6 Practices to Combat Despondency, Part 3

November 18, 2018 Length: 48:09

Dn. Michael Hyatt begins continues his look at chapter seven of Time and Despondency written by Dr. Nicole Roccas. What are the steps available to us to combat despondency? He shares the last two in this episode: Labor/Leisure and Humor.

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Okay, if you’re joining us for the first time, the title of this series is “This Present Moment: Practicing Orthodox Spirituality in an Age of Distractions.” Once again, we’re using Dr. Nicole Roccas’s excellent book; Time and Despondency is our text. I hope you’ve all bought it, but if you haven’t, do so. If you have a question or a comment about today’s lesson, you can ask me at the end of this class. We don’t include that in the podcast, but you can also write to me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

I was about to say that this was going to be our last lesson in the series, but it’s not going to be, because I found that as I was finishing up my preparation today that I didn’t really allow for the conclusion. So what I want to do is finish with the last lesson talking about the conclusion and me kind of going through and summarizing the big ideas from the book, because I think one of the things that happens when you spread a book over ten lessons, like we will by the time we’ve finished, it’s easy to lose the big picture. I want to come back to that and talk about despondency and summarize it. This will not be the last lesson.

I still haven’t yet decided what to teach next, so if you have recommendations or strong feelings, I’d love to hear from you. I’ve had a couple people speak up that they’d like something on marriage, and that’s kind of where I’m leaning, and I will make it relevant, so that even if you’re not married I’ll make it relevant to you. It’s one of the sacraments of the Church.

As I mentioned last week—week before last, actually—I’ve divided chapter seven of Dr. Roccas’s book into three parts. Two weeks ago, if you can remember back that far—I can barely remember what I did this week—we looked at the first two practices of the six that she covers in this chapter: humility and patience. Remember that? And then last week we talked about the practices of gratitude and then confession and community, kind of one practice together. This week we’re going to look at the last two practices: labor and leisure, and humor. Humor is not one of those you probably would have thought she would include, but she has included it for good reason, and I think it will become apparent as we get into it.

Let’s begin with what is, based on my numbering, practice number five: labor and leisure. So there’s basically four ideas in this section, and the first one is this: that labor is central to the human condition. You may have noticed, for those of you that have the habit of eating, that like to sleep in a warm bed and under a roof, labor is central to the human condition. But get this: even prior to the Fall, it was central to man’s vocation, to his calling. It was tied to meaning and beauty, and God gave Adam and Eve a job. This was the first job ever in the history of man: gardener. So they were given the task of tending to the garden that God had placed them in. I would say that this was part of their role as image-bearers. It wasn’t something that was ancillary to their role as image-bearers, but it was part of their role as image-bearers, because God himself works. So for them to fully reflect the image of God meant that certainly they had to partake of the divine energies, to reflect the divine image, but also to work even as God himself did, as we see in the first few chapters of Genesis before they even arrive on the scene.

And it was a privilege, and I think this is something we’ve lost in our definition of labor. We see it as a duty, as a necessity, as something that we can’t escape, but it was a privilege. Think of it this way: God gave to man the privilege of co-laboring with him in the tending of the garden. Now, let me ask you a theological question: Did God need man to tend to the garden? No, absolutely not, but he gave him the privilege of laboring with him. By the way, this is the meaning of collaboration: to labor with.

I remember Gail’s told me all these stories of growing up as the only daughter in a family where she had four older brothers. Yet her dad, who was an Air Force colonel, would often work around the house, repairing the cars, hanging up curtains or hanging pictures—they moved a lot—and he would always ask her to work with him. If you’ve ever worked with a child before, it’s not that efficient. It’s a whole lot easier not to do it with the kids, get them out of the way, get the work done, and just get it done. But I’ve always admired the fact that he did that, that he included you in the process—and for you it was a privilege. It really wasn’t about the work, was it? The part of it that was powerful was being with her dad and having him explain to her things and letting her bang on some of the nails or holding the flashlight. That was a main job. You mentioned that numerous times. Holding wrenches, whatever it was, she got to do that.

