God says: ‘Go and have fun’
This is not the sort of encouragement many people associate with the Christian God. From the outside people often imagine church life to be solemn and constrained; from the inside it can sometimes feel that way! From my own upbringing I picked up the sense that the more miserable you were the better God was pleased. But hear these words from Pope Francis:
Far from being timid, morose, acerbic or melancholy, or putting on a dreary face, the saints are joyful and full of good humour. Though completely realistic, they radiate a positive and hopeful spirit. The Christian life is “joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17)
...Christian joy is usually accompanied by a sense of humour... sadness can be a sign of ingratitude. We can get so caught up in ourselves that we are unable to recognize God’s gifts... With the love of a father, God tells us: “My son, treat yourself well... Do not deprive yourself of a happy day” (Sir 14:11.14). He wants us to be positive, grateful and uncomplicated.
[Gaudete et Exsultate]
If I consider the life of Jesus and his disciples then I see it woven through with fun and laughter. Imagine all those adventures along the road, stories shared and unexpected happenings. When you are with people you love and trust, laughter is never far away. Threaded through the teachings we have received from Jesus we can begin to glimpse his observant eye and sharp wit:
Whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others their fasting. [Matthew 6.16]
Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? [Matthew 7.3]
No one tears a piece from a new garment and sows it on an old garment. [Luke 5.36]
Jesus used humour to help his listeners stir themselves out of set ways. When we start to take ourselves less seriously and laugh at how ridiculous we can be, we also start to relax and become open to life.
To laugh and to find joy is not a denial of struggle or pain; Jesus knew these experiences well enough too. Laughter and tears lie so close to one another. When we laugh deeply we often find ourselves crying. The emotions stem from the same deep place. Through them both we find release.
Nor is the capacity to be lighthearted an indication of not caring. The burden we let go of is the weight of trying to be perfect by ourselves. We have need of another who loves us in our inability. We can laugh with compassion at that part of us that continues to believe ‘all rests on me.’ There is gentleness in this gift of laughing at ourselves; what makes this possible is the presence of one who loves as we are now and patiently works with us to help us be the more we will one day be through his gift.
I remember one tense Christmas when I was wound up with my failing efforts to be a perfect person. On the television came a John Cleese film, Clockwise: the tale of an obsessively punctual headmaster who takes more and more desperate measures to be on time for a conference where he is going to give a speech on the virtues of being organised. So much healing flowed through my laughter and tears.
Jesus did not say,’ I have come that you may be solemn’. These are his words to us: ‘I have said all these things that my joy may be in you and your joy be complete’. [John 15.11]
With the love of a father, God tells us: “My son...my daughter...treat yourself well... Do not deprive yourself of a happy day”. He wants us to be positive, grateful and uncomplicated.