October 27, 2011
by Phil Callaway
Yesterday a gentleman phoned to tell me he did not like my sense of humour. “What does laughing have to do with being a Christian?” he asked.
“Is that you, Dad?” I replied, joking.
He was not amused. So I got his address and stuffed a potato in his exhaust pipe. Not really. But the thought did occur to me.
My son Jeffrey seems to think laughter is a good idea. His laugh is
contagious. One that spills out of his room, down the street, and even
into the church. When he was very small, he took to screaming during a
sermon, so I whisked him out the back. As I did, he yelled over my
shoulder, “Pray for me!” He's been making us laugh ever since.
I am convinced that few weapons are more important in fighting
discouragement and difficulty these days than a good sense of humour.
Laughter, stress, and worry cannot co-exist for long. Stress inflates
our balloons to the popping point; laughter slowly releases the
pressure. Laughter is cholesterol free, contains no MSG, no fat, and no
negative side effects. Although it got me into a ton of trouble in fifth
grade, laughter never committed a crime or started a war, and there is
no record of anyone who died laughing. I have seen laughter disarm,
revive, motivate, encourage, and cheer. It is the shortest distance
between two people, and one of the few things the government does not
But laughter is not always easy to come by, is it? Life is difficult.
Times are tough. While speaking at a retreat, I noticed one couple
sitting in the front row at each of my sessions (speakers don't forget
such things). The wife was a brilliant and witty woman who laughed at
all of my jokes! But her husband merely glared at me. For three days he
did this. His lips were puckered. He looked like he'd been sucking
rivets off a skateboard. After the final session, his wife approached me
with a smile and an extended hand. “I just want to thank you,” she
said. “I haven't seen my husband laugh this hard in years.”
My wife's sister Miriam provides a startling contrast. Miriam suffers
from Huntington's disease, a rare genetic disorder causing rapid mental
and physical deterioration. Doctors who treat thousands of Huntington's
patients are amazed at how slowly this awful disease is growing in her
body. The reasons are numerous: a loving husband and family, a positive
attitude never ceasing to amaze us, and perhaps most noticeably, an easy
laugh. Those who have every reason to cry and yet choose to laugh seem
to have a jump-start on life. A doctor told her husband Jim “Miriam's
attitude has reduced the symptoms of Huntington's by 50 per cent.”
“It seems your belief in a higher power has helped you,” a
psychologist said to Miriam and Jim one day. Miriam smiled. “That would
be God,” she said.
Hers is the laughter of one who has discovered the art of Christian
living: giving thanks for what we can see and not complaining about what
remains in the dark. At the very core, Miriam knows that she is loved
by God, held in His arms, and promised the eternal joys of heaven. She
has learned that God gives us enough light for the next faltering step,
so she rejoices in the little light she's given, not asking for some
great spotlight to take all the shadows away.
For Miriam, laughter has plugged the springs of bitterness, put a
permanent cork on tension, and soothed the crippling pain of
disappointment. She could be pinned to the mat, but instead she pins
this magnet to her fridge: “In the world you will have trouble, but be
of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Just below it is another one:
“If you can't make me thin, make my friends look fat.”
Children who see such an attitude are changed forever.
As a humourist, it is my privilege to speak to thousands of people
each year. Many are Christian groups; some are not. But I've made a
surprising discovery lately—Christians laugh harder. I have seen them
fall off benches, ask for oxygen, and hyperventilate. Perhaps the world
laughs to forget, but Christians laugh because we remember. We remember
that the most serious issues were dealt with at the cross. Death was
swallowed up. Eternity was promised. Surely the greatest punchline in
all of history is this: that a holy God could love the likes of me. This
truth bids me live life with thanksgiving. And sometimes you may see me
laughing. It is the laughter of one who deserves the worst and is
offered the best. It is the laughter of the forgiven.
Speaking of forgiveness, the next time that gentleman calls about my
sense of humour I won't put a potato in his exhaust pipe. But I may
consider stuffing fiberglass insulation into his pyjamas.