“I’m a lesbian.” she said. She chose to self-disclose right in the middle of a youth group gathering. She just dropped a big elephant right in the center of the group. We were rocked. Moments before we were discussing the importance of being transparent with each other. God has a funny sense of humor. The silence was awkward and uncomfortable at best. Those word just hung there in mid air, waiting for a response.
It was then that Josh, our student with down syndrome, shouted, “Wrestlemania Baby! Hulk-A-Mania’s gonna run wild on you!”
We lost it! We all laughed so hard we couldn’t catch our breath. After nearly ten minutes of this we finally composed ourselves. We all needed a moment to gather our thoughts. We needed time to let go of our fears and judgments. We needed something to pop the tension. We weren’t avoiding the “elephant in the room” but we all needed to come up for air, for this was a very vulnerable moment of self-revelation, that if handled wrong could have lasting negative effects. Laughter, at that moment, was a gift from God.
By now the benefits of humor have been well documented. Humor connects us to other humans, as we share a laugh over life’s absurd moments. Like love, humor warmly surrounds us and soothes pain, making it more bearable. When we can laugh at our problems, we gain distance, perspective, and a sense of mastery. Humor says, “Things may suck right now, but that’s okay. I might be a hot mess right now, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel.” A humor break can recharge creative batteries. In addition, laughter results in numerous beneficial effects on the body: relief from pain, cardiovascular conditioning, improved breathing, muscle relaxation, and improved immune system functioning.
Several cautions apply to humor as well.
- The overuse of humor can be a form of avoidance, which can prevent one from processing pain.
- Sarcasm or “put-down” humor is a thinly disguised form of hostility, and is rarely appropriate. Humor, like sex, works best when surrounded by love.
- Making light of someone’s pain can seem insensitive and can undermine trust. Humor may require that a certain amount of healing has taken place. It may be premature to try to get someone to laugh at intense pain.
- Humor is NOT a panacea, not a substitute for therapy.
Given these precautions, these principles might help incorporate more humor into our lives.
- Be willing to “Play the Fool” at times. This openness undermines the rigid need to be legalistic and perfect.
- Just be willing to play. If we allow for unstructured downtime we invite spontaneity to play along with us.
- Humor does not require that one be a stand-up comedian or a loud laugher. A sense of humor includes simply being able to notice the incongruities of life with a light heart.
- Humor is not an all-or-none skill. A sense of humor is standard issue, and each person has the capacity to develop it over time.
- Don’t be discouraged if not many things seem funny to you. The work we do is often intense. On any given day we could deal with deep emotional problems, intense relationships, demands of others, and the consequences of at-risk behaviors. It’s hard to laugh when one is emotionally numb. We can often become numb as a protective shield against life’s difficulties. Instead, simply allow time for healing. With time you’ll probably become open to humor at your own pace and in your own way.
Most of us in youth ministry are kind of screwy to begin with. We have to be to do what we do for so little in return. We’re already bent towards a wicked sense of humor but sometimes the daily grind of life and ministry can steal our laughter.
God promises us in Joel that “He will replace what the locusts have eaten.” May He do that for you today.
Chris Schaffner is a veteran youth worker and certified counselor. He is also the founder of CONVERSATIONS ON THE FRINGE. CotF is an organization seeking creative and innovative ways to bridge the gap between the mental health community and those entities (particularly schools and churches) that serve youth in contemporary society.