now that’s a study I’d like to participate in. Astonishingly, children smile an estimated four hundred times a day whereas adults only smile around twenty times a day. This may explain the joy we often experience around children, especially when we consider the communal nature of smiling. It’s nearly impossible to frown when we look at another person who is smiling.
Our instinct is to mimic the smile, and we do that, in part, to discern if it’s a synthetic or real one. A real smile involves the zygomatic major (raising the corners of the mouth) and the orbicularis oculi (raising the cheeks and producing crow’s feet around the eyes). In research performed at the University of Clermont-Ferrand, people were asked to discern smiling faces; they then repeated the exercise with a pencil in their mouths. When their own ability to smile was impaired, so was their ability to discern a real versus synthetic smile. Our instinct to discern provides us with a gift as it causes us to automatically smile when we see others smiling. Not only does smiling make us feel better, but we also share that experience when we smile at others.
While we know we’re created to be in relationship, how often do we wonder at the specifics of relational connection? Or even consider why it was important to God to create smiles.
Take a pause right now, and in this moment, in your mind’s eye, imagine a friend or family member smiling at you. What is your response to the genuine joy in their eyes? As you picture this smiling connection, what physical changes do you notice in your body—has your breathing eased, your muscle tension relaxed, what about your outlook on the day ahead or even your perspective on the stressful burdens you’re carrying?
Relational connection is powerful. That’s not surprising, considering that at the heart of our universe is a relationship—God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit—and we’ve been invited into this relationship. As part of this connection, we’re also invited to participate in the unfolding of creation. While stewarding our mind, body, and the world around us is often rewarding, it can also be overwhelming. Thankfully we’re not meant to go it alone.
People work better in teams. In 2009, researchers at Oxford University found that team players can tolerate twice as much pain as those who work alone. A Harvard University study shows that heart surgeons’ performance improves when they work with their standard team in their usual hospital.
This works for our daily lives, too. When we connect with others, it eases the pain we face in life and it also improves our problem solving skills. Not to mention the added bonus of a dopamine boost when we see that smiling face. With this in mind, consider how you can reach out to others today. In what ways are you being invited to not go it alone?
As we close, take a moment and in your mind’s eye, imagine God smiling at you. What is your response to the genuine joy in God’s eyes? Remember that connection as you go about your day.
Prayer: Dear Jesus, thank you for understanding our human condition. We’re grateful that you have never left our side. You are present with us, right here, right now. Please help us to see more of you today and give us a better understanding of how you’re with us in all circumstances. We also pray that you’ll grow those relational connections that encourage us. Amen.
This devotion was taken from The Big and Small of God, a Lenten devotion recently written by Tonia and illustrated by Kory, her husband. If you are interested in joining the daily journey through Lent or to see more details about her book click here.