Where Has all the Laughter Gone?
By Susanne Scheppmann
The sign reads: “Embezzled Laughter. Reward if returned. Family misses laughter.” Could that sign be standing in front of your home? Do you remember the last time you had a sidesplitting belly laugh or a fit of giggles? If not, could your family offer a reward for the laughter stolen by ministry?
When we entered into ministry, we never intended to lose the laughter in our lives, but sometimes ministry can steal bits of our joy. It’s not a one-time full-blown burglary; it embezzles the laughter over an extended period.
We launch into ministry with enthusiasm and the earnest longing to help people. Soon we discover the needs of the people outmatch our energy. The depth of their pain engulfs us. Demanding schedules exhaust our emotional resources. We struggle with guilt.
We deal with divorce, death, and devilry of all sorts. How can we laugh? Should we laugh? At times, it appears so inappropriate. To hide the inadequacy on the inside, we become solemn-faced. Serious attitudes squelch all attempts to find the funny side of life. Slowly, laughter seeps from our lives, as ministry overtakes us. We read the obituaries, instead of the funnies. Our refrain becomes that of the prophet Jeremiah, “I never sat in the company of revelers, never made merry with them...” (Jer. 15:17). God never intends for our service for Him to be without amusement. We forget Eccl. 3:4, “a time to weep and a time to laugh.” We need to examine the whereabouts of our laughter.
I was in the grocery store the first time I realized laughter was dwindling from my life. Shopping with a friend, the mother of three teenagers, we began to throw everything into the cart that would bring a smile to their faces. The more items we flung into the cart, the more we cackled ─ candy, twinkies, chips, and salsa. The laughter crescendoed when we reached the ice cream aisle. I grinned all the way home. As soon as I entered the house, I called and thanked her for allowing me the opportunity to shop with her. I said, “I haven’t had so much fun in months.”
“Me, too. I can't remember the last time I giggled so much,” she answered. Not surprisingly, she is in ministry too.
Many times the embezzling creeps past our own life right into our families. With the many demands of ministry and family, we reason to ourselves, “Why not combine the two? Not only will it save time, but it will be good for the family to see the hurts surrounding us.” On the way to taking the family out for dinner one evening, I delivered soup to the family of a terminally-ill child. Once at the restaurant, I ordered extra food to deliver to a widow battling breast cancer. As we pulled into her driveway, my son remarked, “Mom, do you know that all of your friends have issues?” No doubt, a very accurate observation of a mom in ministry.
We need to ask ourselves, “Do I allow other people’s needs to drain the fun from an evening with my family?” We must guard our families against their fun and laughter being embezzled by the needs of others.
If we try to meet every need we spot, our own hearts will be broken. Proverbs 15:13 warns, “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.” The concerns of ministry should break our hearts, but not crush our spirits. Create a protection in your life against a crushed spirit. Make a vow to enjoy life. Invent ways to laugh, to be silly, to relax, and enjoy your precious family time away from the needs of ministry. Proverbs 15:15 suggests, “but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.” Feast on the joyous things in this life. Allow yourself the same compassion you feel for others. In ministry we must meet our own needs and those of our family so that we may minister adequately, with joy, to the cares of this world.
Many times in ministry it is not just the host of concerns, but church chores that steal the fun. Recently, as the Women’s Ministry director of our church, I had been given the task of hosting a tea for the women to close out our stewardship and building campaign. All the details came together except one. I still needed a dress.
The day before the tea, I trudged to the mall in search of “tea attire.” Tired and worried about the event, I began to try on outfits. As I began grumpily modeling different dresses, I began to see a little humor in the whole situation. “I was hosting a tea!” My attitude reversed. I decided I wanted to look and feel the part. I began an earnest search for the perfect garb. Several dresses spawned giggles ─ a few even brought howls of laughter. I purchased a lime green floral ensemble. What refreshment for my soul! “A cheerful heart is good medicine” (Prov. 17:22)! I reclaimed a cheerful heart eager to attend to the duties of ministry.
Examine your front yard. Do you see a sign requesting the return of laughter? If so, determine to recover it. Read the funnies before the obituaries. Try to glimpse the humor in ministry. Then claim the reward.
What is the reward? A tickled family, a re-energized ministry, and the smile of God. “But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful” (Ps. 68:3). Decide today to reclaim your embezzled joy and lost laughter.