Well, the same thing was true for Adam and Eve before the Fall, and it’s true for us even after the Fall, that work is more than a duty. It’s more than a necessity; it’s a privilege. So as you think about going to work tomorrow, that’s something to remember, that it really is a privilege, and it’s an opportunity for us to reflect the image of God and a participation in his work in the world.

Then sin entered the world. And sometimes I do think that we think that work is a result of the Fall, but it’s not. There’s a particular aspect that’s a result of the Fall, because the earth no longer bore fruit without labor: that’s exactly the meaning of Genesis 3:19. Work became necessary for survival. Out of the sweat of his brow, God says to Adam, and in toil he will secure his daily bread. And we have to admit that, this side of the Fall, we experience both aspects of labor. Sometimes it’s a source of joy and great meaning, and at other times it’s a source of our greatest frustration and drudgery. How many of you have experienced both of those even in this last week? Definitely true for me. A really hard time, this past week, in terms of a lot of work and a lot to get done, times when I was frustrated, but times when I was like: “You know what? This is what God called me to do.” Like in Chariots of Fire when Eric Little would say he felt God’s pleasure when he was running. There were times when I felt that.

I think this is a constant reminder, this side of the Fall, of our mortality, that we in fact have needs, that we’re not autonomous, independent beings, and that we’re going to eventually die. And we labor until our death. It’s no wonder that the modern attitude toward work is often expressed in the acronym TGIF. We have an entire restaurant chain named after this: “Thank God It’s Friday,” right? I think as Christians, in all honesty, we get to Friday, and we can say, “TGIF,” but I think also that part of redeeming the spirit of work is also to say, “Thank God it’s Monday.” We get this opportunity now, having been refreshed and rejuvenated, this opportunity to enter back into the world and commence the work that God has given to us to do. So labor is central to the human condition.

Second idea for this section: Labor is intended to be a source of healing. Now, I would like to just take a pill and be healed, and apparently most of our fellow Americans feel the same way, because we’re so prone to try to solve our problems with medication, to be healed by medication, or something that was less demanding than work. But Dr. Roccas says:

Flying in the face of our modern vacation-craving instincts, however, ascetical theology regards work, particularly light manual labor, as a source of healing from despondency. Among other things, work occupies the mind so it doesn’t tyrannize the soul.

I like to fish, a lot, and I’ve gone fishing more this year than at any other time in my history, I am proud to say. It’s not a lot, but I’ve probably spent maybe a total of ten days—actually, maybe more than that; maybe 15 days this year so far—fishing. The reason I like fishing is for this very reason. When you’re fishing, you’re doing something, but you ain’t doing much. But it’s light manual labor, in a sense; it keeps my mind off the future, where I might be prone to worry, or the past, where I might have regrets. But I have to be fully present when I’m fishing. That’s the value of light manual labor. She goes on to say that:

Work that is good for the soul is hard enough that the mind must focus on it, but easy enough that the work can be sustained for long periods of time.

She cites the example of the Desert Fathers who supported themselves by weaving baskets. Maybe that should be on your hobby list. It probably won’t be on mine, but I think the principle is still there. She says, “There’s a humble creativity in performing ordinary tasks, like making the bed or folding laundry.” Those are even tasks that we don’t have to be frustrated by or resent, but they can actually be a source of healing. She goes on to say that “these are the tasks that must be done day after monotonous day, and when we manage these tasks with grace and care, they are transfigured into something holy.”

What I’m about to share with you is one of the most amazing, I think, simple biblical insights that I’ve never contemplated before until I read it here. And she says, she gives the example of Christ, who, after the resurrection, stopped to fold the grave cloth that had previously covered his face (John 20:7). This is kind of amazing. When his followers saw this folded cloth, they knew that his body had been resurrected, not merely stolen or removed. Theoretically, if it had been grave robbers, they would have just taken it and thrown it on the floor; they wouldn’t have bothered to take it and fold it up and put it where he had been lying, no. It’s kind of interesting. She says:

If something so ordinary and ritually unclean as this [it’s actually a used grave linen] had its own perfect time, its own encounter with the resurrected Christ, then no task or object is truly void of potential in the grand scheme of our salvation.

