A Fork in the Road

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it” is a quote attributed to Baseball Hall-of-Famer, Yogi Berra (1925-2015), who was a brilliant baseball player and manager widely regarded as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. (Quote source here and here).

Who among us hasn’t had to face a fork in the road when making a decision that could totally alter the direction of our lives? Nobody can see into the future, yet a decision still needs to be made.

In an article published on June 21, 2016, titled, A Fork in the Road,” by Lisa Merlo-Booth, relationship coach at lisamerlobooth.com, she writes:

Life is a series of forks in the road. Some of those forks are big decisions regarding positive moments (e.g. should I marry, move, have a child), while others face us in our darkest times. In those dark times, we have to remember that what feels horrible and insurmountable today will not be there forever. Whether that “horrible” is an unhappy marriage, a feeling of loneliness, the pain of an injustice, a tragic loss or a seemingly unforgivable mistake—recognize that there are many options to choose from in terms of making things better. Do not blindly, impulsively or unconsciously go down the wrong path. The consequences of any fork in the road can be monumental, so take the time to choose the path that honors, rather than harms, humanity—your own or others. (Quote source here.)

For those of us who are Christians, we know that this life is not just about what we want, and that our beliefs impact our decisions. In an article published on February 22, 2011, in Insights for Living Canada titled, When You Come to a Fork in the Road,” by Robyn Roste, writer, editor, and broadcast producer, she writes:

“I don’t know what to do with my life!”

How many times have you said or heard this?

These words were cried in frustration most memorably when I was moving home, after several years away. While in the midst of adventuring, discovering, and exploring, I rarely thought about what was next. But once it was over I found I was unprepared to deal with the choices in front of me.

Questions gnawed at my mind, making me wonder if I had missed God’s plan for my life. Did I get it wrong? Where was I supposed to be? What was I meant to do? Why didn’t anything make sense anymore?

In reality I wasn’t failing at life, I was at a crossroads. Along the bumpy path of life’s road we all inevitably encounter forks, and deciding which direction to turn is a part of life. But how do you decide which way to go? Without knowing the big picture or where the road will take you, how do you know which direction is right?

Sometimes the choices and options keep us up at night. And rightly so! Major life decisions like where to go to school, whether to marry, or what career path to follow should be taken seriously. However, losing sleep and anxious thoughts will only make things worse.

As Christians, we believe this world is temporary and Christ’s return is imminent. Our life choices, then, become that much more important—we want to live lives of meaning, yet know there’s so much more to come. It can be difficult to balance the here and now with what’s to come but the good news is God has already given us the tools we need to make wise decisions.

Here are some ways I’ve learned to focus on what really matters when decisions threaten to keep me up at night:

  1. Relax. Sometimes we get so focused on “the plan” and fearful of missing out on God’s best that we miss the point. Instead of stressing over the plan, focus on developing your relationship with Him. Trust that God will let you know what to do in His time. “Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes. Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, ‘This is the way you should go,’ whether to the right or to the left.” (Isaiah 30:20-21).
  2. Remember. When a big decision is looming it’s easy to become overwhelmed to the point of paralysis. To break this cycle, remember God’s faithfulness to you in your life, and of His unchanging trustworthiness throughout history. He will remain faithful even if it’s difficult to see His hand in your current situation. “He guards the paths of the just and protects those who are faithful to him. Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will find the right way to go.” (Proverbs 2:8-9).
  3. Rest. When we’re struggling, this is no easy task. Give God your burden and believe He will give you what you need. Find His promises in the Bible and choose to hope in them. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

My story at this particular crossroad has an interesting conclusion. At one point I wrote down my interests, dreams, and hopes. After listing everything I could think of, I put them in order of importance. Then I glued them to a poster board and started drawing circles and lines to connect related topics. After a while all I could see was a giant, sticky mess and I cried in desperation, “Lord you are the only one who can make sense of this! I need you to take over!”

Three years later I look back and can clearly see the Lord’s hand on my life, although at the time it just seemed like chaos. Step-by-step He has proven to be faithful and has shown me, in His perfect timing, how my seemingly random hopes and dreams connect in a way that makes me uniquely capable of serving Him in this time and place, with the ever-present hope of what’s to come. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on September 14, 2018, titled, The Proverbial Fork in the Road,” by Michael Griego, Silicon Valley businessman, consultant, author and speaker, he offers the following six steps when facing a fork in the road:

This week I advised my laid-off friend to take the following 6 steps over the coming months. [Note: the complete article is available at this link for the background story.] I believe this advice applies to any believer facing that proverbial fork in the road:

