Laughter and Joy
I spent most of last week with young children. Our church held a program called Vacation Bible School. It is a week-long program, a kind of “mini camp,” which teaches children some stories from the bible. This year’s theme was “Splash!” All of the stories had to do with water: Noah, Jonah, Jesus asking on water, the woman at the well, and the story of Lydia’s baptism. We began each day with “Opening Time,” during which my friend and assistant and I did a goofy skit about the story for the day.
The kids laughed hysterically at our antics. Then the children rotated between music time, arts and crafts, bible story time, snack time, and outdoor games and activities, all of which involved water and getting wet. As exhausting as it was for the staff, it was also a lot of fun.
I have not laughed that much in a long time. Perhaps that is one reason why I love spending time with young children: laughter and joy make up about 90% of their days! When I spend time with children, laughter and joy become a bigger part of my day. I am exhausted, but happy.
Last night my husband Ted and I went to a play in New York City. We got home around 1:30 AM, and got to bed around 2 am, exhausted but happy. Our daughter, Juliana, is an actor in New York City. Even though Ted hates cities, he goes to New York with me whenever Juliana is in a play, to support her in her challenging but fulfilling career. The play was part of New York City’s Fringe Theater Festival. It was called O’Brien and O’Brian (yes, two different spellings). It was a campy, fun, romantic comedy, with lots of twists and turns.
We did a lot of laughing! Deep, belly laughing. The entire audience reveled in this feel-good performance with a happily ever after ending. Today we are exhausted, but happy.
Last Sunday we went to a place called Pulaski Park, in Chepachet, Rhode Island, for a giant church picnic. We began with a worship service. It was a worship service where three different churches, who are in partnership with each other, came together as one: Gloria Dei Multi-Cultural Ministry from Providence, Rhode Island, La Iglesia Luterana (an Hispanic Latino ministry which grew out of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, and serves a different area in Providence), and my own First Lutheran Church of East Greenwich, Rhode Island. People of various languages and ethnicities, of every hue and shape and size and age, gathered together to worship God as one.
Worship was in Spanish and in English. The music was a blending of various styles. The food at the picnic was specialty dishes from various cultures. Children of all ages laughed and played together. For me it was truly a glimpse of the reign of God, of the heavenly banquet, where all God’s people come together as one. At the end of that glorious day, I was exhausted, but happy.
As a pastor, I experience the whole spectrum of life with people. The vast majority of the time, when people make an appointment to speak with me, it is because they are struggling with something devastating: anxiety over a life-threatening illness; grieving the loss of someone they love; struggling with the break-up of a long-term marriage or relationship; feeling oppressed with an addiction that’s threatening to destroy them. These burdens can be overwhelming. As a pastor, accompanying people through these struggles can be overwhelming, depressing, and stressful.
I find that the only way I can have the strength to deal with the heavy burdens of this life, is to be sure to have some kind of balance. I deal with death a lot more than the average person, but I also baptize a lot of babies. I deal with a lot of struggles in peoples’ lives, but I also participate in a lot of celebrations. I accompany people through many sorrows, but thankfully, also through many joys. I shed a lot of tears with people, but also share a lot of laughter.
Today, I ask you, when as the last time you laughed, really laughed? When was the last time you celebrated? When was the last time you felt filled with joy? Remember to live in balance.
This day may you have ears that hear the laughter of children, and eyes that see the beauty in every face. May you know deep, abiding joy.
Photos: Sylvie in our Secret Garden;Jesu (Linda) and Peter (Brett) walking on water; Jesus (Scott) and the woman at the well (Linda); Paul (Brett) and Lydia (Linda); O’Brien and O’Brian; Worship at Polaski Park (three photos); beautiful Ginger after officiating at our wedding; Ted and Linda in Sweden, celebrating Ted’s birthday; Sylvie’s joy at the beach