“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” Mother Teresa
I had so many things on my to-do list this past week, so many things I wanted to get done. They all fell by the wayside when I learned the heartbreaking news of the passing of a friend’s 13-year-old daughter, Lilli. Suddenly everything on that to-do list seemed unimportant, silly even.
The news of her death struck me hard. In fact, it rocked my whole community. She was someone who made a difference just by being herself.
Lilli was the rare teenager whose inner light shone so brightly that your own light was strengthened just by being around her. She had a maturity that some adults can’t hold a candle to–an innate ability to lift others and to see their good. I credit her parents with raising her so well, of course. But she was also just good to the core, happy and wise beyond her years.
Every time I turned the corner in church, there she was. Waiting with a melt your heart smile that seemed like it was meant just for me–or whoever else she happened to come across. The way she sat in class, eagerly waiting to learn, and with that smile on her face. Always that smile.
She made you feel like a million bucks–like my church lessons were worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize. She came up to me after each one with such profound gratitude that I knew even if my message flopped big time with the other kids, at least Lilli was there to see some good in it. And she did it all with that winning smile on her face.
Her smile lit up a room. It lifted spirits. It left a mark on everyone. And I believe it’s remembering that smile that will get her friends and family through the sad days ahead. Because the thing is, even though she’s no longer here, you can still see it. You can still feel its warmth. Her happiness and that smile were her trademarks and you can’t help but smile yourself when you think of it.
Amidst all the sadness that encompasses the passing of a child, I know there are lessons to be learned. As I’ve been quietly processing what to teach my own children, it suddenly hit me so clearly this week: teach your children the worth of a smile.
It sounds so simple–almost too simple, really. But a smile can do wonders. For some people, like Lilli, smiling at others comes naturally. For everyone else, we have to work at it. I’ve realized over the years that what’s in my heart doesn’t always show on my face. Sometimes while I’m out running errands, I unexpectedly run into someone I know, for example. Even if I’m excited to see them, if I forget to smile, surely my lack of a smile, in their eyes, must have diminished my excitement to see them. Have you ever done that? Or felt that way?
No matter what type of personality we have though, we can always learn to smile. We can choose to smile until it becomes second nature. More important, we can teach our children to do the same. We can teach them that even if they’re too shy to speak up and say something, that a smile alone has the ability to say things words can’t express. In fact, sometimes a smile says more than words ever can.
We must teach our children the power of a smile–that it can light up a room and transform someone’s day. It can do wonders. Although a smile is usually the result of happiness, happiness is often the result of our smiles.
So when we want to teach our own children how to make a difference–how to change the world–I believe it can all start with that small, simple thing, a smile. It all starts with being like Lilli and spreading that smile wherever we go.
One of my favorite children’s books spreads this same message. I often get choked up reading it to my kids.
“Even the smallest of things that you do, blossoms and multiplies far beyond you. A kindness, for instance, may triple for days. Or set things in motion in different ways.”
A smile is the simplest form of kindness we can share. In a world where niceties are often lacking, think of the wave of love one simple smile can spread. Think of the difference our children can make by that one small act.
Teach your children that even if they are the ones having a bad day, smiling can change their whole attitude. A smile costs us nothing but can mean everything to the person who receives it– it can change the course of their whole day. Maybe even longer.
I am confident Lilli’s smiles changed the course of lives. Many lives.
So, back to my dreaded to-do list. I’m adding “remember to smile” to it. Though a never ending task that won’t ever be checked off entirely, it may just be the most important thing on that list. And it may be the most important thing to someone else too.
Thank you, Lilli, for your shining, smiling example. You made a difference in the world that will not be forgotten.
*Lilli won an essay contest this past year. It speaks volumes about who she was–I’ve included it here. In addition, Lilli dreamed of helping and serving others. Her family is establishing a Live Like Lilli foundation in her memory and to keep that dream alive.
How Can I Apply the Four-Way Test to My Life?
By Lilli Nehring
The four way test can be applied very often in our daily lives. Our lives are so undoubtedly busy and fast-paced it can be hard to even remember what we ate for breakfast. When we are continually moving, it can be difficult to remember to think about the four way test questions. Is it the Truth? Is it Fair to all concerned? Will it build Goodwill and Better Friendships? Will be be Beneficial to all concerned?
Try to pause and think a moment about what the impact of your words and actions can have on people. Whether it be texting, commenting on social media, on the phone, when you e-mail someone, or talking to a complete stranger that you will never see again, or a loved one that you will see in five minutes. Remember, your words have power! They can be used to build someone up if they are having a bad day, or it can do the complete opposite. It can tear them down even lower than they ever were. If someone is not having a good day, and taking it out on everyone else they see, try to think of the four way test.
Ponder on something you could say that is truthful, fair to everyone, that would build goodwill and friendships, and something that would be beneficial to all concerned. Even a smile can change their entire day. A quote by anonymous, “Gracious words are like honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and healing to the bones.” Our words can spread light and hope. They can infiltrate despair and darkness into the hearts of others. We must use our words carefully as we go through our daily lives.
My dad asks my siblings and I one simple question every day. “What did you do today that was nice for someone?” I always look for service I could do for someone every day, so I can make the people around me happy. Sometimes we focus on the big services we should be doing, and think, “How can I do all these things when I am soo busy?” Or, “I am too busy, I can’t even think straight right now, much less with more things to juggle?” Think of the little acts of kindness that you can do that would make someone happy. Perhaps a smile, an offer to help someone with their groceries or hold the door. They can all make a difference in people’s lives, and help us to apply the four way test. Think about it. Holding the door open for someone would be something that you could use the four way test. It would be truthful, fair to everyone, build goodwill and better friendships, and would be beneficial to all concerned.
We can apply the four way test in our lives. Let’s spread the joy of doing good for others. “You had the power all along, my dear”–Glinda, the Good Witch, The Wizard of Oz.
Former White House and Capitol Hill staffer, wife, and mom.