In our 9th year of marriage, this is what we have learnt. Jenny and I have learnt to laugh loudly, deeply and unhibited. We laugh at each other. We laugh with each other. We laugh at each other’s mistakes, failures, and weaknesses. We mimic and then laugh at each other’s grunts and faces we make when we are angry. John Steinbeck, in his book, The Grapes of Wrath, writes, “It was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials”. We’ve learnt how to build laughter out of our weaknesses, failures, sorrows, mistakes, and foolishness.
Laughter is unnatural to us because we are naturally serious people. We take ourselves too seriously. We over analyze, over speculate, over think and are overly critical of everything. We are planning on renovating our home, and it’s taking us forever to decide what tiles to buy. We have to cross the t’s and dot the i’s to our satisfaction. Our kind are not naturally joyful people. You should see our in-laws from both sides. (I hope they don’t get to read this). Our Christian upbringings had very little laughter. We were part of the Holy Laughter awakening in Charismatic churches in the early 90s to 2000s, and even that was momentary because once we left the meetings, we reverted to our old serious selves.
Not that we’ve never laughed. It happened very early in our relationship, when we dated. It was the case of putting our best foot forward. We also laughed in the first year of marriage, but as the magnitude of the decision we made dawned on us, it sucked the joy of it out. I think this happens to everyone. This is inevitable, I think.
The stand-up comedy industry, which according to Forbes is worth 300 million dollars annually, has become an alternative to most couples’ joyless lives. In our age, stand comedians have become social and cultural commentators, life coaches, political pundits, sex therapists, and even offer parenting tips. However, after the show, we go back to our miserable and anxious lives. In a fleeting moment, we came up for air and then reality pulled us back into the ocean.
I think life is too hard for all of us.
So what changed for us?
The gospel of grace.
This laughter is the fruit of the gospel of grace in our lives. Joy as a result of resting in God’s frivolous, extravagant, and unconditional love for us. In our second year of marriage, we “stumbled” on the gospel of grace, and gradually the gospel peeled off fig leaves we had on for years, revealed to us and each other who we truly are (broken and wounded people), and then told us what Jesus has done for us. When we believed the gospel, we could now live in view of each other without the fig leaves. We were naked and not ashamed. The realization that God in Jesus Christ laid down his life to save us produced in us delight and joy. Like the nation of Israel, our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. (Psalms 126:2) I realized the other day, the fruit that follows love in Galatians 5:22 is joy. It seems to us if you receive and enjoy God’s frivolous, extravagant, and unconditional love for you (agape), the most immediate response is joy. We believe the gospel of grace offers a joy, a joy deposited deep in the heart, and cushions the heart from the constant onslaught life throws at it.
In religious and secular circles, they paint Jesus as this solemn, piteous figure who went about speaking in low, hushed tones. However, the Bible tells us something else.
Hebrews 1:8 (NIV)
…. Your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.
Jesus was a joyous chap. He worked with former fishermen whose lives revolved around cracking jokes and telling fictitious stories of fish they never caught or sights they never saw. I’m so sure they laughed at and with each other narrating the funny incidences on the many meetings they had. Probably how some people scrambled for food, thinking it would not be enough. Or, the shock in people’s faces when Jesus did a miracle. Or, even laughed at the stupid questions they constantly asked Jesus. They could have laughed about these things with Jesus. Man, Jesus was not this serious chap we see on paintings and graffiti. Jesus was anointed with the oil of joy. His joy could have been contagious. Hey, think about his first miracle of turning water into wine. He turned what could have been a dull marriage party to a joyous one.
This is the same oil of joy, Jenny and I are receiving, enjoying and giving to each other. Please don’t think we always walking around with radiant smiling faces. Remember our natural default mode of seriousness? The gospel of grace is what Victor Hugo, in Les Misérables, said about laughter that laughter is sunshine, it chases winter from the human face. The gospel of grace has reached deep into the coldest reaches of our souls and ignited a firework called joy. The good thing is Jesus by his Spirit continues to throw this firework time and time again because we easily revert to our default selves.
Yesterday morning, as we drove to drop off Jenny at work, I raised an issue that had taken place the previous night. She denied my recollection of events. She said none of those things happened, and I was adamant they did. I asked her to apologize, and she went like, “my bad”. We instinctively burst out laughing because we knew what “my bad” meant. The “my bad” was a reference to something we had talked about. We burst out laughing so hard. We were both like “my bad”. The laughter took the edge off of what could have been a serious issue. This could not have taken place a few years ago.
I share the same observation with Marilynne Robinson in her book, Gilead.
It is an amazing thing to watch people laugh, the way it sort of takes them over. Sometimes they really do struggle with it. I see that in church often enough. So I wonder what it is and where it comes from, and I wonder what it expends out of your system, so that you have to do it till you’re done, like crying in a way, I suppose, except that laughter is much more easily spent.
Seeing people laugh has become a rare sight. It’s like seeing a pink elephant. Sociologists say we are the happiest generation that has been on earth, yet experience doesn’t add up. We are lonely, angry, and estranged from each other, therefore, I am fascinated and intrigued when I see people laughing. I almost want to go over and ask them what the laughter is about. Man, I wish people could laugh more often. Moreover, I wish they got a chance to listen to the gospel of grace.
Last, Kevin Hart, the diminutive stand-up comedian, says this, “In life, you can choose to cry about the bullshit that happens to you or you can choose to laugh about it. I choose laughter.” Jenny and I agree with him. We go further and say this laughter in the face of bullshit (pardon my language here) is unsustainable unless you see and believe what Jesus has done for you.
You want this joy?
See Jesus, on the cross. Jesus, anointed with the oil of joy became a man of sorrows, and acquainted with sicknesses (Isaiah 53:3), so we could be anointed with the oil of joy. Jesus took our place, and we took his place.
That’s what grace looks like.