What goes “ha, ha, ha, plop?”
Someone who laughs his head off!
My favorite cartoon ever hung on the wall of Pastor Bob Cochran. It was a far side cartoon, I believe, and in the first frame there is a line of people checking in at the Pearly Gates. God is at the desk talking to the man at the front of the line, “The secret to life, Bob, was learning to laugh at your self.” In the next frame Bob is walking away when he overhears God saying to the next person in line, “The secret to life, Jim, was learning to laugh at Bob.”
But perhaps there’s not so much to laugh at. After all, we all know about the pain and suffering of this life. We’ve been exploring the cuts and bruises of life a lot lately. In the midst of such genuine struggle, humor can seem out of place.
No wonder so many people are all serious and dour. That’s one of the difficulties people have with Christianity. It seems too many people get stuck at the foot of the cross instead of focusing on that Jesus character that so many people complained about. Jesus gets in trouble because – frankly – he likes a good party and he likes to surround himself with people who are fun to be with.
The Pharisees accuse him of being a glutton and a drunkard. He goes to wedding celebrations. He turns the water into wine. He hangs out with folks who know how to have a good time. And these folks listen to Him and learn about love and compassion through His care.
Really, would everyday folks like tax collectors, fishermen and tent makers hang out with a guy who was all serious and dour and never laughed? Really, which would you rather choose? The depression and solemnity of the pious Pharisee “saints” or the relaxed comfort of being with real life “sinners”? Seems most of us would go for the fun!
And you know you’re having fun when you’re laughing. Laughter is important for at least 5 different reasons. First, reasons to laugh.
#1 Laughter Makes Us Healthier
Scientists tell us that laughter, humor and joy are an important part of life. Laughing lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, and increases muscle flexion. It increases the circulation of antibodies in the blood stream and makes us more resistant to infection. She who laughs…lasts.
#2 Laughter Touches Our Soul
Laughter is good for us physically, but that is just the beginning. Because laughter is also good for the soul. There is a holiness in laughter. Laughter brings us closer to each other – and there is something holy about people coming together. Laughter provides us a moment of grace. It occurs spontaneously and unexpectedly. It catches us by surprise and we respond with laughter. We never expect to laugh… just as we never expect grace or good fortune when it arrives. And in that grace, we are able to recognize the folly of our own pursuits.
#3 Laughter Keeps Things in Perspective
Laughter helps us to transcend ourselves, and I need that help. Too often I take myself far too seriously. There is a danger of taking ourselves, our beliefs and our life too seriously. Fanatics, it seems to me, see nothing as funny. Here’s a suggestion. The next time you’re feeling angry, start laughing – not in a derogatory tone, but in the jovial sense of being in on a good joke. Then see if the anger begins to melt away and if you can find a more creative way to handle things.
#4 Laughter Helps Us Stay Positive
Laughter can be an important tool for keeping our troubles in proportion, for realizing that things aren’t always as bad as we think they are. But even when things are as bad as we think they are, laughter helps create positive emotions and helps us find a frame of mind in which we can more easily cope with the struggles of life. Laughter eases tension and sharpens our ability to concentrate. Laughter is a lot like changing a baby’s diaper. It doesn’t permanently solve any problems, but it makes things a lot more acceptable for a while.
#5 Laughter Is Loving
If I am able to laugh with you in my mistakes as well as with you in yours, it suggests we are all flawed and imperfect. Embracing good natured humor, we find the humility to see the foolishness of trying to be perfect and the gift of enjoying the smiles and laughter of love.
Children laugh on average 200 times a day and adults only 26 times a day. If we want to be happier, healthier, and more productive we seriously need to make time to laugh. Because when we laugh, when we really laugh, deep from the belly… we feel alive!
Now laughter goes hand in hand with play. So maybe the reason we laugh so little is that we don’t take time to play.
Americans work hard. We have longer work hours and shorter vacations than our European counterparts. 40% of us say we come home from work exhausted – and you have to love the irony in this one – 50% would PAY to have more time for themselves or their family. We are sleeping less and having less fun. Many Americans simply don’t have time to play. Those who struggle with two or three jobs just to make ends meet carry a double burden of stress and those who cannot find employment often find guilt added to the list of burdens they bear in a society that celebrates labor and views down time as self-indulgent at best, idle sinfulness at worst.
Do we even remember what play is anymore? Oh sure, we participate in sports and our kids are involved in loads of after school activities. But more and more scheduled performances have taken the place of unstructured fun and time to be bored. Even playtime in day care is planned and orchestrated, rather than allowing kids to be left alone to figure out their own games and activities. And – well – that isn’t play. The whole point of play is that it is pointless. There are no outcomes to achieve or goals to meet.
One of my mom’s favorite little songs around the house when I was growing up ended with “First you work and then you play.” I don’t remember the rest of the song – but that phrase is permanently embedded in my own value structure. We have separated work and play into two distinct categories.
But that truth is that we human beings do best when work and play intertwine. I might have fared a little better perhaps if I had spent time growing up with those two old Lut’rens, Olie and Sven. Olie and Sven was talkin’ about work one day. “You know Sven,” says Olie, “I just got a real good reference from de boss on at my last yob.” “Really?” said Sven. “Ya, he wrote, if you get Olie to verk for you, you’ll be lucky!”
When work and play go hand-in-hand something almost mystical happens. Have you ever had that sense of losing yourself in your work or in your play? There’s a whole field of study that has identified that very state as one of “flow” – a state of peak enjoyment, energetic focus and concentrated creation that’s experienced by people when they lose themselves in whatever they are doing. Another word for this phenomenon is “deep play.”
Children are drawn to deep play – activities that catapult them into an altered state of consciousness where their senses are engaged and time has no meaning. And when deep play is carried into adulthood it takes on a spiritual component. Poet and author Diane Ackerman suggests that “Deep play reveals our need to seek a special brand of transcendence, with a passion that makes thrill-seeking explicable, creativity possible, and religion inevitable.”
Perhaps that is why despite our over scheduled, overburdened, over hectic lives we are still drawn to answer the call when our neighbors cry out for help. In the midst of our routine lives, we learn of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and fires. As we look at the photographs and videos of refugees seeking shelter outside of Syria, we also struggle to comprehend the tragedy and to imagine how it might all be resolved. And so it is a perfect time for play!
You see, play is what enables the Spirit to live vibrantly within us. Play involves the world of improvisation and wildly improbable imagination. The kind of imagination that leads to creative caring for others. This is the service – the mixture of work and play – our spiritual journey prepares us for. This bliss, this passion, is the call to be love’s hands and feet on this earth. To answer the call is to integrate our life in a way that leads to growth, giving, creativity, and relationship – and in the end is the best way for any of us to achieve a sense of balance in our lives.
I deeply respect all of the world’s philosophical and spiritual paths, but I have a special affinity for this Jesus character who came sharing the richness of life, with all of its irony and humor. He loved his food and wine, and hanging out with people who had fun. Life is filled with joy and sorrow. Tears are a reality, but so is laughter. The soul that is able to laugh at the good in life, is also able to weep and feel compassion for others. Tears and laughter come from the same deep part of our being.
Today would be a perfect day to have some fun. To have an experience of deep play. To embrace the gift of enjoying the smiles and laughter of love.
And if you can’t learn to laugh at yourself, at least learn to laugh at Bob.