As I awoke on a sunny spring day in May, my mind felt cluttered. Deadlines loomed for my daughter’s home school materials to be completed in time for graduation. Paperwork still needed to be completed for submission to two different colleges. My father’s health issues demanded my attention and energy. Of course, the day to day tasks of shopping, phone calls, and trying to carve out moments for myself and the rest of my family vied for a place in my agenda.
I felt overwhelmed. My energy felt zapped.
I prepared for work. On the one hand, I looked forward to engaging with the students in the classroom where I would be substitute teaching. Yet, I wondered how I would be able to focus on the tasks of the day when the concerns of my mind seemed so pressing.
I said a quick prayer asking for peace “that passes all understanding” as I headed toward the school. I anticipated that, at some point, peace would wash over me. Traditionally, when I remind myself that God is in control, I am relieved of the tension that grips my body. Yet, in my humanity, I wondered if I could really trust God to come through again.
But I pressed forward, attempting to accomplish what God had called me to do that day.
In the early afternoon, my co-teacher informed me that a woman from the library would be coming into the classroom to read. That sounded lovely. I enjoy sharing that passion for reading with my students. But my co-teacher added, “She’s hilarious,” That piqued my curiosity. “And wait until you see her puppet shows,” she added.
Who doesn’t enjoy a few laughs? At least it seemed like a helpful diversion from acknowledging the multitude of thoughts fighting for my attention.
And then the woman arrived, pulling a wagon full of books and accessories. But she possessed something even more amazing that transcended through her items: wit. As she walked into this fourth-grade classroom, a wave of excitement filled the air. Her ability to communicate with students at their age level, yet incorporate a mature sense of wit and sarcasm, was remarkable. The normally fidgety antics of students whose bodies and minds are weary by afternoon diminished. They were mesmerized. So was I.
She had the amazing ability to take a serious story such as Tolstoy’s The Three Questions and weave humor into it. The point of the story is to focus on making the most of the present; an empowering lesson for all. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who had entered the classroom with a head full of thoughts about the future.
Following the reading and a bit of discussion came the puppet show. It did not disappoint. The performance of The Princess and the Pea left my sides aching from laughter. But I also realized something else: the heavyweight in my brain seemed to lighten. My muscles felt relaxed.
And suddenly, a wave of self-awareness swept over me: When was the last time I allowed myself to laugh with abandon? The answer left me pondering. It had been longer than I could remember.
I’ve always been a bit on the serious side. Birth order, family dynamics and many other factors have shaped how I respond to the world. The last decade of my life has been filled with much unexpected anguish. It becomes easy to adapt to a pattern of response that seems comfortable but not healthy.
The old adage “laughter is the best medicine” has merit. Multitudes of medical research indicate that laughter has both direct and indirect health benefits.
Yet, is laughter regularly considered life-giving? Often, it’s connected to fun, immaturity and entertainment—more of a passive response rather than an intentional form of healing. But, if it is indeed a life-giving action bearing God’s likeness, what does it tell us about God’s character?
As I left the classroom that day, I felt as though I had been blessed in the most unexpected of ways. The cluttered thoughts in my mind had separated. My body felt rejuvenated. I had no desire to grab my worries back from God’s hand. Never would I have imagined that my “peace that passes all understanding” would be experienced through laughter. God touched me through the imago dei in the storyteller. I learned a lesson in the classroom that day. One with life-changing consequences.
And the next time I hear a reference to The Three Questions or The Princess and the Pea, a smile is likely to emerge. And, probably a giggle as well.