I sometimes laugh uncontrollably during reverent times in church.
The first time it happened I was ten or eleven, at the funeral of a great aunt, my grandfather’s sister. I remember my cousin and I, dressed in 80s plaid skirts and frilly blouses, hair pulled back with beaded barrettes, sitting in the pews of an old country church as the preacher recited the twenty-third Psalm. I was sure that our seriously religious family members would not approve of my mirth as I smiled through the horror – the reality that my great aunt’s coffin was right in front of me and all I could do was stifle the giggles and desperately try to avoid eye contact with my similarly affected cousin.
It’s happened at weddings and other funerals, during church services and when I was supposed to be singing in the choir but ended up lip-synching, my nostrils flaring and face turning red.
Recently, it came on so quickly and so noticeably at church that a friend turned around in her seat and jokingly whispered that she was going to separate me and my husband, who was trying to calm me while I almost fell out of my seat laughing through my nose. I needed tissues for the tears. Another time my husband got in on the action, and the two of us sat in our seats with our heads down, snickering and shoulders shaking, as our pastors and prayer leaders got on their knees to pray for the afflicted, the needy, the hurting souls who populate our world and the local area our church services.
Clearly I need some lessons in church etiquette.
I’m not good at much, but I happen to be exemplary at inappropriate behavior and/or conversations. I’ve done so many stupid things and inserted my foot into my mouth so many times that I can’t even be embarrassed about it anymore – my self-regard can’t handle it. How one person came to be so challenged in public situations, I have no idea.
I know I’m not alone, but it is my deal, my sin, my own cross to bear. It’s challenging because in the moment I don’t want it to end. Laughing so hard that your stomach hurts and tears stream down your face is fun. Some weeks life goes by so fast that the only belly laughter I get are those few minutes when all is quiet in church and I get the giggles, and I don’t want to give that up.
But the timing is not great. I find myself thinking that maybe I’m not the best witness for Christ. I may be keeping another person from fully experiencing and listening to the Holy Spirit speak to them in those minutes of uncontrollable hilarity. Maybe I could better heed Paul when he said “Do not cause a brother or sister with a weaker conscience to stumble.” 1 Corinthians 8:9 (NLT)
I won’t pretend to know what use God has for my inappropriateness. Everyone and the Bible says that God uses everything for good, and I trust that he will. Until then, if you see me doubled over in church, please try to ignore my ridiculousness and pray for me to grow up already.
Oh, what a wonderful God we have! How great are his riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his methods! For who can know what the Lord is thinking? Who knows enough to be his counselor? And who could ever give him so much that he would have to pay it back? For everything comes from him; everything exists by his power and is intended for his glory. To him be glory evermore. Amen. Romans 11: 33-36 (NLT)