  1. Thank God–We’re told to be grateful in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Thank God for your circumstances, even when painful. Acknowledge and invite God into your situation.
  2. Determine your Choice Options–Take wise consideration of your options. Include what makes sense, what may be a dream, and what may even not be reasonable. Reduce these alternatives into a few broad categories.
  3. Surrender them to GodIf you believe that God is God Almighty, then why hold onto anything? Take your job/career alternatives and humbly lay them before God to take them and turn them inside out or blossom them as He desires.
  4. Conduct your Due DiligenceDo the work it takes to pray, study, research, consult others, etc., in order to best evaluate all of your options. (Incidentally, this is when I discovered that not all advice is God-led or inspired, even from well-intended Christians.) With discernment, seek wise, Holy Spirit-led counsel.
  5. Take Forward StepsYou can’t expect the solution to merely drop in your lap. It could, but don’t bet on it. Take proactive action steps in response to opportunities and leads. The good news here is that with God’s full invitation into your life/process, He will open and shut doors in uncanny ways.
  6. Repeat Steps 1-6 DailyThis whole plan of action is actually for daily practice. Come to God in thankful prayer every day with new highs and lows and adjusted opportunities. Surrender them all to God and continue your appropriate homework and action steps.

The epiphany for me, and hopefully for my friend, is in the realization that it’s a daily process. It drives us to our knees in submission and allows God to draw us closer to Him. Is God the Lord of your decision-making? (Quote source here.)

Meredith Hodges, freelance writer, copy editor, and communications professional, offers the following advice from her June 19, 2017 blog post titled, Praying at the Fork in the Road”:

I have encountered many forks in the road throughout my years of struggling to conceive a child. One way tells me to wait, one way tells me to move forward in treatment. One way points to parenthood no matter the method, one way points to contentment in childlessness. The list can go on and on. Some days the pressure of choosing the “right” way is overwhelming, and the burden of these decisions can cloud my vision.

When these decisions tempt me to despair, I do nothing else but pray and seek the Lord in his Word. So friend, no matter what decision you are facing today, seek the Lord above all else and pray scripture fervently. May these prayers lead and bless you. [Meredith offers five very specific prayers at this link which is also the source for the above information].

She also offers the following Prayer for the Directionless,” posted on September 12, 2016:

Are you in a season of feeling that you are directionless, lost, or stuck? Perhaps you need direction for today, or maybe you need direction for grander decisions. My hope for you is that this Scripture-led prayer will guide you as you seek the Lord for direction.

My Father and my God,

It’s unclear to me where I am to be going, but my desire is for you to lead me in your truths. Remind me not to lean on my own limited understanding; make my paths straight, Lord (Prov. 3:5-6).

Father, protect my mind from distraction and confusion as I determine what my next steps are. I admit that I cannot do life within my own strength, Lord; I need you. Please give me godly direction for my life. Grant me peace, contentment, and clarity through this process. I ask that you direct my steps by your word, and that no iniquity I’m experiencing would have power over me (Psalm 119:133).

My hope is in you all day long, Lord. Thank you for your divine provision over my life. Amen. (Quote source here.)

In an article dated June 5, 2014, titled, Forks in the Road,” by Billy Graham (1918-2018), international Christian evangelist, ordained Southern Baptist minister, and considered to be “among the most influential Christian leaders” of the 20th Century (source here), he wrote:

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.”Psalm 32:8

We can’t change the past, but we can change the future.

Tragically, many people spend their lives trapped in an endless cycle of bad choices–and bad choices always have bad results. The Bible is right: “A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7). It also warns, “He who sows wickedness reaps trouble” (Proverbs 22:8). Even Christians aren’t immune from making wrong choices.

The journey God has set before us isn’t a freeway; we are constantly encountering forks and junctions and crossroads. Which way will we go when we meet them? Life is filled with decisions, and we can’t avoid them. But others are major (even if we don’t realize it at the time) and can literally change our lives.

How can we discover God’s will when we face a major decision? Let me give you six guidelines I have found helpful.

First, commit your decision to God. Make it a matter of regular prayer, asking God to guide you and make His will known to you.

Second, read the Scriptures. Does the Bible give any direct guidance about the decision you are facing? Does any principle in the Bible apply to your situation? Did anyone in the Bible ever face a similar decision, and, if so, how did they deal with it? (We can even learn from the wrong decisions some of them made.)

Third, understand your circumstances. God isn’t only working in us; He also is working around us. Often God guides us through our circumstances.

Fourth, seek godly advice. God has given some people a special gift of wisdom, and when we face a decision, it’s often helpful to seek their counsel.

