I remember seeing the phrase “laughter is the best medicine” on a t-shirt one time at a souvenir shop. By nature, I am not much of a comedian. I am more of a natural learner and seeker of new ideas. I like deep conversations and serious contemplation. (Code word for “not very funny.” ;)) My children constantly teach me new things and pull me out of my comfort zone when it comes to valuing laughter. Their love of all things hilarious started with their attempts to work out the punchlines to their favorite knock knock jokes and have continued with their love of Dogman graphic novels. I think one reason why I have never loved telling jokes is that I can’t seem to remember the punch lines correctly.
The most important way that my children have recently taught me the value of laughter is through watching how giggles can diffuse an unregulated emotional state faster than any other research based technique I have tried. One of my children taught me this lesson as I was trying to model and practice with him how to take deep breaths to work through his big emotions. Instead of breathing how I showed him to breathe, he told me he wanted to do “angry” breaths. When I mimicked back his angry breaths, he laughed hysterically and told me that I wasn’t doing angry breaths right. Then he modeled and practiced with me how to do “angry breaths” precisely.
I’m thankful the Holy Spirit paused my heart gently in this interaction to show me the importance of not being rigid with the “research based way” to teach self-regulation and breathing. When I found a way to bring in his sense of humor, we were able to make the technique work for him. That’s really the end goal of teaching self-regulation strategies-helping our children gain the tools to:
- notice when their bodies are flooded with big emotions (fight, flight, freeze, or freak out)
- notice what the emotion is telling them
- choose a healthy way to bring their bodies back down to feeling calm again.
With a heart now ready to see what the Lord says about laughter, I started researching. When we take the time to explore how our Creator intentionally made our whole bodies, all of the pieces start to make sense. Everything He made was good, so knowing how to find the “good” and purpose behind our emotions is something I have been intentionally seeking out.
One of the first verses that popped up as I searched is one that we have written on a chalkboard sign when you come into our house from our garage, Proverbs 17:22 : “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” We have had this verse displayed for the last two years, because this truth can be really hard to live out. It’s easy to say “have a cheerful heart,” but it’s a whole lot harder to live out day after day.
When thinking about how this verse applies in our parenting and teaching, it reminded me that when we are able to communicate strategies with a cheerful heart, even the most challenging skills can be received well. When I responded back to my child with silliness, he was able to embrace my cheerful spirit and help his central nervous system relax. When we can get our bodies in a state of calm, we can utilize our higher order thinking processes. That’s where emotional regulation fits in. Now that I recognize that silliness is this child’s best way to work out of fight, flight, freeze, or freak out moments, I am able to collaborate with other family members, church friends, teachers, and other adults to help our child work through these big emotions no matter the situation.
The second verse that stood out to me as I researched was Psalm 126:2, “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them!’” As I looked at the heading of this Psalm, I noticed that this section and the 15 Psalms from Psalm 120-134 are labeled as Psalms of Ascent. Out of curiosity, I decided to research what this meant.
I learned that these 15 psalms were sung by Hebrew pilgrims as they would make the journey (ascent) from their villages to Jerusalem for the three festivals: Passover (Christians-Easter), The Feast of Weeks (plentiful harvests; Christian-Day of Pentecost-giving of the Holy Spirit), and The Festival of Booths (Remembering God’s deliverance from the Wilderness). In Bible times, not everyone had access to the scriptures or could read them even if they wanted to. Memorizing the Psalms was a way for the Hebrew people to carry on God’s truths through song from generation to generation. The priests who served at the temple at Jerusalem were also known to recite and/or sing these 15 Psalms corresponding to the 15 steps that led to the Temple in Jerusalem.
So you might be wondering why this backstory is important-here’s why this connects to Psalm 126:2.. Each of these 15 Psalms have a theme that guided the Israelites’ worship as they sang the passages. Psalm 126 is known for the theme that “The Lord has done great things.” Pausing for a moment to take this in, I sat back to reflect on how remembering the great things the Lord has done can fill our mouths with laughter. The Holy Spirit gently taught my heart that when we can look back on seasons of faith, we can see evidence of all of the moment by moment ways the Lord has provided for us in those tricky seasons. Just like the Israelites were remembering:
- how the Lord provided them through the 10 plagues in Egypt as they celebrated the Passover, we can look back at the oppressive seasons in our life where the Lord has faithfully protected and freed us from the weights of our burdens.
- how the Lord provided an abundance of crops to meet their needs in the Promised Land, we can look back at the abundance of people, patience, and possibilities that the Lord has extravagantly given to us.
- how the Lord delivered them from their 40 years in the wilderness and cemented their cultural heritage through this time of wandering, we can look back at our own wilderness seasons and how the Lord has shaped our families to be more like Him, citizens of Heaven instead of citizens of Earth.
Friend, I am wondering which areas in your life do you long to trade seriousness and worry for joyful, cheerful laughter? How can we be still enough to notice the areas that our children are giving us glimpses of what their souls need to flourish? The beautiful thing about the time the Lord has placed us on Earth is that we do have the opportunity to read His truths daily and allow His words to shape how we look at our parenting and teaching. Let’s be intentional together to respond cheerfully, and maybe with a little silliness, to the children we love. Who knows-it might be just the breakthrough we are hoping for with our children. I’m praying that through looking back these hard seasons, the Lord might bring us joyful laughter as we recount the ways He provided. Maybe laughter is exactly what our souls need to flourish.