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The funny thing about being funny

August 10, 2011
The best day of my entire elementary school career was the day I smuggled fake vomit into the cafeteria. I couldn't believe how real it looked. Finely crafted from the highest quality plastic in Hong Kong and painted to grotesque perfection, it was sure to fool even the most observant school nurse. What I had planned was going to be incredible.

I was about to become a legend.

I walked into the cafeteria that day, Super Friends lunchbox in hand, and could barely suppress a giggle knowing what I had tucked away inside. My friends took forever, absolutely forever, to get through the lunch line. I couldn't pull the trigger until everyone had been seated. I wanted a big audience.

I gave everyone a good five minutes to get their lunch going. I knew I had to be patient or I'd blow the whole thing. I nibbled around on my PB and J just to make it convincing. Finally, I couldn't wait any longer. It was showtime.

"Ooh," I moaned and grabbed my stomach. "I don't feel so good."

A girl across the table asked me what was wrong.

"I think it was something ate," I said.

Then, I started with the noises. You know the ones I'm talking about, the retching, the groans, the suppressed burps. I played it all to perfection. Then, I went for it like De Niro going for an Oscar. I slapped my hand to my mouth and pretended to hurl like nobody's business.

And there in the lid of my lunchbox was the evidence itself. Total shock and awe!

Cries of disgust rippled down the benches on both sides of the lunch table until finally reaching my teacher. By the time she came down, though, the novelty goo was safely hidden under my sandwich.

"Jason, are you sick?"

I shook my head, feigning ignorance. "No. Why?"

As soon as she returned to her seat, I started the second act, this time hamming it up to new levels of grossness. Again, my teacher came down, this time with less sympathy. After her third trip, she was ready to sit on me.

She wouldn't be the last person to feel this way. Sometimes my sense of humor gets me in trouble. Usually, it's inconsequential, but I've noticed a funny thing about being funny: It can get in the way of sincere relationships.

So many times when someone asks me a serious question, I'm tempted to respond with a joke, but over the years I've learned to hold back. If I don't, I can short-circuit opportunities to go deeper. Intimacy requires that we take some risks and make ourselves vulnerable with our friends, sharing what's on our hearts and really trying to understand what's on theirs.

It's a big deal when someone gets real with us. Usually, they test the waters with something fairly safe to see if they can trust us. Ill-timed humor can torpedo their vulnerability and signal them that we are not interested in really knowing them, that we are not willing to risk exposing our own hearts, but that we would rather hide behind our clever personalities.

It's our version of busting out the plastic vomit. Play the humor card, pandemonium ensues and all attempts at sharing our deepest dreams, fears and failures go scurrying out the door.

The best thing that's helped me grow in this has been watching others royally botch it. We live in a culture of surface and sarcasm. Many of us are so uncomfortable with honesty and deep conversations that we don't know how to respond when someone shares sincerely. I can't tell you how many times I've been with friends and watched someone take a risk only to be shut down by someone else's one-liner.

I've seen it happen so many times that I'm learning to curb my own funny bone so that I don't miss out on authentically connecting with a few close friends.

Now, all of you sticks-in-the-mud out there, don't feel too smug. I'm convinced that God thinks most of us take ourselves and life way too seriously. In fact, the most spiritual thing many people can do is just lighten up. Take that lemon out of your mouth and smile. There's a God who loves you, and He's already taken care of the biggest problem of life: dying. He's made a way for us to be forgiven, to reconcile our relationships and offers us a life of purpose and joy.

So, on His behalf, I say, relax. There are some of you out there who need to go buy some plastic vomit this week and have some fun. The rest of us need to know when to put it away. The Bible says there's a time for everything — a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. The wise man knows it's all a matter of timing.

Jason Byerly, a 1990 graduate of Crawford County Junior-Senior High School, is the children's pastor at Southland Christian Church near Lexington, Ky. He and his wife have two daughters. For more from Byerly, visit www.jasonbyerly.com or follow him at twitter.com/jasondbyerly.

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