Think about it. If the first thing Christ did upon his ascent from Hades was to fold some laundry. [Laughter] Isn’t that awesome? She goes on to say:

I try to store this in my heart for the seasons of staleness, the times when ordinary tasks pile up and keep me from more exciting activities.

So I don’t think this means that more complex, more intellectual work can’t also be useful, but I think if we can find Christ in these most menial of tasks, it’s going to be good for our soul. It’s going to realign our priorities, realign our souls, with what God has called us to do. So even in the most menial tasks—we’ll get more practical here in a second as we talk about this stepping stone.

Third big idea here is: Labor is done best when it’s coupled with prayer. I don’t know about you, but I think of these not as generally going together. You know, I might pray in the morning, I might even pray over my meals, I might pray at the end of the day, but to actually weave into the fabric of my workday prayer is actually the biblical and patristic and monastic example that we’ve been given. She says:

In our ascetical tradition, this single-minded, ego-quieting focus is not viewed as an end in itself but an opportunity to develop a more prayerful life, so that we can be engaged in this ongoing conversation with God as we go through our day.

Maybe it’s that we encounter a colleague or a coworker who’s frustrating or annoying, and it’s an opportunity for us to pray for them, for the Scripture says we are to pray for our enemies; how much even more so those who aren’t our enemies but are barely annoying, like we probably are often to them? St. Basil himself addressed the need to balance prayer with good works. St. Benedict later expanded on this idea in the West. His famous Rule is summed up in the Latin motto, Ora et Labora, which means Pray and Work.

I think it’s a good reminder to challenge ourselves: Are we praying as we go through the day? It’s a very simple way to pray without ceasing and to invoke God’s presence in the most mundane of tasks. Again, as we saw even in the talking back or the counter-statement section, that these don’t have to be long prayers. They can simply be “Lord, have mercy” or “Lord, help me” or “I need help” or “Thank you,” simple prayers of gratitude, absolutely. This is a reminder that work and prayer are not antithetical but complementary. We don’t have to wait until our work is done so that we can finally pray, but the prayer should be interspersed for us just as it is in the monastery as the monks go about their various obediences. She says that when we practice these together, the more each transfigures the experience of the other. She says:

Praying and working our way through life, we stand with one foot on earth and one in heaven, creatures who partake of both time and eternity.

If you think about it, one without the other is a distortion. If we’re so heavenly-minded that we’re no earthly good, that’s not going to be helpful. Very few of us are called exclusively to a life of prayer. If you’ve ever been in a monastery, there’s a whole lot of work that has to get done. They do attend a lot of church services, but there’s a whole lot of work that goes on in between those services. On the other hand, if we’re fully focused on just our work and it’s not interspersed with prayer and we’re not bringing to it a heavenly perspective, that doesn’t give meaning to our work either. Then our work becomes meaningless or simply a means of providing, and it should never be that.

I think one of the benefits of work is that it provides for our daily sustenance, but that can’t be its exclusive focus. If your attitude is: It’s just a job, or it’s just a way to make a buck—find another job! Or, even better, adjust your attitude and be thankful for the job that you have.

I was with Fr. Philip for the prayers before we began this morning. The clergy always gather together and we pray a set of prayers before we begin. It seems like we’re always preparing to prepare in the Orthodox Church. We discovered back behind the altar that today we have one priest, Fr. Philip, and two deacons, Dn. Ed and myself. That’s it. Now, for many people listening to the podcast, that sounds like already an embarrassment of riches, that we have multiple clergy, but we have five deacons assigned here to St. Ignatius, and we have three priests. So it’s not unusual for us to have six or seven clergy around the altar.

Here we were, kind of caught ourselves complaining that there were just three of us, and it’s for us kind of a first-world problem, sometimes we say, that we have to somehow make it work with just three of us. “What are we going to do?” Well, I think that’s true for all of us who have a job, in a similar way. To have the privilege of having work—any work—is a God-send, and it’s intended to be a gift to us. It’s God’s good grace and God’s goodness. Whatever job you may have and however much you may resent it—and there’s nothing wrong with pursuing other work—but as long as you’re in this work, be thankful. Embrace it. Lean into it.

