It’s time to join the millions of Americans engaging in another annual reflection on things we’re thankful for, and this year I find myself feeling grateful for things I haven’t thought about before. That’s not to say that I am ignoring the usual categories of benefits, blessings, and privileges, but sometimes, focusing on the things that are comfortably familiar can rob us of fresh glimpses of incredible things God has provided, causing us to miss the joy that comes with them.
An Unexpected Revelation ~
This year brought an invitation to explore the issue of physical pain a little more closely than I have in the past, and to consider the impact it can have. Pain that invades our lives and exerts its influence for weeks and months, or longer, affects more than our physical bodies. It manages to spread its effects into every aspect of our lives. It influences how we think. It affects our emotional reactions and responses, especially our overall outlook and our mood. Pain impedes our ability to focus our thoughts, to deal with problems, and to engage in deductive reasoning. Pain can spread its dark aura beyond the present discomfort and turn bright tomorrows into a kind of murky gray. But in spite of the unwanted difficulties, pain brought something with it that I hadn’t anticipated. The backdrop of tough times and painful episodes taught me to be thankful for laughter.
My wife did something the other day that was laugh-out-loud funny. It wasn’t a major event, just one of those little things between the two of us that was hilarious, and for a few minutes, we just laughed ourselves breathless. It was incredible how in those few minutes, nothing else mattered. Problems disappeared and pain encountered something its darkness couldn’t dim and its toxic presence couldn’t kill. In those moments of laughter we shared together, the power of love and joy and oneness weren’t just concepts. They were an omnipotent force against the arsenal of misery that pain brought with it, and I am overwhelmed at the genius of God in creating laughter and for sharing it with us.
Real Life Can Be Funny, Too ~
I love homespun, down-to-earth humor laced with bits of wisdom gleaned from the treasure trove of real-life. The long-running success of the Andy Griffith Show stands as a testimony to the effectiveness of humor that didn’t depend on material generally considered inappropriate for public exposure. Barney Fife’s characteristic exaggerations of life’s unexpected glitches and Gomer Pyle’s proclivity for turning ordinary events into relational escapades enabled us to laugh our way into a reinforcement of basic family values.
But given the wonderful qualities of laughter, it comes as no surprise that the devil, as he always does, has twisted it into one of his most productive tools. Even an episode of the Andy Griffith Show provides a little glimpse of laughter’s potential down side. The story included an effort to help Gomer improve his chances of making headway with the ladies.
In this episode, Barney was going to fix Gomer up with a date for an upcoming Saturday night dance and coach him down the pathway to romantic bliss. Barney suggested that the way to impress his lady friend would be to point out something personal about her that he liked. That would let her feel good both about herself and Gomer at the same time. Gomer would need practice, so they decided that some role-play with Barney was in order. “Now pretend I’m your date,” Barney said, “and while we’re dancing, you tell me something you notice about me that will make me feel good about myself.” After a minute or two of deep thought, Gomer’s face lit up and he delivered this epiphany, “Well… You know, for a fat girl, you sure don’t sweat much!”
A Double-Edged Sword ~
Obviously, the unexpected line brought a chorus of belly-laughs from most of the audience, and because the scene was fictional, it was considered pretty harmless. But what if a comment like that was made in real life? Would it still be harmless? Hardly. Most of us would consider it demeaning, painful, and totally unacceptable. That simple glimpse reminds us that laughter can have unintended consequences and a careful evaluation of how we handle one of God’s most wonderful gifts might be beneficial. While we don’t want to lose the incredible benefits of the gift of laughter, neither do we want to be seduced into sinful indulgence by it.
There is an abundance of research declaring the mental, physical, relational, sociological, and psychological benefits of laughter. Laughter is said to
- reduce stress,
- boost our immune system,
- improve memory,
- enhance our mood,
- strengthen our relationships, and
- improve our life expectancy and overall physical health.
There are even yoga teachers who practice laughing when there’s nothing funny in order to try to stimulate its positive characteristics. So with all these positive potentials, what could be problematic about it? The answer wasn’t hard to find.
No Laughing Matter ~
A review of the top 50 stand-up comics in America revealed that every kind of filth and profanity imaginable was employed in the attempt to create laughter. Unfortunately, it seemed that the only behaviors that were subjected to mockery and ridicule were those that God rejected as a perversion of His design. The laughter that these comedians invoke is as much an insult to God’s gift as the filthy stories they tell to generate it.
I often hear Proverbs 17:22 misquoted. People say, “Laughter does good, like a medicine…” but the passage actually says, “A merry heart” is the source of benefit, not just the act of laughing. Life is filled with unexpected turns and odd events that are lighthearted, harmless, and genuinely funny. The laughter in those instances promotes and reinforces the kind of merry heart that “does good, like a medicine.” Laughter that has its roots in a moral sewer does exactly the opposite. It is filled with toxins that attack and undermine the mental and spiritual health of all those that engage in it.
As we wish our beloved readers a Happy Thanksgiving, I’m reminded that Solomon said something else about a merry heart. He said:
All the days of the afflicted are evil, But he who is of a merry heart has a continual feast. (Proverbs 15:15 NKJV)
May God grant that the laughter we share with our families this week produces the kind of merry heart that “does good,” that subdues pain, that holds problems at bay, that lets love and joy rule, and that keeps Thanksgiving going all year.
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below. Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter . . .
- “I am overwhelmed at the genius of God in creating laughter and for sharing it with us.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “I love homespun, down-to-earth humor laced with bits of wisdom gleaned from the treasure trove of real-life. @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Laughter that has its roots in a moral sewer is filled with toxins that attack and undermine the mental and spiritual health of all those that engage in it.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- ” . . . he who is of a merry heart has a continual feast (Proverbs 15:15 NKJV).” Happy Thanksgiving! @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)