Humor is a gift from God, but like all His gifts, it can be used well or badly. One of my favorite scenes in the Narnia books is the one where all the old heroes of Narnia are gathering in The Last Battle.
Everyone you had ever heard of (if you knew the history of these countries) seemed to be there. There was Glimfeather the Owl and Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, and King Rilian the Disenchanted, and his mother the Star's daughter and his great father Caspian himself. And close beside him were the Lord Drinian and the Lord Berne and Trumpkin the Dwarf and Truffle-hunter the good Badger with Glenstorm the Centaur and a hundred other heroes of the great War of Deliverance. And then from another side came Cor the King of Archenland with King Lune his father and his wife Queen Aravis and the brave prince Corin Thunder-Fist, his brother, and Bree the Horse and Hwin the Mare. And then - which was a wonder beyond all wonders to Tirian - there came from further away in the past, the two good Beavers and Tumnus the Faun. And there was greeting and kissing and hand-shaking and old jokes revived, (you've no idea how good an old joke sounds when you take it out again after a rest of five or six hundred years) and the whole company moved forward to the centre of the orchard.I love the old jokes being revived after five or six hundred years. I've never experienced that, but I have experienced old jokes being retold after twenty-five or thirty, and it's pretty great. There's nothing like laughing with friends or family. Proverbs 17:22 says, "A joyful heart is good medicine."
We heard in the news this past week, though, about another old joke; this one was from 36 years before. It had been written in a high school yearbook, and it was a joke about someone else, a demeaning joke. It made some people laugh, but it hurt the girl who was its punchline, even all this time later.
Humor can heal, and it can wound. Maybe some good tests of a joke are whether we'd like to hear it repeated five or six hundred years from now, and whether the punchline is another human being that God created.
But we have to laugh; the best kind of friends are the ones who help us to see the funny side of whatever we are obsessing over at that particular moment. I love the Wendell Berry quote: "Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts."
Of course, what makes us laugh is quite idiosyncratic. I am very blessed to be married to a man who makes me laugh, to have children, family, friends, and students who make me laugh, and to have a sense of the absurd that keeps me snickering much of the time. Laughter helps me regain my perspective when I've lost it; it helps me have patience with my goofy middle schoolers; it takes my mind off whatever has me tied in knots.
As I've been writing this post, so many examples have come to mind of times when humor has been life-saving, but they are hard to write specifics about because of the "you had to be there" quality that so many jokes have. I thought about a fellow teacher who would sit next to me in faculty meetings and pass me notes or mutter a word or two under his breath as though we were in seventh grade; a large part of the humor would be the deadpan expression on his face as he would slide me a piece of paper with his comment on it, and the obvious pleasure he took in watching me try not to laugh aloud. Faculty meetings have never been the same since he left our school. I thought about a friend who took me out to lunch a couple of weeks after the earthquake and had me smiling and laughing even though at that point the world seemed a very dark place to me. I thought about a certain meal during that same time period with my parents and my brothers and their families where we all ate Ethiopian food and joked until we hurt both from overeating and from laughter. I thought about today (Sunday, the day I'm writing this post), when my husband made me laugh, and when I took a screenshot of my daughter and me laughing together over FaceTime. I thought about my son laughing in his sleep when he was a baby, just that pure delight.
Laughter really is one of those "good and perfect gifts" referenced in the book of James: "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." I'm so thankful for laughter. The things we laugh at may change; the people we laugh with may change; God's faithfulness to give us what we need never changes.
Let's laugh today, even though we have considered all the facts.
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