I think that most of the human race has at least a few unanswered prayers in their pocket at any given moment. I certainly do. And sometimes the waiting for them is routine, like most of life. But sometimes it is grievous and my strained hope gives way into a dull quiet of, if not despair, then weariness. I had such a day yesterday. But God met me with an unexpected grace in the idea of (of all things) laughter.
My devotional journey of late has taken me back through the familiar paths of Genesis, and when I dragged myself reluctantly into read my chapter yesterday, I found myself immersed in the story of Sarah, who carried an unanswered, impossible prayer around for decades. This was a woman I could identify with. But what I needed to see again was that her prayer was answered. It took awhile, but her hope came to pass. And it was answered with a child whose name was Laughter.
That caught my eye, and as I read back over the chapters, I realized that laughter was woven like a hidden melody into the symphony of Abraham and Sarah’s lives. Abraham laughed first; right in the face of God’s promise. He tried to hide it, facing the ground as if he could hide his skeptical mirth from his creator, attempting to replace God’s promise with the son of his human effort. To that God said a decided no, affirming again the promise of a true son. Sarah laughed second; a harsh hilarity of unbelief that echoed with the ache of her barren years. But over her grieving head, God spoke an almost lyrical promise:
Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?
When the time revives next year, I will return.
And Sarah will have a son.
And then, it seems that God must have laughed, and his was the last. God’s laughter shook the stars with its glad finality as it ran to bring life coursing into the barrenness of Sarah’s old body. For Sarah did, in the new life of the next year, bear a son named “Laughter” because God’s life confounded her skeptical faith, renewed her fallen trust. The life of her child embodied the goodness of a God entirely unbound by human despair…or time. But Isaac was also the child of a far larger promise, Isaac’s birth confirmed God’s promise to redeem us all, to bless the whole earth. And I think it is a thing of wonder that God gave the name of “Laughter” to the child who foretold our salvation.
For there is a mad impossibility in the way God meets our unanswered prayers and even our need for redemption. His reality confounds all of my despairing surety of struggle as its gladness comes crashing into my life. His goodness bewilders my earthy wisdom with its illogical and undeserved grace. I am so tempted to tread my dusty circles with loud lament at the impossibility of grace, fix my eyes on the desert barrenness of hearts and broken bodies. I hear echoes of grand promises from this merciful God and yet want to hide in the small shadows of my tent and weep, like Sarah, with a barren laughter lamenting the impossibility of joy. But into that comes God, laughing at the melodrama of my despair even as his gladness remolds my heart, my spirit, and sometimes even, my body. Unbound by despair, unbridled by human impossibility, God’s goodness, begun in a child called laughter, courses new through the earth every day.
And I know it will come to me. Like Sarah, I walk with the barrenness of an unanswered prayer, but I will not laugh in bitterness. I know the story of the child born and of the life so graciously renewed. I will join instead the ranks of all the children descended from the child named Laughter. He embodied God’s glad life. And so will I. I will affirm the reality of His goodness with a bright-eyed, gladsome joy of my own that chooses to live in expectation of hope fulfilled. And when it comes, my laughter will join that of Sarah’s at the birth of Isaac, and our voices will be one more affirmation of the God who lives and loves…and laughs. Forever.