There is a time for everything,
and a season for everything under heaven,
a time to weep and a time to laugh.
Many years ago when I was first dating my husband, he made the comment that it might be good for me to learn to laugh more. At the time I was so serious about everything that I didn’t really know what he was talking about. I have learned to lighten up over the years.
Of course, our problems are not laughing matters. A struggling marriage, a troubled teen, financial worries or a diagnosis of cancer are serious. Laughing is not usually the first thing a person thinks to do. In fact, laughing about these things may be inappropriate. But at some point, finding a way to have a good laugh can be a great help.
Humor releases those “feel good” chemicals in our brains and bodies. It helps restore perspective, and it can help us reconnect with our hope and joy.
One of the many challenges I faced after receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer was that I had to give up my estrogen and progesterone supplements. I had been taking a version of these two hormones for several years, and I greatly appreciated the reduction in forgetfulness, hot flashes, bone loss, insomnia and a list of other symptoms that they provided. Giving them up was difficult.
Several months after I had been without my friends Estrogen and Progesterone, I went with three of my fifty-something girl friends to Menopause: the Musical. We laughed and laughed as the four women on stage belted out songs about mind collapse and personal summers that are really a bummer. It was a good thing to laugh together at ourselves.
One of these friends has a great story she likes to tell about the first time she called the doctor about hormone replacement therapy. She told him that she had three symptoms. One was insomnia, another was hot flashes and…she forgot the third. “Memory problems?” he asked.
Not all humor is healing, of course. Humor that is used as a disguise for a put down or that comes at someone else’s expense does not bring healing.
What is it that makes something funny and helpful? Playful surprise. The courage to be honest. The ability to identify with others. Freedom from shame about our common human problems.
But we don’t have to be comedians to laugh in the midst of a difficult situation. It can be helpful to watch a funny movie or to listen to a stand-up comedian. Or to talk with a little kid and listen to their take on things. Or to read a funny book. Anything that helps us laugh can help ease our distress and help us heal.
Humor can even help us honor and remember someone with love. When I co-led a cancer support group we always set aside a full evening to reminisce when one of the group members died. Every time we did this it was a rich experience. We shared stories of the person who had died. We almost always cried together. And we almost always laughed together because almost always the person who had died had given us gifts of humor as they lived and died with their cancer. They had found those qualities of honesty and identification with others and freedom from shame that can allow humor to emerge. And, as a result, they had laughed at themselves. They had left this gift with us to share with each other as we remembered them.
One day my husband and I sat on a big rock at Laguna Beach together. Our feet were on the wet sand. The waves were breaking at some distance from us and then sliding quietly closer to touch our toes. It was a quiet summer evening but we were not doing well. We were not happy with each other. So we sat there encircled by great beauty, depressed about life and about our relationship. Suddenly, out of nowhere a huge wave rose up and broke on top of us. We were drenched and shrieking in surprise. And laughing. The negative spell was broken. Our eyes and hearts opened. We laughed and we kept laughing. We were laughing at ourselves. At how wet we were. At how pouty we had been. At our inability to see the gifts all around of us.
Later, as I reflected on that moment, it felt like God had playfully splashed water on us, as if coaxing us to lighten up and open up. It felt like God had used the element of surprise to help us laugh. There was still hard work that needed to be done, but God’s playfulness was well-timed and helped us heal.
Whatever joy or sorrow we are experiencing, whatever challenge or opportunity is being handed us, it is a relief to come to the place where we can let go and laugh.
When you don’t know what to do…make room for laughter.
Questions for reflection and discussion
1. What humor have you enjoyed during difficult times?
2. How has humor been helpful to you?