How do you laugh? Well, if you are my wife, you have a deep hard laugh that leads to a snorting sound when trying to catch your breath. If you are my mom, you have a wheezing sound where air rushes out the mouth making it hard to catch your breath and respond in any way—and you’re left with stuttering sounds in between the wheezing. Honestly both laughs are quite comical, which makes me laugh.
I don’t mean to pick on two of my favorite women in all the world, I only mean to use them to make the point that laughter does a body good. Now before I move on in this post, let me define the way I am using laughter. Laughter can be a means to express derision, or it can be a way of dismissing something in a light-hearted way. The Bible actually uses laughter to describe both these occasions.
But these are not the intended definition of laughter in this post. The intended definition is an expressed emotion that results from something that was lively amusing, joyous, or pleasurable. In other words, something—maybe a joke, something our child did, a Facebook repost of a funny video, something humorous that happened to us (like wardrobe or a hair clipper malfunction), a story someone told you, our environment, our condition, etc.—made us laugh.
This laughter, quite honestly, does a body good. In short, it’s healthy. For instance, Psalm 126:1–2 states, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’” Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, exclaims, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21b). In both these passages, laughter is a positive, healthy, and good expression that stems from God’s joyous work in one’s life.
What is it about laughter, other than the act itself, that makes it good for the body?
Where we laugh? I recently watched a TED Talk where Sophie Scott, a cognitive neuroscientist, addressed why we laugh. In that talk she explains from her research that people are 30x’s more likely to laugh if they’re with someone else. In other words, people are more apt to laugh in community than isolation. While there’s certainly the possibility to be lying in bed cracking up at a video reposted on Facebook, the place where we are more likely to laugh is in community.
This is fascinating. Why? Because I believe the Bible teaches that we were created for community, to be in relationship with one another. We were not created in isolation, but in the Triune God’s community, and were created to reflect that community within human community. And here is research that expresses people tend to laugh more with people than without.
Think about it this way: by living in community one is more likely to experience something lively amusing, joyous, positive, healthy, and good that prompts them to laugh.
What happens when we laugh? At the moment of laughter many different things are going on simultaneously. First, laughter gives our body a small physical workout. According to a WebMD article, when we laugh we stretch muscles through our face and body, our pulse and blood pressure rises, our breathing increases, all of which sends more oxygen to our tissues. One laughter researcher noted that one minute of hearty laughter was like spending ten minutes on a rowing machine.
Second, laughter gives our mind a break from the stresses and worries of the world. In other words, laughter provides a temporary relief from the concerns and worries of the world thereby making us feel [albeit momentarily] better. Not only does laughing provide momentary relief from stress(es), I believe it becomes fuel for hope.
Laughing isn’t hope; it only fuels hope.
Good, momentary laughter is a gift from the Father, which reminds us that He is still at work in the world, in our life, providing moments of joy, amusement, and pleasure. As the Psalmist exclaims, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps 30:5b). Laughing results from the joy that comes in the morning.
Third, laughter potentially deepens community. If laughter is more likely to occur within community, then laughter becomes a shared experience. By sharing an experience with others, community (or relationships) potentially deepens. Community is not only a place where we share our hurts, struggles, concerns, worries, and disappointments, it is also a place where we share our joys, amusements, and stories that bring about laughter. Sharing laughter is sharing life; sharing life deepens community.
In short, laughter does a body good! But, what about those who have not laughed in a while? Or, those who believe they are in a place where they don’t feel like laughing? Maybe, you are in a dark place, a depressed state and laughter seems as far and cold as Antarctica. Yet, you wish you could laugh, you desire to laugh once again—to utter a chuckle, a joyous emotional vocal smile.
How can one laugh again? There are four things I would say you need in order to help break down the dam of darkness and doom in your life to allow laughter to flow once again. Here they are:
You’ll need the GOSPEL to give you light.
The gospel—the announcement of Jesus’ life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension—is the primary tool for breaking through the damming darkness and doom in one’s life to open up the potentiality for laughter to break through once again. The gospel story itself has a temporary moment of darkness and doom. As Jesus hung on the cross, breathing his final breaths, darkness came upon the earth and the ground began to quake. All hope was seemingly gone.
