Telling an anxious, Type-A person, like myself, not to take herself too seriously is nothing more than a practice in futility. Nevertheless, I have heard this message three times in various forms within the past week. Even in the slogan on the back of a Yellow Cab: “Never take life seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyway.”

Whenever I hear people talk about being able to laugh at themselves, I automatically think of summer camp. I have spent eleven summers, sixty-four weeks to be exact, at Camp Merrie-Woode for Girls in western North Carolina. To give you some context, it is often equated with the camp in The Parent Trap, except without the isolation cabin and the fencing.
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Camp is one of few places where I, and hundreds of others, find the most ease in laughing at myself. In jumping on stage, donning colorful tights, to perform a camper-choreographed dance in front of two hundred people. In putting on a ridiculous dress and lip-syncing to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” alongside the camp director. In joining a flash mob in the middle of the dining hall. All with little-to-no fear of rejection.

In a world where anxiety is skyrocketing, where the pressure to perform is seemingly inescapable, where social media is becoming all-consuming, camp provides unimaginable relief and affords girls a moment to breathe. In a recent TIME article, Susanna Schrobsdorff explores this world in which 21st century teens find themselves.

In my dozens of conversations with teens, parents, clinicians and school counselors across the country, there was a pervasive sense that being a teenager today is a draining full-time job that includes doing schoolwork, managing a social-media identity and fretting about career, climate change, sexism, racism—you name it. Every fight or slight is documented online for hours or days after the incident. It’s exhausting.

Camp offers girls a vacation from this full-time job. Something happens when girls come to camp, as if a switch is flipped, and every care in the world disappears. We pass through the camp gates, and the noise of the outside world completely falls away. And with it our tendencies to calculate our every move, to manipulate perceptions, to avoid failure at all costs. At that moment, every girl at camp finds the freedom to laugh at herself. This Merrie-Woode girl included.

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The freedom and resulting sense of humor found in God’s grace is not much different. When you realized that God completely forgives you despite yourself, the pressure to perform decreases and the ability to laugh at one’s failures increases. You begin to recognize that you are completely helpless, in and of yourself, and therefore, are free to laugh at your vain attempts at improving yourself or earning God’s favor. Law and Gospel puts it this way:

In the realm of the Gospel, we’re free to say precisely the ridiculous thing that comes to mind, without fear of what brand of trouble our words may bring. While the Law incites us to point our fingers at others in blame, the Gospel provokes us to return the pointing finger back to our chest and shrug our shoulders, and laugh at the absurdity…Surely humor is part of what is meant by the meaning of pure love ‘casting out fear’ (1 John 4:18). When we are out of the realm of fear, we are into the realm where self-ridicule is easy.

Such a sense of humor about ourselves, coupled with the transforming power of the gospel, also helps us see the flaws and shortcomings of others with greater compassion. We recognize that we are no better than anyone else, kneeling at the level ground at the foot of the cross. Paraphrasing the great Billy Joel, I would rather laugh with sinners, aware of their brokenness and redeemed by God, than cry with the saint who cannot delight in how crazy and radical God’s saving grace really is.