Fifth, trust the Holy Spirit’s guidance. When we honestly seek His will, God often gives us an inner conviction or prompting to confirm which way He wants us to go. The Bible says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear the voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21).

Finally, trust God for the outcome. Once God leads you to make a decision, don’t draw back. Instead, trust His leading, and believe He goes before you – for He does. The Bible says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Remember: God loves you, and He wants you to know His will. Seek it . . . discover it . . . and then do it. His way is always best. (Quote source here.)

The year 2020 has presented us with many challenges so far, and if you happen to be at a fork in the road whether the decision you need to make is big or small, the above advice is a very good place to start. I’ll end this post with the words from Psalm 19:21 (NLT)…

You can make many plans . . .

But the Lord’s purpose . . .

Will prevail . . .

YouTube Video: “Which Way the Wind Blows” (1974) by The 2nd Chapter of Acts:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Smiling Faces

A smile can mean a lot of things. Dictionary.com defines smile as: (1) to assume a facial expression indicating pleasure, favor, or amusement, but sometimes derision or scorn, characterized by an upturning of the corners of the mouth, and (2) to regard with favor (quote source here). A smile can be a genuine show of happiness, gratefulness, approval or sincerity; or it can be sarcastic, sardonic, mean spirited or totally fake (as in the “smiling faces” mentioned in a 1972 song by The Staple Singers–YouTube Video is below).

In a devotion published on July 2, 2020, in Our Daily Bread titled, Talking Bananas,” by Jennifer Benson Schuldt, writer, blogger, and a contributor to Our Daily Bread, she writes about the encouraging side of a smile:

Never give up. Be the reason someone smiles. You’re amazing. It isn’t where you came from—it’s where you’re going that counts. Some school children in Virginia Beach, Virginia, found these messages and more written on bananas in their lunchroom. Cafeteria manager Stacey Truman took the time to write the encouraging notes on the fruit, which the kids dubbed “talking bananas.”

This caring outreach reminds me of Barnabas’ heart for the “spiritual youngsters” in the ancient city of Antioch (Acts 11:22–24). Barnabas was famous for his ability to inspire people. Known as a good man, full of faith and the Holy Spirit, he prompted the new believers to “remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (v. 23). I imagine he spent time with those he wanted to help, saying things like: Keep praying. Trust the Lord. Stay close to God when life is hard.

New believers, like children, need loads of encouragement. They’re full of potential. They’re discovering what they’re good at. They may not fully realize what God wants to do in and through them, and often the enemy works overtime to prevent their faith from flourishing.

Those of us who’ve walked with Jesus for a while understand how hard living for Jesus can be. May all of us be able to give and receive encouragement as God’s Spirit guides us and reminds us of spiritual truth. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on August 22, 2019, titled, Beyond Real and Fake: 10 Main Types of Smiles and What They Mean,” by Rebecca Joy Stanborough, MFA, she writes:

Human beings smile for a number of reasons. You may smile when you spot your long-lost bestie in baggage claim, when you engage your co-workers during a presentation, or when you imagine your ex’s lawyer tripping on the way into the courthouse.

People are fascinated by smiles—all of them. From Mona Lisa to the Grinch, we’re captivated by those both genuine and fake. This enigmatic facial expression has been the subject of hundreds of studies.

Here’s what we know about the 10 different types of smiles, what they look like, and what they mean.

The social functions of smiling

One of the most useful ways to categorize smiles is according to their social function, or the purposes they serve in groups of people.

Broadly speaking, there are three kinds of smiles: smiles of reward, smiles of affiliation, and smiles of dominance.

A smile may be among the most instinctive and simple of expressions—just the hoisting of a couple of facial muscles. But as a form of social interaction and communication, a smile is complex, dynamic, and powerful.

Studies have shown that people are incredibly perceptive when it comes to reading and recognizing these smiles in social situations.

Many people are able to correctly identify which kind of smile they’re witnessing, and seeing certain kinds of smiles can have powerful psychological and physical effects on people.

The 10 types of smiles

Here are the 10 most common types of smiles:

1. Reward smiles

Many smiles arise from a positive feeling — contentment, approval, or even happiness in the midst of sorrow. Researchers describe these as “reward” smiles because we use them to motivate ourselves or other people.

Reward smiles involve a lot of sensory stimuli. Muscles in the mouth and cheeks are both activated, as are muscles in the eye and brow areas. More positive input from the senses increases the good feelings and leads to better reinforcement of the behavior.