As Jesus’ lifeless body was buried in a borrowed sealed tomb, the disciples buried themselves in a locked upper room. They were afraid—scared for their lives. The feared that gripped their souls paralyzed their vocal cords. No prayers, no songs, no jokes, and no reminiscing the highlights of ministry. For them, hope was like Elvis—it had left the building.
However, the resurrection changed everything. Jesus’ resurrection resurrected hope, life, purpose, meaning, and mission for the disciples, and yes, the potentiality for them to smile, to laugh once again.
The gospel—the good news of Jesus—brings light to darkened lives.
No matter how dark you may think it is, no matter how much you perceive your life to be doom and gloom, no matter how much you believe you’ll never smile nor laugh again, Jesus interrupts the darkness and the doom by shining his radiant light that gives great news of great grace, great love, and great hope.
You’ll need a COMMUNITY to hold you tight.
As I noted above, people are more likely to laugh in community than in isolation. But if you are in a dark place and you feel like you life is falling apart, community can be a frightening place. Some may feel that they will be judged, treated as a plague, or unwelcomed if they are vulnerable about their darkness.
But the reality is that the Bible teaches that the community of God shouldn’t be a frightening place, but a place of hospitality, acceptance, healing, restoration, and renewal.
The church, the community of God should be a place, a people, where the weight of darkness in one’s life is squeezed out by the tightness of the community’s hug.
In other words, the warmness of the community’s love has the potential of melting the darkness in one’s soul.
Over time, as one subjects themself to the community’s love they allow their souls to be plowed with the love and truth of God where seeds of hope are planted and in due time fruits of laughter produced.
You’ll need a SONG to help you through the night.
A few posts ago, I mentioned how God gave the psalmists a new song as he waited patiently for the Lord to move. In that post I noted, “God places songs in our heart to accompany us through the night and to give witness that we’ve made it to the next day.”
Recently, I was reading Louie Giglio’s new book, Comeback, where Louie shared a part of his story where he had a bout with severe depression. During a battle in the wee hours of night Louie prayed, “God, I don’t know what else to do, but if you’ll give me a song in the dark, I will praise you” (13, Comeback). He goes on to write, “Almost instantly this little line of praise to God just dropped into my mouth. It was, ‘Be still, my soul, there’s a healer.’” As he repeated those words over and over like a broken record, he said more words came to him. They were, “His love is deeper than the sea. His mercy is unfailing. His arms a fortress for the weak” (14).
For the psalmist, for Louie, and for us, songs from the Lord can be powerful truths we sing over our lives that awaken hope within our spirit.
As we sing God’s song over our lives in the darkness of night we may not see the turbulent waters subside, but we will have a divine calmness that rushes over our soul.
The more we sing God’s song over our lives, the more we condition our hearts to be ready to respond in laughter at an appropriate time.
You’ll need to keep the BIG PICTURE in sight.
The last thing one will need as they attempt to break down the dam of darkness and doom that prevents them from laughing is to keep the big picture in sight. What’s the big picture? We see the final destination of where the trajectory of history is heading in Revelation 21—the time when heaven and earth collide in the New City Jerusalem. This is the big picture.
As God dwells in the midst of the new city, where he will be their God and they will be his people, God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4). In the new city, there will be no more pain, sorrow, suffering, grief, hurting, or loss. Keeping this final picture of hope in sight should prevent the darkness and doom from penetrating deep in one’s soul. While darkness and doom is real, the return of Jesus and the restoration of the cosmos are real as well.
The big picture in all its glory speaks a word to us in the here and now telling us that we haven’t heard the final word, our dark situation isn’t eternal, our emotional doom will not loom forever; but our Healer, Redeemer, Savior, and King has gone ahead to prepare a glorious city for us where we will live with him forevermore in a place of eternal bliss and perfection.
In light of this, hope is present, and laughter is, once again, possible.
In short, laughter does a body (both individually and corporately) good. Good, hearty, positive, and clean laughter is a gift from the Father. Whether it is the snorting laugh like my wife, the wheezing laugh like my mom, or a loud honking laugh like some I know, I encourage you to laugh, laugh often, and laugh with others. However, I know there will be some that feel as though they can’t laugh, that their life is in such a lot that laughter seems impossible or even inappropriate. In that case, I encourage you to allow the gospel to give you light, God’s community to hold you tight, a song to get your through the night, and the big picture to stay in sight.