Not long ago my family was sitting around the dinner table after finishing a meal just lingering in the joy of each other’s company. I don’t even remember what we were talking about, but before I knew it we were all erupting in laughter—the deep belly, tears-running-down-your-cheeks kind, and I remember thinking it felt so good to laugh like that. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time I had laughed that hard. In those precious moments something happened to my soul. I was no longer carrying around the heaviness of the difficult days and circumstances which had crushed my spirit for months, but instead felt a sense of release as I allowed myself to have a good laugh. I felt a surge of strength come into my spirit that I hadn’t felt for a long time and so desperately needed. Proverbs 17:22 in the New Living Translation says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.” I think that’s what happened at the table that night. Suddenly my sapped strength was being re-energized by laughter–and it was good medicine for my soul.
There are over 50 references about laughter in the Bible. And in the verse in Proverbs, it says that laughter holds as much healing power as medicine. In fact, research has shown laughter to be therapeutic. There are health centers across the country treating patients suffering from conditions like depression, stress, and diabetes with laughter therapy. Now medical science agrees with what the Bible has said about the benefits of laughter. According to a study conducted by the University of Maryland, laughter is a powerful remedy for stress, pain, and conflict. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance after a good laugh. Laughter lightens your burdens, inspires hope, connects you to others, and keeps you more focused on the positive. Furthermore, it relaxes the whole body relieving physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes. It boosts the immune system, triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals promoting an overall sense of well-being, and can even temporarily relieve pain. And laughter protects the heart. Wow, God knew what He was doing when He gave us the prescription for laughter.
Perhaps, there is no greater time in our lives for the soul medicine of laughter or a “cheerful heart” than when we’re going through life’s most difficult times. If you think about it, those times are too often characterized by just the opposite, depleting us of all our strength and making it hard to persevere. Once our strength disappears, our spirits can so easily become crushed. But God has a remedy. In the middle of our hardships, God can heal our souls through the simple medicine of laughter or humor. Not that the hardship is funny; it isn’t! But we are given some relief through the laughter–something our soul desperately needs if we’re to live uncrushed in spirit. Nehemiah 8:10 further confirms: “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” In the Greek, joy means “cheerfulness.” And a cheerful heart is a continual medicine strengthening us both inwardly and outwardly.
A few months ago, I was struck by the comments of one of our missionaries whose husband was dying of cancer. While he was in hospice care she wrote, “Although Dave is having increasing pain these days and needs help getting to the bed and to the couch and back again, He still has his sense of humor and gets me laughing at different times during the day.” Laughing during cancer? Yes, laughter was God’s way of increasing their strength in the midst of the impossible. This couple was experiencing the medicine for their souls that comes in the relief of laughter. Somehow laughter interspersed with the days and weeks of deep grief and sadness can make the unbearable bearable. Life can get so heavy and laden with burdens, but laughter gives us a break so that we can carry on in the midst of them. It doesn’t take the pain away, but it does provide a much-needed emotional break. Again, Proverbs reminds us that laughter is good medicine for our beaten down souls. That’s what the missionary wife was saying. It was her husband’s humor that was giving them relief—strength for the next moment. There will still be tears, but there can also be joy from light-hearted moments.
I recently read an online article about Bob Carey whose wife, Linda, is battling breast cancer, which is now incurable. Bob is a middle-aged photographer with a bit of a belly, taking completely ridiculous photos of himself in various locations in a pink tutu all to hear his wife laugh. Bob has braved the snow in his pink tutu, and has even traveled to Italy—in his pink tutu! He said, “When Linda would go in for treatment, she would take the images on her phone and the women would look at them and it would make them laugh and make the time pass.” (Now through the Tutu Project, which was started by the Careys for women battling breast cancer, the photos are available in a calendar.) The Carey’s foundation strives to bring laughter to a community that has endured far too much. “Oddly enough,” Bob said, “Linda’s cancer has taught us that life is good, dealing with it can be hard, and sometimes the very best thing—no, the only thing—we can do to face another day is to laugh at ourselves, and share a laugh with others.” Laughter gives us a sense of comfort that often provides us with the encouragement we need to face what is before us with renewed strength.
God created laughter and humor because He knew that we would need the soul medicine it provides in this fallen world. So how do we take this soul medicine and make it part of our daily spiritual health regimen?
- Find your funny bone and tickle it. One of the nightly rituals I started during some really hard years was to watch the back-to-back reruns of Frasier before bed. They made me laugh so hard, and for an hour every night my weary soul was strengthened. Those minutes of laughter lightened the load of my heart and gave me a break. Find what tickles your funny bone and make it a regular habit to build time for laughter into your life.
- Surround yourself with people who live life joyfully. Have friends in your circle who know how to have fun and have a good sense of humor and can make you laugh—people who can find humor in the day-to-day events. Laughter is contagious. I had the blessing of growing up in a home with a mother who has a great sense of humor and fun. It has been a therapeutic blessing throughout my life to spend time with her and to be reminded to laugh and enjoy life even in hard times. Laughter has a way of bonding us together and reminding us that we’re all in this together, so let’s have some fun along the way.
- Ask God to find something to laugh about even when it seems like there’s nothing to laugh about. Look for the funny, lighthearted things in life. There are a lot of joyful moments in our lives when we train ourselves to look for them. Even when there has been nothing to laugh about in my circumstances, God has helped me to find the humor in some small thing.
- Count your blessings. As you begin to intentionally count your blessings, you will find your heart becoming more merry or cheerful instead of discouraged. We can find something to be thankful about even in the difficult times. As we practice thanking God, we begin to see our blessings more clearly. And there is something wonderful about a grateful spirit; it does wonders for our heart and outlook in general.
- Develop a sense of humor. So often we take ourselves too seriously. Certainly there are those times in life that are not occasions for laughter, but most of life is ordinary living and we can choose whether to find laughter and joy or not. It can often begin by learning to laugh at ourselves and looking for the funny around us.
James Martin said, “Joy, humor, and laughter should be part of everyone’s spiritual life. They are gifts from God.” Hand-in-hand, faith and laughter are the best medicine for your soul. From the beginning, God knew how important laughter would be in our lives long before the medical world ever discovered the incredible benefits to our physical and mental health. It’s an important practice to develop if we’re going to survive in this broken world. So look for things to laugh about. Try focusing on the blessings rather than only on the difficulties in your life. Find ways to tickle your funny bone. Use the gift that God has given and laugh! It’s good medicine for your soul.
*First published in Just Between Us magazine, Spring, 2014 issue. Used with permission.
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Editor of Just Between Us magazine
Shelly Esser has been the editor of Just Between Us for over 29 years. Additionally, she was actively involved in women’s ministries for 20 years, is an author, and has served on the Board of the Pastoral Leadership Institute. She and her husband have four daughters and a son-in-law, and live in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.