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The Duty of Laughter
J. R. Miller
They tell us that laughter is dying out among men. If so, it is a pity. The Wise Man says that "there is a time to laugh." That is, there is a time when laughter is right, when it is a duty—and when it would be wrong not to laugh. Perhaps we have not been accustomed to think of laughter in this way. We regard it as an agreeable exercise—but are not apt to class it among duties, like honesty or kindness.
It would be a sad thing, however, if laughter should be altogether crowded out of life. There are other exercises, which we could much better afford to lose. Think of a world of human beings with no laughter—men and women always wearing grave, serious, solemn faces; with no relaxing of the sternness on any occasion. Think of the laughter of childhood departing from the world, and the laughter of youth—how dull and dreary life would be!
Laughter has its place in every wholesome, healthy, holy life. A man who never smiles—is morbid. He has lost the joy chords out of his life. He has trained himself to think only of unpleasant things, to look only and always at the dark side. He has accustomed himself so long to sadness—that the muscles of his face have become set in hard, fixed lines and cannot relax themselves. His thoughts of life are gloomy, and the gloom has entered his soul and darkened his eyes!
All this is wrong. It is abnormal, unnatural. True, most of us are busy and burdened. Our life is full of serious tasks which fill every moment and give us little time for unbending. Yet hard work should never drive laughter out of the soul. We should keep a happy heart amid the severest toil. We should sing at our work. We will work better and far more effectively if we keep the music always ringing within our breast. "A sad heart tires in a mile" runs the old song. "The joy of the Lord is your strength," said Nehemiah to the people, as he urged them to rejoicing. Joy of spirit makes burdens seem lighter and tasks easier. It is probably necessary to require silence in certain establishments where people work together—but it is not the natural way. It would ad much to the value of labor if the strokes of toil could be the time beats of joyous music.
Laughter is a token of a good heart and a good conscience. Shakespeare said some quite uncomplimentary things about the man who has no music in his soul. Where there is no laughter—all evils nest. Demons do not laugh—unless it is the laugh of wicked exultation over the mischief they have wrought, or the laughing sneer at goodness and virtue. Nothing on earth is more beautiful than the merry laugh of childhood. It is the bubbling up of the fountain of innocence and simplicity in the child's heart. It tells of a spirit yet unspoiled by sin, unhurt by the world's evil. Spontaneous, holy laughter tells always of godliness. The man who never laughs, must not blame his fellows if they think there is something wrong with his life, something dark within. If the streams which flow out are only bitter—the fountain cannot be sweet!
Even trouble should not quench laughter. Sorrow often rolls like a dark flood over human lives, and it may sometimes seem as if there could be no gladness in the heart thereafter. But however great the grief—joy should live through it. Christian joy does not have its source on the earth—but in heaven, in the everlasting hills. People who live in the valleys amid great mountains, have water even in the driest, hottest summer, because they receive their supply from springs which flow out of the mountains and are unaffected by heat or drought. The Christian's springs of joy are perennial, because they flow from under the throne of God. No matter what goes wrong—we should still sing and be glad.
Along the shore one sometimes comes upon fresh water springs which bubble up on the edge of the salt sea. The tides roll over them and bury them out of sight for the time—but when the brackish floods ebb again—the springs are found sweet as ever. Just so, after the deepest sorrow—should the heart's fountains of joy be found, still pouring out their streams of gladness. Christ says much about his people having his joy—a joy which the world can neither give nor take away. He says, too, that their sorrow shall be turned into joy, meaning that the deepest joy in this world is transformed sorrow, and not the joy which has never known pain.
If, therefore, we are Christians—grief should not crush laughter out of our life. Some people seem to think that it would be disloyalty to their friends who are gone—for them ever to be happy again. But this is not true. Of course, there is a sense in which we never get over sorrow. Our life is never the same after sore bereavement. We carry the marks forever. But they should not be marks of sorrow. There is a beatitude of the Master's which pronounces those who mourn—blessed or happy, because they have God's comfort. God's comfort is heaven's joy entering into the human soul. It is a blessing which transmutes pain into joy and loss—into gain. Sorrow healed by God's wise, skillful treatment, leaves no ugly scars, no bleeding wounds. Nothing beautiful is lost—in the grief which Christ comforts. The sweetest songs sung on earth—are those learned in the darkened room of trial.
The true problem of living is to pass unhurt in our real character through the greatest trials, and to have our life softened, enriched, and refined—by every trouble we endure. Therefore, we have not met grief aright—if we come out of it with a loss of joyousness. Our songs should be sweeter and our laughter should be gladder, if less hilarious, for a baptism of pain.
There is a mission for humor. The man who can make others laugh may be a great blessing to his fellows. There are times in one's experience when a bit of fun is better, more a means of grace, than a serious sermon would be. There are times when the best help we can give to a friend—is to make him laugh. The Wise Man says:
"A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit." Proverbs 15:13
"A cheerful heart has a continual feast." Proverbs 15:15
"A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones." Proverbs 17:22
A hearty laugh would cure many a sickly feeling, driving away the blues, and changing the whole aspect of life for a man. The gift of bright, cheerful humor is one to be envied. The man who can keep people laughing at the table—is both a promoter of health and a dispenser of happiness.
We may set laughter down, therefore, among Christian duties. Nor is it one of the minor duties. There may be no commandment in the Decalogue, saying: "You shall laugh," but Christ certainly taught that joy is a duty, one of the virtues which every Christian should cultivate. No one now believes the old tradition that Jesus never smiled—but always wept. He must have been a happy hearted man. Paul also makes it very clear in his teachings that we should rejoice always, and that joy is a fruit of the Spirit, an essential quality of the complete Christian life.
It is not hard for young people to laugh; it comes naturally to them. They should cultivate laughter as a Christian grace, never losing the art, nor allowing it to fall into disuse. They should seek always to be cheerful. Living near the heart of Christ, faithfully following his commandment, and obeying conscience, their lives may be always full of gladness and song. Of course they will find thorns in their path and the sun will not always shine. But there will be ten times more gladness than sorrow in their life, and even the clouds will bring rain with its blessing, and pain will make the song sweeter, if softer.
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