When I fill out job applications (something I’m more familiar with than most adults), I typically list my sense of humor as both a strength and a weakness. Humor is a useful tool. It deflates tension in a room, draws people back from the edge of oblivion, pokes fun at things that most people don’t consider to be funny (even though most things are incredibly funny), and helps people not to take themselves or life too seriously. That’s a strength, and I try to use it in that way often.
It’s also a detriment. I often find myself making a joke at inopportune times, or even inappropriately joking in inappropriate situations. Here’s a recent example: Tesla makes cars that are available for purchase in California which have a 200 mile battery life as fully electric vehicles. My classmates (at Fuller, last week) and I were in a Tesla store and I was having a good time giving the girl who was working there a hard time with my humor. I asked her if it made the garage smell good when you plug it in at night – you know, that sort of thing your Grandpa would think was funny. When she mentioned that the car gets an annual checkup, I asked her if the car puts its feet in stirrups at the appointment, and while this was coming out of my mouth I was (literally) shaking my head at my inability to filter the things that come out of my mouth. I apologized for my comment and said that I understand that this would only be funny in the mind of a married man whose wife has had two children, making a gynecology joke in a car dealership. Seriously? Stirrups?
I find myself being confronted often with my dry sense of humor/sarcasm by the comment: “I can never tell if you’re being serious.” That is a weakness, especially for someone who has a lot of serious things floating around in his head which sometimes proceed from his mouth. No teacher wants it to be a mystery whether or not he is being serious when making a point.
Or being nice.
This came out again after I sent out an email this week affirming a group of fellow leaders at my church in a decision that they made about creating a more ‘polycentric’ leadership structure. I genuinely think this is a healthy decision, but my email was received as potentially tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic, or in disagreement. I found myself face-to-face with a real character flaw. If I can’t be taken seriously most of the time, then most of the serious things that I say are lost on the receiver of my seriousness.
Consequently, I’ve decided for Lent this year that I am going to ‘fast’ from sarcasm. If I am successful, it will only be a miracle from God, especially because I will be teaching in church on a Sunday morning during Lent which is prime-time for humor and sarcasm (at least for me). But fasting isn’t only putting off something, but also putting on something else. So, my fast is going to be from sarcasm and for encouragement. Instead of choosing to break the tension or draw attention (to myself), I am choosing instead to put on encouragement and grace.
‘Fasting’ isn’t supposed to be easy, and this absolutely will not be easy for me, but it is only valuable for shaping us into the people God has created us to be if it is focused on an area in need of true transformation. So, I’m fasting from sarcasm. I’m putting on encouragement. What are you going to do?