There is no laughter, no joy, no relief like that of the long suffering.
This week I joined a dear friend in the buoyant laughter of joy that can only come after a season of terrible long-suffering. For months she and her family have fought insurance companies and swum through seas of paperwork in a battle to get funding for their daughter to receive the health care she desperately needs. Hope had been kindled and snuffed out week by week until it was finally reduced a pile of barely lit ashes. Yet, as is His custom, God provided when all doors seemed slammed closed in finality.
Upon hearing the news, I literally laughed and cried at the same time. Joy. A long-awaited joy. Relief. An unexpected wave of relief.
A cynical laugh of disbelief; a change of name from Naomi, meaning pleasant, to Mara meaning bitter. One cannot blame Sarah or Naomi for becoming dubious at best or cynical at worst. The long-suffering heart becomes a pock-marked battlefield, singed by bouts of hope and hope deferred. Wave after wave of pain and disappointment have an affect on the human psyche and soul.
When only a handful of chapters separate the pain and the fulfillment, it is sometimes hard to forget that those chapters represent years of anguish, waiting, wondering, teetering fatally close to the edge of hope or even having fallen off the ledge completely.
Now Sarah was listening at the entrance of the tent…Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
The promise, doubtfully received. Sarah had known hope deferred too many times to receive a promise naively. She had been burned and her heart was becoming hardened.
Three chapters later, the fulfillment.
“Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised…Sarah said, ‘God has brought me laughter and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me. And she added, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age’.”Genesis 21:1 & 6-7.
What laughter that must have been, laced with a joy that melted years of pain and cynicism. The buoyant laughter of those who have burdened for far too long.
We see the same pattern with Naomi who began a pleasant wife and mother, then became a widow with two sons, then a decade later, a widow having only two foreign daughters-in-law. All this in the first three verses of Ruth 1.
“When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, ‘Can this be Naomi?’ ‘Don’t call me Naomi,’ she told them, ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full but the Lord has brought me back empty’.” Ruth 1:19-21.
Three chapters later, an healed and whole Naomi reemerges, holding her grandson, the child of Ruth and Boaz.
“The women said to Naomi, ‘Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel. Hw will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. ..Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him.” Ruth 4:14-16.
The Bible doesn’t mention laughter specifically, but I can almost see Naomi’s face that had been wrinkled and hardened by pain being drawn up into a smile that gives way to an all-out peal of laughter, resounding with joy and relief.
It behooves us to remember, both for ourselves and for those around us, that short stories of pain and fulfillment in the Bible cover long seasons of suffering. As we walk through seasons of deep darkness ourselves or alongside those we know and love, let us remember that there is space for dubious smiles or cynical laughter. The Lord will turn those tears into peals of laughter in His time and by His own power.
And there is no laughter like that of the long-suffering.
“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongue with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” Psalm 126.
Come, Lord Jesus, hasten the day.