For example, when a baby unexpectedly smiles at their mother, it triggers the dopamine reward centers in the mother’s brain. (Dopamine is a feel-good chemical.) The mother is thus rewarded for her baby’s apparent happiness.

2. Affiliative smiles

People also use smiles to reassure others, to be polite, and to communicate trustworthiness, belonging, and good intentions. Smiles like these have been characterized as “affiliation” smiles because they function as social connectors.

A gentle smile is often perceived as a sign of compassion, for example.

These smiles involve the upward pull of the lips, and according to researchers, often trigger dimpling in the cheeks.

According to research, affiliative smiles can also include a lip presser, where the lips remain closed during the smile. Keeping the teeth hidden might be a subtle reversal of the primitive tooth-baring aggression signal.

3. Dominance smiles

“Think” by Aretha Franklin in Blues Brothers Movie (1980) (see YouTube Video below).

People sometimes smile to show their superiority, to communicate contempt or derision, and to make others feel less powerful. You might call it a sneer. The mechanics of a dominance smile are different than reward or affiliative smiles.

A dominance smile is more likely to be asymmetrical: One side of the mouth rises, and the other side remains in place or pulls downward.

In addition to these movements, dominance smiles may also include a lip curl and the raising of an eyebrow to expose more of the white part of the eye, both of which are powerful signals of disgust and anger.

Studies show that the dominance smile works.

Researchers tested the saliva of people on the receiving end of a dominance smile and found higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, for up to 30 minutes after the negative encounter.

The study also found that the sneer raised heart rates among the participants. This kind of smile is a nonverbal threat, and the body responds accordingly.

4. The lying smile

If you’re looking for a foolproof lie detector, the face isn’t it. According to research, even the most experienced law enforcement officials only spot liars about half the time.

Nevertheless, there have been studies that revealed smile patterns among people who were actively trying to deceive others in high-stakes situations.

A 2012 study conducted a frame-by-frame analysis of people filmed while publicly pleading for the return of a missing family member. Half of those individuals were later convicted of killing the relative.

Among the deceivers, the zygomaticus major muscle—the one that pulls your lips into a smile—repeatedly fired. Not so with those who were genuinely grief-stricken.

5. The wistful smile

Anyone who has seen the 1989 movie classic “Steel Magnolias” will recall the cemetery scene when M’Lynn, played by Sally Fields, finds herself laughing raucously on the day she buries her daughter.

The sheer dexterity of human emotion is astonishing. So, we’re able to smile in the midst of both emotional and physical pain.

Experts at the National Institutes of Health think that the ability to smile and laugh during the grieving process protects you while you recover. Interestingly, scientists think we might smile during physical pain for protective purposes, too.

Researchers monitored the facial expressions of people who were undergoing painful procedures and found that they smiled more when loved ones were present than when they were alone. They concluded that people were using smiles to reassure others.

6. The polite smile

You dispense a polite smile surprisingly often: when you first meet someone, when you’re about to deliver bad news, and when you’re concealing a response you believe someone else won’t like. The list of social situations requiring a pleasant expression is a long one.

Most of the time, a polite smile involves the zygomaticus major muscle, but not the orbicularis oculi muscle. In other words, your mouth smiles, but your eyes don’t.

Polite smiles help us maintain a kind of discreet distance between people. Whereas warm smiles sparked by genuine feeling tend to draw us closer to others, that closeness isn’t always appropriate.

Lots of social situations call for trustworthy friendliness but not emotional intimacy. In those situations, researchers have found the polite smile is as effective as a heartfelt one.

7. The flirtatious smile

Dating, psychology, and even dental websites offer advice on how to use your smile to flirt with someone.

Some tips are subtle: Keep your lips together and lift an eyebrow. Some are coy: Smile while tipping your head down slightly. Some are downright comical: Smile with a little whipped cream or coffee froth on your lips.

While there’s a lot of cultural influence on these tips and comparatively little evidence to back their effectiveness, there’s proof that smiling makes you more attractive.

One study found that attractiveness is heavily influenced by smiling, and that a happy, intense smile can “compensate for relative unattractiveness.”

8. The embarrassed smile

An oft-quoted 1995 study found that a smile provoked by embarrassment is often accompanied by a downward tilt of the head and a shifting of the gaze to the left.

If you’re embarrassed, you’ll probably touch your face more often, too.

A 2009 study on embarrassed smiles did confirm the head movements. However, it didn’t confirm that people who are embarrassed usually smile with their mouths closed. Their smiles tend to not last as long as amused or polite smiles.

9. The Pan Am smile

This smile gets its name from the Pan Am flight attendants who were required to keep smiling, even when customers and circumstances made them want to throw peanut packets across the cabin.