One summer when I was in college, I worked for this little small engine parts store in Waco, Texas. I’d have to say that of all the jobs I’ve had in my career, it was the worst. It was the worst because I had a boss that was a tyrant. He was not kind. He was rude. He would often publicly embarrass me in front of our customers and my coworkers. I remember one time when I was looking for a part—and this was in the days before computers; you couldn’t just type it in and look it up—these were like lawnmowers and chainsaws and small things like that. I had to pull out one of these big books from behind me that had the parts for that particular kind of equipment, and I was getting really frustrated and embarrassed because I couldn’t find this part.

So I ask him. I said, “Joe, can you help me find this part?” He got really angry. He reached back around, grabbed another book, slammed it on the counter-top, and in full view of all the customers—there were probably 15 people in the store at that time—he said, “Okay, I’m going to show you this one more time. Pay attention!” I was mortified. I was mortified, but I’m going to tell you something: I learned more about Christian character in that job that summer, and I prayed more in that job than I’ve ever prayed before. 1 Peter 2 was my comfort all year long, because it talked about the fact that even though Christ was mocked, he didn’t open his mouth, he didn’t defend himself, but he kept entrusting himself to him who judges rightly. So that was my challenge that summer.

It’s almost like in the Old Testament, Genesis 50, Joseph, after he goes through this horrendous mistreatment of his brothers—you guys know the story: he’s sold into slavery, goes into imprisonment, falsely accused, all of this foreshadowing the work of our Lord—he’s able to say to his brothers, when they finally come upon him and he’s now in this enormously elevated position in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh, and they suddenly discover that this is their brother who now has the power of life and death over them, and this is the one they had sold into slavery and mistreated, and he says to them: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

In my work situation, back in the day that summer, I don’t think that my boss was particularly well-intentioned with regard to my future. But here’s the thing I know for absolute certain: no matter what his motives were, God meant it for good in my life, and it was very, very helpful. So labor is done best when coupled with prayer, and sometimes the worst jobs give us the most opportunity to pray, so don’t despise your job if you’ve got a difficult job.

Fourth big idea in this chapter is that labor is designed to oscillate with leisure. It seems like in our culture that either we disregard labor and think of it as something we merely do to survive, or we glorify it and worship it and it becomes a kind of an idol, particularly for those among us who are ambitious. But God himself—God himself—didn’t work non-stop. He didn’t work non-stop: he worked six days and rested on the seventh, thus establishing for us a pattern of work and rest. Even in the new covenant, it’s interesting because it’s inverted. We begin with rest, and then do our work. So Sunday for us is the first day of the week: we begin with rest, with grace and with faith, and then we do our work. All of our works come out of that.

This gives rise to certain—use a big word here—teleological purpose, a goal. We rest in order to be at our best so we can work. Too often we see rest as the reward for our labor. It’s actually, I would suggest, the preparation for our labor. When you enter into the beginning of the week, when you start a Monday having rested, having connected, having rejuvenated, having had time for reflection, you’re much more focused, much more productive, than maybe those times when you worked through the weekend, don’t give yourself a break, and Monday becomes just one more day in a series of workdays.

Many of the saints affirm this need for sanctified rest and leisure. She talks about St. Augustine, St. Gregory, John Cassian, to name a few. Then she tells the story of St. Anthony the Great. How many of you remember the story of St. Anthony and the bow? And the bow? Okay, I’m going to tell you about it.

So there was a visitor to the monastery who was scandalized when he found St. Anthony and some of his fellow monks relaxing. And he chastised them for playing rather than praying. St. Anthony went over and picked up a bow, like a bow and arrow. He picked up a bow and said, “I want you to pull back the string.” He said, “Okay, now pull it back even further. Pull it back even further! Pull it back even further!” He said, “Well, I can’t do it any more, Father, or it’s going to break.” And he says, “So is it with you. If all you do is keep exerting the tension, keep stressing, keep working, eventually that’s going to break, and then what’s the use of the bow?”

This is designed to illustrate an important spiritual point. We’re going to break if we stretch ourselves too thin, if we don’t have this deliberate oscillating pattern of leisure and labor.

