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Adding in Laughter for Spiritual Wellness

This morning I was telling a joke I had just made up and my three-year-old granddaughter laughed. She got it! It was a joke for more advanced understanding than her age, and I was marveling at her ability to understand why the joke was funny. Then I woke up! I had been dreaming! OF COURSE it was a dream…I’ve never made up a joke! I’m not funny! I laid in bed desperately trying to recall the specifics of the joke so I’d have my first (and possibly only) original joke. But as easily as it came, it also went. Gone. I tried so hard to dive back into my subconscious state to retrieve it, but it slipped away. I guess at least that there is humor in the fact that I made up a joke without any effort while not conscious and then couldn’t remember it when I was conscious. That in itself is funny.

Laughter is so healing…the good kind of laughter when it’s not at anyone’s expense. As my husband, sister and I flew back to Florida from my mother’s funeral, my sister was sitting across the aisle from me on the plane. My sister had been grieving so deeply the past week that the day before we flew home she could hardly do anything. The plane we were on was the kind that had a screen in front of every passenger, and she selected to watch an old comedy that she had seen probably 35-40 years ago. I gave her some headphones and she immersed herself in the story. She got to laughing so loud that I was getting embarrassed, but I realized she needed to laugh. We had cried so much and had been under tremendous stress that I refrained from shushing her and quietly enjoyed that she was able to laugh enough to elicit happy tears from her eyes. It brought some healing to her that day.

We ended up re-entering grief and stress as we spent the next few weeks sorting through my parents and grandparents’ possessions and emptied out the family home. We didn’t do it very well. We fought. We were rude to a few people at the estate sale who tried to get sale items for almost nothing. We forgot to have a sense of humor.

My brother, who died in December of 2020, was the one in the family with the great sense of humor. He also had a temper, but as soon as something struck him funny, in the midst of his anger he could sometimes completely give way to laughter. It was disarming and infectious. All dissension would leave when he broke into a smile, then a man giggle, and then move into a full-on laugh. As much as I hated his temper, I loved his abandon into laughter. He could melt all strife by allowing humor into the moment. He could dissolve tension with the ability to see how ridiculously self-centered and serious we could all be and lead us into a place of forgiveness without words and unity that only the universal language of laughter could do. More words might possibly take us back into disagreement and hurting one another, so we let laughter cover the offenses and express our restored relationship.

I have a few Christian friends who have had trauma, struggle, and sadness in their lifetimes and yet they have weathered their storms with a beautiful combination of faith in God and a ready employment of their sense of humor. They are the people I want to be around. Taking ourselves and our situation too seriously is not healthy. Neither is taking it too lightly, but as in most everything, balance is what we need to strive for. Sometimes when life is just all too heavy, we need to turn on the old movie that we know will stimulate humor and remind us to laugh again. We may need to pull out that silly game that faithfully makes our family laugh until the happy tears run down our faces and cause our sides to ache.

I’m not suggesting a laughter that sweeps pain under a rug and pretends it doesn’t exist. I’m proposing a laughter that sets pain aside for a while and allows us to experience the full range of emotion that God gave us to experience. If you have too little laughter in your life, you need to reposition yourself. The world has its ever-present serious issues. The home and family has its problems, and work has it’s seemingly insurmountable challenges. You need to bring some laughter to your corner of the world by finding the funny and noticing the subtle humor in everyday life…but not at anyone’s expense.

Humor, like so many other good gifts that God has given us, can be misused and cause harm…just like sex outside of the loving, committed context of marriage, or the ocean or a fire outside its designated boundary, or intelligence without discernment and integrity. Humor can definitely be done wrong…coarse joking or mocking is funny only to some and doesn’t produce the kind of healing humor I am talking about. I’m talking about the kind of humor that comes from God that hasn’t been perverted. The kind that sees the sunny side of the otherwise cloudy sky. The kind that shines a light on our shared humanness that, when we look at it, is terribly funny simply because of how true it is of our shared common experiences with the world and with each other.

Lately our church has been examining how for every one mile of road there are two miles of ditch. The use of that analogy is currently being used to help us stay out of the doctrinal ditches. I want to borrow the analogy to steer us all toward more healthy humor in our lives. We can end up in a humorless ditch where everything is super-serious and sad. We can also swerve the other direction and land in a ditch of hurtful sarcasm, and insensitive or perverted humor. Neither brings health and strength to our souls. Proverbs 17:22 says “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” I’m not proposing you laugh at all costs, but rather that you seek out humor for its intended purpose…to help us navigate the difficult, soften the painful, and balance your emotional experience. Ecclesiastes 3:4 says “there is a time to weep and a time to laugh”. Don’t neglect laughter and downplay its power…to heal, to bond, to lighten a moment, and to rototill where forgiveness can grow.

If by chance I recall the one joke I ever made up that was funny, I will be sure to let you know. Apparently it was a good one because it made a very funny 3-year-old girl light up with laughter in my dream and it started my day off with pleasure. I’d love to pass it on.

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