When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues 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. Restore our fortunes, LORD, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.Psalm 126:1–6
Have you ever laughed so hard you’ve cried? Have you ever cried so hard you’ve laughed? There’s a fine line between joy and grief, and this truth is rooted deeply in our very biology. Laughter and tears, in fact, are the same physiological reflex. We laugh and cry for the same reason: because we’re overwhelmed.
This is something the biblical writers knew intuitively. It’s not a coincidence that we see joy and grief bound up with one another so often in the biblical storyline. Nowhere is this captured more profoundly than in Psalm 126, which is itself a compact summary of the biblical narrative. The poem swings back and forth between tears and laughter, from the searing pain of exile and ruin to an almost delirious surprise at God’s mighty acts of deliverance. It’s an exercise of public memory and celebration, as God’s people remind themselves that God restored their fortunes once, and he will restore their fortunes again.
Those of us who lived from 2019 into 2020 learned just how quickly fortunes can change. And like the psalmist before us, many of us found it difficult to regulate our emotional lives in the face of such overwhelming circumstances—laughing one moment, crying the next.
This past year caught us off guard; it did not go how any of us intended or how any of us would have chosen. Yet, ours is a God who fills our mouths with laughter and our tongues with shouts of joy, even in the most unexpected or dire circumstances. “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!” We have sown through tears this year, but we are already looking forward to the harvest. While we wait for our fortunes to be restored, we also pause to remember and to celebrate, overwhelmed by the great things God has done for us.
Think back more than a year ago; what brought you joy before everything changed? How have you been overwhelmed by God’s goodness, even in this difficult season?
Dr. Ryan Tafilowski holds a PhD in systematic theology, a master’s in theology in history from the University of Edinburgh, and a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies from Colorado Christian University. Tafilowski has served as an adjunct professor in the Division of Christian Thought at Denver Seminary, adjunct professor of theology at Colorado Christian University, and postgraduate instructor in theology and ecclesiastical history at the University of Edinburgh. He serves as the lead pastor at Foothills Fellowship Church in Denver and as Theologian-in-Residence at the Denver Institute for Faith and Work.