Laugh and grow strong

March 11th, 2022

There is a sculpture that has inspired and encouraged me for years. It has been in my pastor’s study—often on my desk—since I received it as a gift from my mother. It has become a profound symbol for me of something deeply important in the spiritual life. The sculpture is of a laughing pig. The pig is on its back, its two front hooves holding its round belly, mouth wide open in laughter. For me it’s a sacred icon of earthy joy. I find it impossible to look at the giggling swine without feeling a shift in my spirit—a lightening up.

Laughter doesn’t often get its due in Christian settings. In an attempt to be faithful, we can become awfully intense, we can take ourselves very seriously, and we can begin to feel responsible for every single problem and broken place in the world. That’s a heavy load to carry. It’s important to remember that we get to share in the work of new creation that God is always busy with, but we are not God! Lightening up doesn’t mean we aren’t taking our responsibilities seriously, but rather it means that we have proper perspective. That’s good news if I’ve ever heard it; and I need to be reminded of this good news all the time. I need constant reminders to lighten up!

I have a running debate with a close friend about Jesus on this point. My friend tends to think that Jesus was too concerned with the great cosmic struggle between good and evil and the deeply bruising earthly struggle against greed and injustice to spend much time joking around or laughing. I, however, am convinced that all those children wouldn’t want to be near Jesus if he didn’t laugh and play. Everyone wanted Jesus to join their dinner parties; and he spent time with folks who knew how to have a good time. And, though in translation it’s sometimes hard to recognize, some of Jesus’s parables are deeply funny. All this is to say, I think Jesus laughed. A lot. And the more I learn about laughter, the more convinced I am of that.

Laughter is scientifically proven to have healing effects on our physical and mental health. It boosts our immune system, relieves muscle tension and stress, and causes the brain to release “endor- phins, interferon-gamma (IFN), and serotonin. These are nature’s own feel good chemicals and are responsible for helping to keep your mood uplifted.”[2] Studies out of Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic (among others) confirm that “nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh.”[3] In other words, laughter is good medicine when you’re stressed, ill, or discouraged.

I imagine all of us can think of a time when we were in the midst of a deep struggle or right in the middle of grief and found ourselves laughing with others; and in those moments we felt at least a mo- ment of relief. There is deep folk wisdom in the phrase “sometimes you’ve got to laugh to keep from crying!”

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In one study I consulted, I read that “laughter allows us to entertain the absurd and imagine alternate possibilities.”[4] Laughter can bring relief to physical tension and stress, over-responsibility, disappointment, grief, taking ourselves too seriously, and lack of perspective. Christian writer and essayist Anne Lamott speaks to some of this saying:

Humor and laughter and silliness and giggles can get into some dark, walled-off places inside us and bring breath and lightness. . . . When I am at my most stressed, I sometimes lose my sense of humor, and that condition is just a nightmare....For me, hell is when I’m absolutely stuck in self-obsession, this terrible, terrible self-consciousness. The healing and grace often comes from being put back together by people . . . [who] somehow help me lighten up and get my sense of humor back. When I have my sense of humor back, nothing can stop me.[5]

Lamott describes humor and laughter as “carbonated holiness.”[6] I love that way of thinking about the gift of laughter, as a bubbly, refreshing drink of God’s grace, as the thing that is always available to us, just waiting to nourish and renew us body and soul: “A good laugh is a release—even if only for a moment—from worry, strife, and self. It is a sudden, often unbidden confession that someway, somehow, all is well, or at least there is a hope that it can be.”[7]

I can’t remember who wrote it, but someone once said that Christians should look more redeemed. That is, the good news of God’s ever-present love, mercy, and resurrection power should lead us to rejoice, to laugh and be glad! So, what are some ways that we can cultivate laughter in our lives? Here is a pretty good guide I found.[8]

Smile. Smiling is contagious! Practice smiling at anything and everything that is pleasant or kind. Try offering people a smile on the street instead of keeping your head down over your phone. Smile at the folks who serve you in a restaurant or at a service counter. Smile at your coworkers and family members. See what a difference all this smiling makes!

Count your blessings. Write them down. When you intentionally take stock of the positive things in your life, you guard against those depressing or upsetting thoughts that can get in the way of humor and laughter.

Spend time with fun, playful people. People who know how to laugh and be silly, who can see humor in the absurdities of life, and who have a playful disposition are good influences. Find them and let them influence you!

There are so many other ways to imbibe carbonated holiness:

  • Watch a funny movie, TV show, or YouTube video
  • Invite friends or coworkers to go to a comedy club
  • Read the funny pages
  • Share a good joke or a funny story
  • Check out your bookstore’s humor section
  • Host game night with friends
  • Play with a pet
  • Goof around with children
  • Do something silly
  • Make time for fun activities (e.g., bowling, miniature golfing, karaoke) [9] 

The practice is to intentionally seek out laughter in your life so that it becomes part of your regular spiritual diet, nourishing you for the long haul attending to the serious work of sacred resistance. Drink in the “carbonated holiness” that can refresh and renew! St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuit order, once remarked to a novice, “I see you are always laughing, and I am glad of it.” Ignatius also “once danced a jig to cheer up downcast Jesuits. He was a man whose joy was known to be full.” So much so that the phrase “Laugh and grow strong” is often attributed to him.[10] Laugh and grow strong! Imbibe some carbonated holiness. Find your laughing pig and keep it ever before you!


[1] Much of the material in this chapter is adapted from a sermon series I preached from April 23, 2017, through May 28, 2017, called “Soul Food.” You can find those sermons on Foundry United Methodist Church’s website at

[2] Debbie McGauran, “The 6 Health Benefits of Laughter,” Activebeat, October 14, 2017,

[3] Lawrence Robinson, Melinda Smith, and Jeanne Segal, “Laugh- ter Is the Best Medicine,”, October 2017,

[4] McGauran, “The 6 Health Benefits of Laughter.”

[5] Anne Lamott, “Anne Lamott: The Habit of Practice,” Faith & Leadership, July 4, 2011, -lamott-habit-practice.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Carolyn Arends, “Carbonated Holiness: Laughter Is Serious Business,” Renovaré, January 20, 2017, /carbonated-holiness.

[8] See Robinson, Smith, and Segal, “Laughter Is the Best Medicine.”

[9] Ibid.

[10] Arends, “Carbonated Holiness.”

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