The Laughing Man

Sometimes people don’t have it together as much as you think they do. Sometimes, what looks like perfection, dedication or discipline is really just desperation. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Joe Gallo is a good example.

Joe was my hero. I think it was because he was always laughing. No matter the danger or the certainty of death and dismemberment.

Like the time when a gang of police officers pulled us over and made us sit on the side of the road because they thought that we had stolen something. I was silent. Silent and scared to death. Joe couldn’t quit talking. He was talking to the police officers. He was talking to people who were walking by. And, of course, he was laughing.

You could hear his laugh from far away. I learned that while skiing in North Carolina. If you’ve never been skiing in North Carolina, imagine surfing in your front yard. Not too fun. The mountain, excuse me, hill, we were on was a mixture of ice and fake snow. This meant that once you started, you weren’t stopping until you ran into something. Or died.

I heard Joe’s laugh while I was on the ski lift. When I looked down, I saw Joe speeding down the icy slope. On one ski. With no pole. About to die. And laughing.

I thought that I was more afraid than Joe was. I thought that he was some kind of adrenaline junkie that wasn’t happy unless he was in danger. As if Joe was the type to look death and dismemberment in the face and laugh. No fear.

I was wrong.

Joe didn’t have it together as much as I thought he did. He told me later on that laughter was a way of coping. It helped him hang on in difficult, even desperate, times.

I’ve always known a few Christians who seemed almost perfect. They spent hours praying and reading the Bible. They were always faithful to their church and quick to serve others. And they were sincere. They weren’t trying to win a Sunday School award or pass a test. They genuinely acted like Jesus. And I always just assumed that they just did a better job than the rest of us at holding things together.

Like Joe, laughing in the most frightening scenarios, these people seemed unreal.

But like Joe, there’s more to the story.

The Christians who get it, the ones who are devoted to the word and prayer, the ones who can’t live without their church family, the ones who are always finding ways to serve aren’t perfect. They aren’t wired any different than me. Much like Joe, they’re just desperate.

At first glance, the author of Psalm 119 seems to be one of those perfect people that has it all together.

I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your rules before me. I cling to your testimonies, O Lord; let me not be put to shame! I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart. Psalm 119:30-32 (ESV)

I can’t always say that I run in the way of God’s commandments or that I cling to his testimonies. I guess I just don’t have it together like the Psalmist does. But a closer look shows reveals the truth. The Psalmist wasn’t perfect. He was just desperate.

My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word! Psalm 119: 25 (ESV)

My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word! Psalm 119:28 (ESV)

For him, prayer wasn’t just a filler in the order of worship between the offering and the special music. It was a constant plea for God’s grace, mercy and renewal. And the Bible wasn’t just read so that he could go to sleep with a clean conscience. It was his primary means of knowing God.

The biggest obstacle to growing in our walk with Christ is not a busy schedule. Busyness is a surface problem. The problem beneath the surface is that we’ve convinced ourselves that our situation is not desperate. That we’re okay. Why should I hunger and thirst after the righteousness of Christ when my own righteousness is doing just fine, thank you?

It’s not the perfect people who are clinging to the word and prayer. It’s the desperate people. The people who recognize that their soul is clinging to the dust. And they keep coming back to the word and prayer so often because it is there, and there alone, that they are reminded of the One who is always clinging to them.

While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:12-19 (ESV)