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?
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This post was published June 2, 2021
Ryan serves as theologian-in-residence for Denver Institute for Faith & Work, where he writes and teaches on the integration of faith and work. Alongside his work with Denver Institute, Ryan is an instructor in the Division of Christian Thought at Denver Seminary, where he teaches theology and the history of Christianity, and associate pastor at Foothills Fellowship Church in Littleton. He holds a Th.M. in ecclesiastical history and a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Edinburgh. He has published in the areas of inter-religious dialogue, historical theology, and Christian ethics. Ryan lives with his wife, Adrienne, and their daughter in Lakewood. Most importantly, Ryan is a diehard fan of the Denver Nuggets—and he liked them even when they were terrible.