I spend a lot of time around church people. One subject that always pops up is terminal seriousness. Do you ever wish that people at church or your family would just lighten up? Churches seem to have it in their heads that we must look spiritual, which is somewhere between half dead and half mad. When I am around people with terminal seriousness, it reminds me of a passage in John Steinbeck's book East of Eden in which he describes a lady as "A tight hard little woman, humorless as a chicken with a dire Presbyterian mind (let's change to a Baptist mind) with a code of morals that pinned down and beat the brains out of nearly everything that was pleasant to do."
Let's get personal. Do people wonder if you have been sick? When you perform a funeral is it hard to tell the preacher from the deceased? Do you often sleep in three-piece pajamas? Maybe your halo is on too tight. I think this is an emergency. Well, almost an emergency. Call 912. Or better yet, listen to Dr. Kuhn's experience. Dr. Kuhn is an M.D. who studies the benefits of laughter.
Dr. Kuhn tells of training a yearling colt. A friend was with him as he put the colt through its paces. "My friend told me that he was raised around horses and asked if he could give it a try. 'Be my guest,' I quipped and handed him the lunge line." Dr. Kuhn says that the first thing his friend did was snap the whip, and the horse's ears stood up. Then "The 1,200 pound animal took off dragging my friend across the grass. I'm yelling 'Let go! Let go!' The horse dragged him about two hundred feet before he let go. I ran up to him and asked him why he did not let go, and he told me that he thought he could stop the horse."
That is what often happens in church work. The horse is out of the barn, and we continue trying to control what we should let go. Laughter is the key to letting go.
Laughter is a form of letting go, which keeps you from getting dragged too far. The good doctor also pointed out that as soon as his friend let go, the horse stopped and walked back to him. Laughter is a control issue. It is not your look that indicates how spiritual you are so much as it is your laughter. When we laugh at a situation, we are not avoiding it-it may be that we are admitting we cannot control it. Our laughter indicates that we take God seriously and everything else, including ourselves, less seriously. Next to His competence, our attempts appear to be comedy. When I laugh at myself, I see my mistakes compared to His majesty and I am drawn to Him. One theologian said that humor is the beginning of faith and laughter is the beginning of prayer.
John Chancellor, the commentator of NBC Nightly News, retired at age sixty-seven. He and Barbara, his wife of thirty-six years, looked forward to sharing a comfortable retirement. Instead, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer, a relatively rare but aggressive form of malignancy. He said "There was not a cloud on the horizon and then this." An aggressive round of chemotherapy and radiation treatment soon followed and then, happily, a period of remission. "While I'm feeling much less despair these days," he said, "it hasn't even occurred to me to declare victory. I don't know if I will get to that point. Cancer is the single most frightening thing that has ever happened to me, but I am not as depressed by it as much as I am alerted by it. Cancer underscores your mortality and is a reminder of what a short leash you are on." Then he spoke these telling words. "You want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans." Mr. Chancellor did not know it, but that is one of the comedic paradoxes throughout the Bible. When you plan, God laughs; when you follow His plan, you can laugh.
An article in the Journal of Nursing Jocularity lists the sixteen stages of laughter. The stages are:
1. Smirk (Deacons rarely make it beyond No.1.)
4. Snicker (I like that.)
My advice this month is to go out there and "die" laughing. It may just keep you living.
Charles Lowery, PhD, is founder and president of LIFE, Inc. and is in a fulltime speaking ministry. You may contact LIFE, Inc. at 903-881-9422 or www.charleslowery.com.