The scene begins this way: just a regular old bunkhouse full of regular old cowboys with names like Monte, Dally, Chet, Sugar, and Skimpy. But outside the bunkhouse, nothing is regular, for the cowboys’ way of life is ending—the West is being fenced in. The men are all on edge, so much so that it takes only one below-the-belt comment between Monte and Dally for a fight to break out. And what begins between two men quickly multiplies into a knock-down-drag-out that sweeps everyone into it. But then, when all is fought and done, something different breaks out: laughter. At the end of this scene from the 1970s western Monte Walsh, we see grown men laughing like boys, slapping their knees, wiping tears from their quickly swelling eyes. Then the boss storms in and demands to know what’s going on.
Dally: “I plum forgot.”
Monte: “Hey, what do you know? I ain’t felt this good in months.”
Dally: “Maybe I was wrong.”
Monte: “Oh, no, Dally, you weren’t wrong. It’s just that nothing’s been right these days.”
In addition to the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, and feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, there’s the ever-disarming belly laugh.
If we were looking for a line to describe the way things currently are in our world, “Nothing’s been right these days” sure seems a winner. You can read it on people’s faces, even their posture. Something just seems off. Now, that scene could’ve ended in blame or shame or any number of variations on those themes. But it didn’t. It ended boot-deep in grace via laughter, one of the most foundational shared expressions of our humanity. The light of laughter overshadowed the entire ruckus. The darkness overcame it not.
John Ortberg once wrote, “Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap.” But I’m inclined to amend that slightly by adding “or laugh.” I’m not talking about softly chuckling in a dignified manner much like the tepid golf-clap. No, I’m talking about completely losing it, busting a gut, going total red-face and possibly peeing your pants. Now press the pause button a minute: How long has it been since you laughed until you cried? Do you remember how it felt afterwards? What’s really going on there is not that far removed from taking a nap because both involve a significant degree of giving up control, letting go, of essentially saying, “The universe doesn’t rest on my shoulders, so I might as well snooze a bit, or laugh a lot.” The laugh, like the nap, is an outward manifestation of what we inwardly believe. And that’s exactly why the deceiver finds laughter such a threat.
Whoa, whoa. Wait, you didn’t think the pieces of godly armor listed in Ephesians 6 were our only protective options, did you? By all means, those are definitely important and soldierly and all, but they’re by no means exhaustive. In addition to the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, and feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, there’s the ever-disarming belly laugh.
Unbridled laughter indicates a heart full of trust. Now if I can’t trust God, which has always been the deceiver’s spin, then I have to stay on high alert 24/7 and always be serious, serious, serious, and rarely, if ever, laugh because who knows what evil lurks just up ahead with my name on it? Sadly, that’s nothing but a Chicken Little way to live—if the sky hasn’t already fallen, it could at any moment, and when it does, brother, watch out! But you and I as believers are not called to Chicken Little living. That is the exact opposite of something the world might find as attractive as a sweet-smelling savor. Listen how the ever-hilarious Teresa of Ávila once put it: “From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us.” That’s a big 10-4.
Here’s the deal. We are invited to boldly, daily approach the throne as daughters and sons of the Good Father who loves us without condition. Do you recall the Proverbs 31 woman? All that industriousness and responsibleness and smart-as-a-whipness at the city gates? But if you read the whole description, she was also in on the joke, the good news if you will. And it freed her to—wait for it—“laugh at the days to come” (Prov. 31:25 NIV).
After that opening knock-down-drag-out scene in Monte Walsh, the cowboys all give each other a goofy look, and then everybody busts out laughing again. Even the boss joins in. Everybody knows this, but laughter is contagious. Maybe one of the greatest gifts we the children of God can give this world right now is laughter, the kind that erupts from a deep reservoir of trust in God. Who knows, we might plum forget some of our silly troubles, and feel better than we have in months. So lean back and laugh ’til it hurts so good.