Laughter can heal the soul – and maybe the church


This month, I’ve decided to share my most embarrassing moment with you – all for the sake of a few chuckles.

I was 23 years old and my family was travelling through Europe on a whirlwind vacation. (Why does it seem that so many red-faced moments happen in foreign countries?) We were at a roadside rest stop in Italy and I decided to use the washroom.

When it came time to flush the toilet, I stared – bewildered – at the pictorial instructions on the door of the lavatory. There was a diagram of a man, a toilet, and sound waves connecting the two.

So, I did what any logical North American would do – I began talking to the toilet. Quietly at first, and then ever more forcefully: “Flush. Flush! Please, flush!” Maybe I was supposed to say it in Italian. How do you say “flush” in Italian? “Flushez!

There I was, along a busy freeway amidst the lush Italian countryside, yelling at a toilet. And, believe me, everyone could hear it.

What I later discovered was that it was an automatic flush toilet (something we didn’t yet have in North America) and the “sound waves” were actually motion detectors. All I had to do was leave the cubicle.

Isn’t it good to know we’re all human?

Laughter can be one of God’s greatest gifts during the stressful moments of our lives, helping us release tension and embrace a profound sense of joy. In a mysterious way, mirth can heal deep wounds.

“Mirth is the sweet wine of the human life. It should be offered sparkling with zestful life unto God,” said Henry Ward Beecher.

Some believe the story of laughter was birthed in the Bible, in the lives of Abraham and Sarah. After years of what must have been bottled up feelings of sadness and failure, Sarah finally got the news that she would bear a son. Then she laughed – a laugh that came from the deepest caverns of her soul, cleansing out decades of despair and acknowledging that God had bestowed a blessing beyond her wildest imagination.

Laughing at ourselves

In light of the healing power of laughter, I wonder if the church in North America takes itself too seriously. Although the transformation of lives carries eternal weight, we sometimes trudge along as if it all depends on us. Church life often includes little more than grave seriousness. There doesn’t seem to be any room for laughter.

Maybe if we cracked a few more smiles along the way, we’d remember that the success of the church isn’t up to us. It’s up to the Holy Spirit. I’m not suggesting we make light of the importance of the gospel – that would be mockery. Humour doesn’t have to be disrespectful or irreverent. But real humour can help us come to grips with the limits of our humanity.

As G.K. Chesterton said, “Life is serious all the time but living cannot be. You may have all the solemnity you wish in your neckties, but in everything important you must have mirth or you will have madness.”

What would happen if we chuckled at ourselves – at our failings and mistakes – more often? Would there be fewer incidents of pastoral burnout? Fewer church splits? Would our neighbours be compelled by the sound of merriment coming from within our church walls and have the opportunity to meet Jesus?

Now that would be something to smile about.


Laura Kalmar

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