We should note, though, that this is not the passive rest of despondency. You know how this goes. You’re feeling kind of despondent so you decide: I’m just going to veg out and watch TV, or mindlessly surf the internet. This kind of rest, this kind of rejuvenation is not that kind of passive rest, but it’s a more active rest, so that even our sleep, which is important, needs to be intentional. Not just us sort of caving to our own mortality and saying, “Well, I can’t work any more. I can’t keep my eyes open. I can’t focus my eyes.” Have you ever been driving down the highway on a long trip and you can’t quite focus? Good clue to pull over. Sometimes that happens with work. But, no, this needs to be more intentional, more purposeful.

I call this kind of active rest what I call the five Rs of rejuvenation: rest (including, by the way, naps)—how many here are nap-takers? Yeah, absolutely. I’ve taken a nap almost every day since college. Only about 20 minutes; that’s all I can sleep. If I sleep longer than that, I get really groggy, but 20 minutes? It’s like it reboots my system, right, for those of you who are nap-takers? Reboots my system. If I sleep longer than that, I’m going to get groggy and it’s not going to reboot my system, and I’m going to be sluggish, but 20 minutes? Boom, I’m wide awake, and I get a fresh start. Rest, reflection: that’s part of the value of prayer and journaling, attending the services. Relationships: intentionally pursuing the relationships that matter in our life. The right relationships can be incredibly rejuvenating. Refreshment: taking care to nourish ourselves. And then recreation, however that may look for you.

I want to give you four stepping-stones of labor and leisure. This is the practical section. She does this with each one of the practices, and so we’re going to do it with this particular practice. The first one is, she says, “set a goal with regard to your work,” so that you’re not just mindlessly and aimlessly working, but that you set a goal. I advise people to make up a list of what I call their “daily big three,” because I think most of us… Some of you are looking at me like, “Three? How can you possibly have three things and only three things on your to-do list?” Because most of us have, like, 20? How many of you have 15 to 20 every day, right? Here’s what’s wrong with that system. You get up in the morning, you have 15 to 20 things to do. How do you feel, automatically? Overwhelmed, right? Defeated before you start. Even if you get half of those done, or, let’s say if you have 20 things on your list you get 15 done, you go to bed at the end of the night, lay your head on the pillow, and you feel defeated because you didn’t finish.

Well, we’ve got to set ourselves up with a game that we can win. I think it’s Parkinson’s Law that says—is it Parkinson’s Law? No, it’s the Pareto Principle—20% of the work creates 80% of the results? If you look at your list, there’s probably three things on your list that if you actually accomplish those things—they’re really important—if you accomplish them, it would be hugely helpful, really move the needle in your personal life and your business life. So set a goal. I suggest have three things, and then you can have all the other tasks as well, but if you get those three things done, you’ll feel great. But it keeps you focused, not running around like a chicken with her head cut off. What are the important things to do?

Second stepping-stone is: Take a break, or breaks. Don’t just work non-stop. You’re a human being, not a human doing. There’s more to your existence than simply working. For me, it’s helpful to set hard boundaries at the end of the day so that I finish work at a specific time. For me, that’s 6:00 p.m. My lights go off in my office. I’m standing in the dark if I continue beyond that. Not working on the weekends. I realize there’s exceptions to this, but to take breaks, even throughout the day. All the science I’ve seen on this—and I’ve studied quite a bit on this—is that every 50 minutes to 90 minutes, you need to take a break. Just step away from the computer, go do something else. Step away from your work, take a quick walk, go get a drink of water. Do something, but take a break.

Third, she says, “Find a basket.” Find a basket: something repetitive, manual. Something that you can use to focus your mind, focus your prayer. She suggests things like these: knitting, crocheting, cross-stitch, ironing, hanging laundry, chopping vegetables, shoveling snow, raking leaves, washing dishes, making the bed, drawing, writing icons, making pottery, chopping wood, mowing the lawn, walking, sewing, gardening, watering houseplants, mopping floors, kneading bread dough, making prayer ropes, polishing, or dusting things. This completely reframes this kind of work for me, that it’s not something that we always have to be concerned to delegate or to get rid of, but there is value in doing it.

