Lent (Day 21) — “I’m Not Funny and My Life Stinks…”

In chapter 7 of his book, Between Heaven and Mirth, James Martin, SJ lists five FAQs he gets in various lectures and appearances:
1. Does being joyful mean that I’m supposed to be happy all the time? Answer: No. Life has many tragic moments filled with incredible sorrow. Not to feel sorrow and loss would be inhuman. He cites the story of Jesus and Lazarus, in which “Jesus wept.” He also noted that when he has teared up at funerals of friends and acquaintances, he has been criticized by some for not focusing on the resurrection but on the earthly passing of someone. Again — he stresses that life is painful at times and not to recognize it is inhuman. But joy can come out of sorrow, and it is possible for humor to lighten the sorrow somewhat.
2. How can I find a sense of joy if I’m unhappy? Though he didn’t emphasize this, my response would be to let it come when it comes, and not to try and force it. Sometimes the way to joy is to let grief and sorrow play themselves out. But an openness to joy can help one get through most trying times.
3. I’m not a funny person. What do I do? Well, some people think they are not funny, but can be, and remaining open to the possibility of that gift is important. But also, it is possible to be around others who are funny and appreciate their gifts. In Martin’s eyes, humor is something akin to gratitude. So appreciating others who are funny can have the same effect as being funny oneself.
4. What can I do if I live or work in a joyless environment? His advice here is tough to follow when all seems dark, but one is not defined by one’s environment, and even the blackest situation has some bright moments, or moments that are incongruous. So, if work is tough, one can find friends to hang around with after work and laugh about the silliness of the workplace. Certainly a lot of great stand-up comics do this very thing, on a big scale.
5. Father Martin, do you want to hear a joke? Answer: Only if it’s a good one! Of course, it makes sense to end this chapter on a joke. But the idea of a “good” joke is double-edged. On the one hand, one wants to hear a funny joke. But on the other hand, one wants to cultivate a positive sense of humor, and not celebrate mean-spirited humor. This chapter seemed to me to be a bit of filler, and I didn’t find it quite as satisfying. Martin went over some of the territory he’s already explored.

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