Widely regarded as forced and fake, the Pan Am smile might have appeared extreme.

Studies show that when people are posing, they use extra effort to yank on their zygomaticus major muscle.

As a result, the corners of the mouth are extra high, and more of the teeth are exposed. If a posed smile is asymmetrical, the left side of the mouth will be higher than the right side.

If you’re one of the nearly 2.8 million people employed in the customer service industry, or if your job requires you to interact regularly with the public, you might want to reconsider relentlessly deploying the Pan Am smile, as it could affect your health.

A recent study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that people who have to fake happiness regularly at work often end up drinking off the stress after they clock out.

10. The Duchenne smile

This one is the gold standard. The Duchenne smile is also known as the smile of genuine enjoyment. It’s the one that involves the mouth, the cheeks, and the eyes simultaneously. It’s the one where your whole face seems to light up suddenly.

Authentic Duchenne smiles make you seem trustworthy, authentic, and friendly. They’ve been found to generate better customer service experiences and better tips. And they’ve been linked to longer life and healthier relationships.

In a 2009 study, researchers looked at the intensity of smiles in college yearbook photos and found that women who had Duchenne smiles in their photos were more likely to be happily married much later.

In another study published in 2010, researchers examined baseball cards from 1952. They found that players whose photos showed intense, authentic smiles had lived much longer than those whose smiles looked less intense.

The takeaway

Smiles vary. Whether they express genuine bursts of feeling or they’re intentionally created to suit a specific purpose, smiles serve important functions in systems of human interaction.

They may reward behavior, inspire social bonding, or exert dominance and subservience. They can be used to deceive, to flirt, to maintain social norms, to signal embarrassment, to cope with pain, and to express rushes of sentiment.

In all their ambiguity and variety, smiles are one of the most powerful means we have of communicating who we are and what we intend in social contexts. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on February 2, 2020, titled Top Ten Reasons You Should Smile Everyday,” by Mark Stibich, Ph.D., Founder and Chief Scientific Officer, Xenex Healthcare Services, he writes:

Many see smiling simply as an involuntary response to things that bring you joy or laughter. While this observation is certainly true, what most people overlook is that smiling can be just as much a voluntary response as a conscious and powerful choice.

Countless scientific studies have confirmed that a genuine smile is generally considered attractive to others around us. Other studies have shed light on how the act of smiling can elevate your mood and the mood of those around you.

A strong link has been found between good health, longevity, and smiling. Most importantly, studies have shown​ that just the act of smiling (making the physical facial shapes and movements), whether the result of real joy or an act, can have both short- and long-term benefits on people’s health and well being.

Still not convinced? Here are the top 10 reasons you should make a conscious effort to smile every day. [Note: the 10 reasons listed below have more detailed information that can be read at this link.]

    1. Smiling makes us attractive.
    2. Smiling releases stress.
    3. Smiling elevates our mood.
    4. Smiling is contagious.
    5. Smiling boosts your immune system.
    6. Smiling lowers your blood pressure.
    7. Smiling makes us feel good.
    8. Smiling makes you look younger.
    9. Smiling makes you seems successful.
    10. Smiling helps you stay positive.

Try this test: Smile. Now try to think of something negative without losing the smile. It’s hard, isn’t it?

Even when a smile feels unnatural or forced, it still sends the brain and ultimately the rest of our body the message that “Life is Good!” Stay away from depression, stress, and worry by smiling. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on June 6, 2020, titled, Smiling (Bible verses on smiling), by Fritz Chery at BibleReasons.com, he opens with the following:

Always put a smile on your face because it’s a very powerful weapon. I’m not talking about a cheesy fake one. I’m talking about a genuine smile of happiness. Instead of putting on a frown when in hard times which will only make you feel worse, turn that frown upside down.

I guarantee you if you do this, you will feel so much better. Remember God is always faithful. He will hold you up. Rejoice because all things work together for good. Uplift your life and think about all the great things God has done for you. Here are reasons why you should always be thankful.

Think about things that are honorable. Give God thanks and always smile, which shows strength. Bless someone’s life today by just giving them a smile and that alone can indeed uplift them. [Note: 16 Bible verses are listed in the article and can be read at this link.] (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with one of those 16 Bible verses mentioned in the above article: Proverbs 15:30a (NLT)…

A cheerful look . . .

Brings joy . . .

To the heart . . . .

YouTube Video: “I’ll Take You There” (1972) by The Staple Singers:

YouTube Video: “Think” (1980) by Aretha Franklin feat. The Blues Brothers:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here