I don’t know if anybody else, especially you men, have this thing that you like to do, but I actually like to wash the dishes. I enjoy doing that. I have a couple of sons-in-law that enjoy doing that, too. There’s just something about it, especially if we’re doing it after Thanksgiving dinner or something, that’s just an opportunity for fellowship, engagement, but it can also be a time of prayer or a time of listening to a podcast or something else. But find a “basket.” We have the opportunity to transform that from something that’s merely menial to something that can be a profound opportunity for us to grow and be healed.

Then the fourth stepping-stone is: Plan your rest. I said before in this class, “What gets scheduled gets done,” and it’s true with your rest. One of the things that I find is that if I don’t plan my weekends, I drift back to what’s familiar—and that’s work. So to plan your weekend, and ask yourself those five Rs: Do I have adequate rest planned for this next weekend? Maybe I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, like I’ve been doing for the last five days, and the weekend is an opportunity to catch up. To plan your times of reflection: maybe go for a hike, or time for sitting out in nature. Relationships: what people do you want to get with in the coming weekend? and so forth. Plan your rest. Schedule it in advance.

So that’s practice number five, labor and leisure. Let’s jump to practice number six, humor. She begins this section by saying:

The virtue of humor is likely among the last items one would expect to find in a book on despondency, which is why I saved it literally for the end of this book.

How many of you were surprised to see that in this list? But pleasantly surprised, perhaps. You think about how much humor goes on and how much we value humor, and to discuss it from a theological perspective I think is really helpful. Five ideas here in this section. I just want to say as a preamble: humor is a gift of God. Isn’t it? How miserable would our lives be if we didn’t have a chance to laugh? Some of the people that I regard as the most sanctified are also some of the funniest. I don’t want to mention any names here because I don’t want to embarrass them, but many clergy men I know [are] very, very funny.

First idea: humor enables us to let our defenses down. Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) is famous for his humor. I once heard him say that he was in a lecture listening to an old man drone on and on. Then he suddenly awakened and realized it was him! [Laughter] And he points particularly to the power of humor to diffuse tense situations and enable us to let our defenses down.

I was reading a story this morning of a woman who was frustrated with her husband because he wasn’t very good at math, so when they would go out to eat he would calculated the tip and it was often wrong and then she was embarrassed with the waiter. So she decided the next time that they went out to a restaurant: she pulled out a calculator, and she said, “There’s three types of people: those who can count and those who can’t.” [Laughter] Then she handed him the calculator. So just a little humor to diffuse the situation. Humor enables us to let our defenses down. It’s especially powerful when the humor is self-deprecating.

Second idea: humor keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously. So easy to take ourselves so seriously, and sometimes we just need a little humor injected into a situation. She quotes David Athey, A-t-h-e-y, in his essay on “The Theological Necessity of Humor.” I haven’t read the essay, but I love that title. He says that of the many stories that are attributed to the Desert Fathers, for example, are thinly disguised jokes or even pranks. These anecdotes manifest a playful humility through which these holy men saw themselves. It does take humility to not see ourselves too seriously. Then she quotes from this one story about a Desert Father:

Did you hear the one about holy Abbot Moses? When he ran into some pilgrims who were coming to see him, the abbot refused to act important and said of himself, “What do you want with him? The man is a fool and a heretic!”

Just kidding around with them! In that same essay, Athey goes on to say:

If we do not laugh at ourselves and allow others to laugh at and with us, he explains, we tend to worship ourselves. Making fun of ourselves is like making a good confession.

It’s good to learn to laugh at ourselves. The good news is, if you have children you quickly grow accustomed to this. [Laughter] Our children have a way of making fun of us, often in public. I used to resent that, and now I just kind of go with it. It is what it is.

