When I was at the height of my teenaged insecurities, I developed a coping mechanism that worked so well, I made it part of my then-still-malleable personality.
I used it everywhere, with everyone - with my family, friends, girlfriends, even strangers. At school, at basketball practice, even at church. Invariably, it got laughs and got me the kind of attention I craved. I had the magic bullet, the key to the kingdom, the Holy Grail!
And its name was Self-Deprecating Humor.
I discovered it one day when I was 16 or so. I was in a group of people with whom I was not entirely comfortable, but not so much that I would just stay silent. Mostly friends but some who were not.
For some reason, in my teenaged angst, I launched into a (hilarious!) standup set, poking fun at my goofy, ugly, pimply, uncoordinated and not overly bright self.
As Kenny Bania from Seinfeld would say, 'It's GOLD, Jerry! GOLD!
The resulting laughter felt so good. So did the positive attention. And the implied or stated admiration.
I loved it.
Fast forward 40 years, and I still love it. There is only one problem. Like most good things, when it is overdone, it causes problems.
Over time, all those (hysterical!) observations about my lumpy head, map of South America-shaped birthmark, upper body weakness, disorganization and (later) baldness became fact. In my mind at least.
They say the subconscious mind does not differentiate between humor or sarcasm and serious statements. All thoughts and words are taken as truth. This helps to explain why, over a long period of time, I have cemented a lot of these ideas in my image of self.
I had lunch with a dear friend, who has known me for 25 years. I tried to reach for my reliable comedy routine. I was relaxed and completely at-ease. This is someone I am comfortable with. There was no need to cope with anything. But I liked the idea of getting a laugh and I knew doing so at my expense was easy.
Rather than laugh, she started her response rolling her eyes and saying, 'There you go again, J.D. Why do you do that?' She began to lecture me, but apparently noticed that I got her meaning immediately. As I have thought about it, I am writing about it.
Why pick on yourself? Obviously, to preempt someone else who might do it. If I am funnier than anything you might come up with to say about me, you will stand down. It's kind of aggressive-defensive, in a way.
There are 2 facts that underline the need to retire my (sidesplitting!) schtick and either grow up or find another way to get laughs that demeans no one, including myself:
If the ploy is to keep others from picking on you, it's worked to for 40 years. OR, it was never necessary in the first place. Realizing most people are not Don Rickles, I am guessing 'Never necessary' is the right answer, and;
I am a child of God.
As a Christian, I have a relationship with God. I write to Him daily. Sometimes He just reads, while other times, He gives His input.
Because I have allowed this 'harmless habit' to infiltrate my self-image, it undermines my identity as a child of God.
God loves me. He created me and He is still working on me. I am incomplete, and I will be for quite a while yet. I cannot be lacking. I cannot be less.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:14
God has a sense of humor. We were created in His image, and we laugh, so we know He does too. But imagine this:
You're working on a project at your house. Maybe you're assembling something from directions or you are building something. You are happy with the progress and enjoying yourself.
Now, as you are taking a break, here comes that guy from work, Orson, who lives two streets over. You are glad there are 2 streets between you, but you're frustrated there aren't 2 states between you (preferably Texas and Alaska).
You brace for a category 5 Orson. He is well-known for knowing absolutely everything. When he sees your project, he immediately begins giving uninvited advice.
His advice is laced with annoying 'just joking' comments and negative observations about the product or project and the quality of the work you are doing. He laughingly questions your ability to complete the project.
You are annoyed. You consider whether you could successfully murder Orson and get away with it. 'Now where did I put my pick-axe?' you wonder.
'A project for another day,' you think.
When you denigrate yourself to the point where you believe your own nonsense, God feels like you feel with Orson. God isn't going to lose focus, or get angry, but like a gnat in the ear, God doesn't like jokes made at his children's expense. Even if it is that very child who makes the joke.
God won't lose His confidence, or lose interest in his project or slack off and not try. God is faithful, and will finish what He starts. He has started with you. His workmanship is impeccable.
God sees all of His children as priceless masterpieces. Works of unimaginably precious art. Objects of such infinite value, that He sacrificed Himself on the Cross to save us from sin and death and hell.
He is our heavenly Father, who delights in us, teaching, testing, correcting, disciplining, growing and most of all, loving.
He is patiently refining us, and if it seems slow, that's because it is. God has an eternal perspective, so He needs only to focus on making me, and you, the best we can be. There are no deadlines when you think in eternal terms.
I have decided, therefore, to retire my source for (UPROARIOUS) laughter and validation, and replace it with something just as good.
Like making fun of things, but not people. Something fresh that no one does. How about long waits at the RMV? Or the food they serve on airplanes? Or maybe this mythical (?) guy from work, Orson...
God bless you.