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Thinking Out Loud

Are You Having Any Fun?

by Michael Jinkins | Nov 28, 2017

Are You Having Any Fun?It happened at a particularly low point a few years ago. I don't recall exactly when. And I can't remember exactly where I was when it happened. I can't even recall precisely what was going on in my life. But I do remember what happened as clearly as if it had happened yesterday.

I was standing in line waiting (I think) to be served at Starbucks. And while standing there, I heard Tony Bennett singing from the speakers on the walls: "Are you havin' any fun? Whatcha gettin' outa livin'?"

As Tony and his orchestra swung their happy way through this standard of the Great American Songbook, I realized that tears were welling up in my eyes. And I remember saying to myself, "No. I'm not."

I don't recall if I waited in line long enough to be served. I just remember leaving the store with this question echoing in my head.

Now, I recognize the fact that fun is not really a category of Christian theology. Certainly it is not a category of Calvinist theology. One Presbyterian preacher I once knew said that Christians shouldn't even use the word joy unless it was understood in light of the cross. Theologically speaking, I am relatively sure he was right.

But, frankly, I have never found Jesus to be a sour-faced old misery. Indeed, if anyone fit the profile of killjoys, it wasn't Jesus; it was his religious opponents.

Jesus was, according at least to some folks, a winebibber and a friend of sinners. He was, in short, the kind of person one enjoys being with. He was, in shorter, the kind of person I enjoy spending time with.

Apparently, as disconcerting as this has always been for many of his followers, Jesus knew how to have fun. (Of all the illustrations in the history of Playboy magazine, the one that was found most offensive was the infamous picture of Jesus throwing his head back in laughter; or so I've heard. Of course, I have no first-hand experience regarding this publication!)

I often imagine Jesus propped up on some pillows during a late-night visit with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, enjoying a nice bottle of fermented grape and some of Martha's killer deep-fried olives, wishing that somebody would get around to inventing the martini.

Contrary to the preferences of his very "grown-up disciplines," and his even more "grown-up" despisers among the religious officers, I often imagine Jesus not only surrounded by children, but making rude noises by blowing on their tummies until everybody collapsed into a puddle of laughter. Although fun may not be a serious theological subject, I believe (as someone has said) that God is most pleased when his children are at play.

So, back to me, sitting in my car outside of Starbucks with Tony still singing in my head: I wondered what I might do to remedy my fun deficit problem and, perhaps, better please God.

As it happened, at that time, I was seeing a therapist. Her mantra to me had become: "Find some balance in your life."

I knew she was right. My life was pretty out-of-balance.

But HOW?

If you live to work rather than work to live, something's seriously out of whack in your life. But, the problem was that I knew something that nobody else in the whole universe seemed to know: I KNEW THAT I AM INDISPENSABLE TO THE OPERATION OF THE ENTIRE COSMOS.

Truly. I knew that if I stopped attending to things, the whole galaxy would fall apart.

Without me: The sun would quit shining; the solar system would stop spinning; and life as we know it would come to a cold, dark, tragic end.

I knew this. I knew this in the core of my being. Everything. Depended. On. Me.

And, as crazy as this sounds, I'll tell you something even crazier. I didn't see the arrogance or unfettered selfish ambition in my thinking. Not at all. I thought of myself as humble. Truly.

One of my favorite teachers from years past was Dr. Frank Richardson. Frank was a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. I once had a course with Frank on the psychology of stress and distress. Great course!

Years later, when I taught at Austin Seminary, and Frank and I were colleagues having lunch one day, he reminded me of something he had taught me years before: When things are out of whack in your life, relaxation techniques alone aren't going to fix you. You need a better philosophy of life, a philosophy of life to which you don't just give intellectual assent, but that you know at the very core of your being, "in your heart," as we often say.

Predictably, it wasn't until I internalized Frank's wisdom that my therapy a few years ago began to make any real difference.

I couldn't possibly give myself permission to find balance in life until I realized not only how arrogant, but how utterly delusional it was to think that I am indispensable. I couldn't possibly slow down until I came to believe that I don't hold it all together. And I don't have to. God does.

AND, I don't have to earn my standing or worth as a human being. That's a gift from God, too.

The truth was, that I couldn't have fun until I let myself have fun. And I couldn't let myself have fun until I let go of responsibility for all the "outcomes."

Yeah. I know. That's heretical to say.

But here's the terrible, counter-cultural truth. While we do have some control over doing the best we can do (and that includes planning carefully and executing responsibly), we don't really have the control we think we do over outcomes.

No matter how well we strategize and plan with others, no matter how good the plans look on paper, no matter how well we execute the plans, circumstances beyond our control can and often will defeat our best efforts. That's life. And if our worth as human beings, our joy and happiness, hang by the thread of outcomes we can't control, we're hanging by a thread, and the thread is on fire.

If we cannot separate ourselves from the many things that may or may not happen to us, then we are likely to be very disappointed much of the time. And I guarantee this: we're not going to have much fun.

Our worth as human beings is a gift of God. And joy and happiness are products of a healthy mind. Grace is from God, but the Means of Grace require regular practice on our part. And there are no shortcuts to joy. Or fun.

Tony is not only the greatest living singer of the Great American Songbook, it turns out he's a heck of a philosopher.

So … "Are you having any fun?"

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