Third big idea: humor has a way of shifting our perspective. [Inaudible remarks from the audience] Yeah, why was it the kids were all laughing? Believe me, you will reap what you sow, young people. Humor has a way of shifting our perspective. That’s the third idea. Adopting a more playful attitude toward ourselves and our shortcomings pulls us out of our despondency more quickly and effectively than anything else, Dr. Roccas says. She mentions something as simple as reciting some inane tongue-twister, or leaping through a folder of pictures that she’s collected of her making funny faces, or even teasing her despondency and trying to conquer it—teasing it! She says:

My personal favorites strategy is to make up a nickname for the despondency, ideally something silly and souciant, and refuse to refer to it by any other name—off the top of my head, the lazy pooch or the frumpy sloth—rather than wallow in the dark, all-encompassing cloud of despondency, we can instead say to ourselves, “Does the frumpy sloth think I’m going to leave the cell in the middle of my work?” or “Here comes that lazy pooch again.”

So it has a way of shifting our perspective. I see humor in my family at the most crazy moments that bring us back to a sense of the presence. In fact, that’s the next idea I want to give here. The fourth idea is that humor can be a path back to this present moment. Jokes and humor bring us back to reality as it is with all its irony, quirks, and contradictions. By its very nature, humor can pull us out of the regretful past or the worrisome future.

On the way to Florida for our vacation, there were three of us caravaning. We were taking almost the entire family. We were following behind my youngest daughter, Marissa. It was very crowded on I-65; we were just north of Mobile—or Montgomery, you’re right: north of Montgomery—or was it south of Montgomery? It doesn’t really matter, does it? I’m doing that thing! As if anybody cared. Okay, so my daughter, who was in the car in front of us—and I was in the car behind—we saw this dog come into the highway. In a nanosecond, in a minute, we’re thinking: No, don’t do this. And he runs right out into traffic, right out in front of my daughter’s car. Thank God she had the presence of mind to not try to swerve to avoid it, because she would have hit—she would have either gone off into the ditch, or she would have hit the traffic to the side.

Well, she hits the dog, and then it comes under her car, and then I hit the dog. So now we have to pull off onto the side of the road. The dog is toast; I mean, there’s no saving the dog. But as we pull off, I go to my daughter’s car. I mean, steam is coming out the front of her hood. My car, it didn’t look like there was any visible thing, but then we decided to pull off. It was very dangerous there on the side of the road, so we pulled off. We were right at an exit, so we pulled off the exit. She pulls open her hood. I discover at this time that all my navigation stuff for my car is broken; now it’s knocked out these sensors. And her car, it’s in bad, bad shape. It’s leaking water; there’s water everywhere. The front of it is kind of mangled. As it turns out, it took her a month to get it fixed, so it had to go to the shop in Montgomery. It ended up taking them a long time to get the parts, and it was a month before they got it fixed.

But as we were standing there with our entire family—now we have all three cars; everybody’s figuring out what we’re going to do: we’re going to take all the luggage out of Marissa’s car, we’re going to distribute it, we’re going to pile people up, and we’re going to hopefully still get to our vacation. I looked at Marissa and said, “Well. At least it’s going to be expensive.” [Laughter] Which is something we often say in those situations. She’s like: “All right.” I have a friend who’s a blogger, a guy named John Acuff, and John redeems every situation by writing about it, which I kind of do, too. Like: This is going to make for a great story someday. But you’ve heard that saying, “This, too, shall pass”? Well, he often says, “This, too, shall post,” meaning that this is going to make a blog post at some point. [Laughter]

It’s just one of those things that enables us to be present in the moment and to realize that this probably isn’t the end. Yeah, it’s bad. There may be really, really bad things that happen, but for most of us it’s an inconvenience, it may be expensive, but we’ve got to have a little sense of humor in the middle of it.

One of my very best friends, David, died this past summer. It was unexpected. It was shocking, really. So Gail and I flew out. They happened to be in another city, not their residence, Franklin, but they were in another city when he died. So we flew out to be with the family. We were there with his wife and all the kids, and we spent three days with them. We were with them practically 24/7. Naturally, there were an enormous amount of tears, shock, but also a surprising amount of humor—as we told stories about David, as things would remind us of him—we were just literally laughing to the point of tears. If somebody had seen us, it would have looked like we were incredibly disrespectful or irreverent, but that happens, right? I can think so often, in attending funerals and in being with the family afterwards, when we’ve had family members die, it’s a mix. It’s a mix. But the great thing about humor is it keeps it in perspective, it brings us back to the present. It could also make us grateful.

