Lila was the kind of lady who laughed when she got a thong on her 90th birthday. Everyone laughed. She was a glimpse of aging gracefully. She recently died at the age of 96 after a tough and joyful life.
Lila had the stories. She brought 11 children into the world, buried two of them, worked several jobs and kept a garden to raise them. Nothing was easy for her and aging brought lots of serious health challenges, but she could laugh. She could even laugh at herself.
I’ve got a big birthday coming up soon. It’s not 90, but it’s enough to make me not get invited to young pastors’ gatherings anymore. My life hasn’t been anywhere close to as hard as Lila’s, yet I forget to laugh some days. I can tell if it’s been a low laughing day when the wrinkles between my eyes are deeper than those around my mouth. My spirit feels tight and I’m exhausted. Somedays it is because grief and darkness are very real and I have to sit with them for a bit. But most days it’s because I got too busy, took myself too seriously and just plain forgot.
Laughter is a gift. Unfortunately, much of the current humor involves barbarous attacks on others. That somehow lacks the grace of laughing at the thought of your 90-year-old bottom in a thong. Being free to laugh at ourselves allows us to truly rest in God’s love and grace. Laughter lets us put aside appearances and reveal ourselves in all our beauty and shame.
I really hate Jesus movies for this reason. Jesus is always so intense and maudlin. Why would anyone follow this guy? A slug has more charisma than any Jesus in the movies. The only reason I figure that Jesus didn’t get killed way earlier in his ministry is because he had an amazing sense of humor. Humor lets you say scandalous things and get away with them. He must have laughed. Who could call children onto his lap with the crowd aghast without a good chuckle? How could he talk about the rich getting into heaven like a camel getting through the eye of a needle without at least a little giggle? How could he face the heaviness and sorrow of this world without some lightheartedness and joy at its beauty?
Psalm 90 is one of my favorite passages: “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart ... Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”
Laughter helps us count our days. It marks the moments of our days as gifts to be enjoyed. It helps us look at the ironies of this world and laugh in the face of them. It gives us the courage to age gracefully. A wise heart knows God’s love and that abundant love underpins our whole life with joy, gladness and laughter.
• Tari Stage-Harvey is pastor at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.