Learning to Laugh at Myself

It happened to me in the early years of television in the late 1950s. The small Baptist church I attended had the opportunity to fill a half an hour of Sunday afternoon air-time on the local television station.

Since I frequently sang in church, my part was to sing a solo, and I chose How Great Thou Art. I felt at ease since I had sung this piece many times, and my favourite pianist was with me to play the piano. I was a recent high school graduate and still years away from voice training in Bible school, but was confident I would do well, even though this was my first no-do-over, live television performance.

On cue, I smiled at the camera, the pianist played a brief introduction, and I launched into the first verse and chorus, followed by the second verse and chorus. All was going well.

My First Mistake
As the pianist played the customary interlude before the last verse, I happened to glance to one side of the camera and suddenly saw a monitor with my face on it looking off to one side. The unexpected shock blanked out the words for the third verse. When the pianist played the third verse, I just stood there smiling into the camera, then sang the chorus again and thankfully, I was done.

I had never forgotten the words of a song before, and I felt terrible making such a mistake, and on live television!

My Second Mistake
The next morning at my ditch-digging job, a plumber came by. He looked at me and said, “Hey I saw you sing on television yesterday afternoon!”
Before he could say another word, I apologized for forgetting the words and went on and on about how it had happened. When I finally ran down, he said, “It sounded great to me. I didn’t notice any problem. I’m just glad to know another Christian is working on this project.”

A lesson on not taking myself so seriously, and learning to laugh at myself.

Another Mistake—and Laughter
Decades later I was the main speaker at numerous missions fund-raising banquets. At one banquet while greeting guests, I met a dozen teachers. So, at one point in my after-dinner speech, I thanked the teachers for coming and told a stirring story of a teacher who had taught our daughters in Brazil. The audience spontaneously applauded, and I opened my mouth and closed it again, having forgotten where in the speech I had interrupted myself.

“Um, before I told this teacher story, where was I?” I said.
A lady near the front spoke up, “The Canela kids were stealing the learn-to-read booklets.”
“Right!” I said, “How could I forget that?” I laughed, the audience laughed with me, and I continued with my stories.

Decades of Mistakes—and Laughter
I had decades of practice laughing at myself. Arriving in Brazil, and learning to speak Portuguese, Jo and I made people laugh many times as we fumbled and stumbled our way through a sentence. And that was the easy part.

When we arrived among the uninhibited Canela, they screamed with laughter at our mistakes, repeating them to others for their merriment. They couldn’t wait for us to open our mouths so they could have a good laugh. We, of course, learned quickly to laugh with them.

I remember the first time I told a funny story to a group of Canela men, and no one laughed until the punch line. What an achievement!

The Recipe for a Fun-Filled Life
We Christians must take our mission, our ministry seriously, but never ourselves. God is very clear about this. “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.” Romans 12:3 (NIV).
Remember that every time we make a mistake, we are simply confirming our humanity.
We all like to have fun.

Well, when we learn to laugh at ourselves, we will never stop having fun.