She says—and this is really the fifth idea—is that humor helps us to learn vigilance. What? How could that be. She says:

Humor teaches us to watch and wait for something greater—the punchline, the end of the joke, the reason behind it all. The next time you’re at a dinner party and someone begins telling a funny story, look around and observe people and say, listen, likely you’ll find them leaning forward, their eyes dancing in hopeful expectation. Everyone wants to be ready for the punchline. In fact, the bliss of waiting for the punchline of a good joke is almost as enjoyable as the joke itself. I’m often unable to hold back the floodgate of my laughter until the punchline, I’m so easily caught up by the teller’s sheer animation.

So it gives us this sense that, even though, in the midst of the joke, it may seem dire, you know that eventually God is going to have the last laugh. We’re going to have the last laugh. And certainly on Great and Holy Saturday, it looked like Satan had triumphed. It was a dire situation. The disciples had scattered; they’d lost hope—but then there was the laughter of the Resurrection, when that came around on Sunday.

Stepping-stones to humor. These are kind of interesting, and these are my words, my phraseology, not hers. The first one, I would say is: Put despondency in its place. She recommends—you can do this if you want; I tried this this morning; it didn’t do as much for me, but it might for you—read or sing along with the song, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” [Laughter] But replace all mentions of the word “Mr. Grinch” with the word “despondency.” You can find it on the internet; I did.

Second stepping-stone is: Be more spontaneous. So she suggests attending an improv or a comedy class. I’d like to think of this as just being more spontaneous, taking advantage of those moments, when the grandkids come over, when the kids come over, to stop, to laugh, to just enjoy that time with them. I’m so looking forward to this Thanksgiving holiday, just for the opportunity to be around the table and laugh and tell jokes and be present with the ones I love.

Third—I think this one’s actually the most profound—relearn how to play. Gail told me recently—and it stung when she told me this—she said, “I think you’ve forgotten how to play.” And she was talking specifically about the fact that I don’t typically like to play board games, but the grandkids love to play board games. She said, “Not everything you do has to have a purpose.” I was like: “Really?” Like that was a new idea. “Really?” [Laughter] She said, “Sometimes you can just do something for no reason at all.” In fact, Dr. Roccas says that play is defined by three basic criteria: It has to be an activity that brings you pleasure; it should be the tiniest bit silly, light-hearted, or imaginative; and it can’t have an intended outcome. In other words, you can’t play to achieve something like a prize or a higher status. Then she gives some examples of play which, for me, who evidently doesn’t know how to do this, this is very helpful. [Laughter] She says that’s one of the reasons why she likes swing-sets or card games or riddles or crossword puzzles. So I’m determined to learn to like board games and card games—even if I don’t win. [Laughter]

So two practices that we talked about today—labor and leisure, and humor—this really brings us to the end of chapter seven. I think just a reminder is in order, though, and it’s this. She’s got six practices that—think of it like a tool box—where you go to get a tool as you’re trying to fix despondency in your own life. Not every tool will be useful in every situation, and in fact, if you think that you’ve got to use every tool in every situation, you’re going to be overwhelmed. Don’t attempt too much. That’s a warning. Don’t attempt too much. As you’re reviewing the chapter—and that might be a good way to sort of ingest this again, is reread the chapter—ask yourself: Where can I begin? Where can I begin with one of these practices? And really begin to see some measurable improvement in my own battle against despondency.

We’re coming upon the holidays. It’s going to be a time when, naturally, people feel a little low. A lot of reasons for that, but all the psychologists would tell you that the holidays become a trigger for many people, and if it’s not outright depression it can be sort of a low-grade despondency where we just feel listless or distracted, unfocused, especially as regard to our spiritual life. So which of these practices that we’ve talked about over the last several weeks can be useful to us in this situation? This is very, very practical.

Okay, your assignment for next time is to read the conclusion, and then flip back through the book, because what we’re going to talk about next time is the big ideas, sort of the executive summary of the book—what are the five or six big ideas from the book?—so that we don’t leave it wondering what we covered. Thank you.