Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 23 : A Time for Laughter or Tears
Eccles 3:4 a time to weep and a time to laugh
We said yesterday that life is a kaleidoscope of change, but it is also a kaleidoscope of emotions. We mature when we realise this and when we learn to cope with all emotions. We also need to realise that emotions are our inner feelings expressing themselves outwardly. Now in Britain there are ranges of socially acceptable emotions and they vary depending on the area of the country where you come from, I have observed. Some areas and some social strata are more expressive than others. Some nationalities seem to be more expressive than others. We talk about the British “stiff up lip” meaning we don’t easily show emotions, yet that isn’t always true. I have known, what tend to be lower income groups, where emotions are expressed very freely.
There are other groups within society who have been taught that it is wrong to express emotion; historically that was probably to train the men to lead in the army and be an example to their men in not showing fear. In the women it was possibly to cope with their men going away to war and coping when they didn’t come back. Yet many of us are taught “big boys don’t cry” or “big girls don’t cry” when they’ve been hurt. Thus psychologists will talk about repressed emotions. The truth is that God has given us emotions and they are the healthy way to express what is happening on the inside.
So, there IS a time to weep. We can weep from sorrow or we can weep with joy. Healthy emotions aren’t afraid to be expressed. If you are watching a beautiful film that is touching, it is healthy to shed a few tears. If there is sadness, it is healthy to express tears. Those who are fearful of tears are fearful of losing control and falling apart. The person who always holds back their tears is in danger of becoming an emotional block of stone, but you can only hold it in for a limited time, and if we don’t allow our emotions free play, then one day we may completely crack.
The person who bottles in their emotions is unable to express them to their partner or their children, and the relationship is only a tiny part of what God intended it to be. Children who grow up never seeing their fathers express emotion are deprived and won’t know what to do with their own feelings, and may be similarly stunted.
We should not be ashamed of tears. When a loved one dies, it is natural to weep. If they have been going through a serious incurable illness in great pain, there may be a sense of relief when death finally comes, and we simply find there are no tears because of the relief. That’s all right; it’s what you are feeling on the inside. When we weep with sorrow it will not go on for ever: “weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psa30:5). Perhaps if we had real freedom of emotions, we would express tears far more often as we see the hurt and pain of this Fallen World. Jeremiah wept over the fall of Jerusalem and the book of Lamentations is just that, a lament with tears over the awfulness of what had happened. Do we ever get similarly moved?
Laughter seems to be a particularly human experience. Clearly dogs express pleasure by wagging their tails and other creatures express pleasure in other ways, but examine and watch and analyse laughter and it is a strange human thing. Our faces contort, our breathing becomes rapid and we ‘hoot’. Psychologists say laughter is good for you, it is healthy. Check your life out. How often do you laugh? A life deprived of laughter is a sad life. Laughter comes with humour and different people find different things funny. Some things we find mildly funny and other things we find side-splittingly funny. It’s a strange thing humour and laughter.
We laugh because we are happy: “Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” (Gen 21:6) We laugh when we find ourselves in ‘funny situations’ or someone inadvertently says or does something funny, and we laugh. Yet if we are kind and considerate there are times when we know it is nicer not to laugh else we will be laughing at someone and demeaning them by it. We can laugh as means of expressing our security when someone seeks to verbally attack us: “the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming.” (Psa 37:13). Thus we can laugh in the face of adversity if we know the Lord is with us. Beware the laughter of unbelief: “Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old?” (Gen 17:17)
So laughter can be good or bad. It is bad when it mocks another or derides the word of God. It is good when it expresses happiness at good things happening, or laughs at funny things happening. Imagine a life entirely devoid of emotions; how dull it would be. In the TV and film series’ Star Trek they created the character of Spock who was a ‘Vulcan’ a race for whom emotions had been overridden. Spock compensated for his lack of emotions by showing his logic – ‘cold logic’ we speak about. In a later series, the android, Data, was given emotions. Prior to then he had been this ‘cold’ robot. When we read books, watch films, or listen to music, our emotions enhance the experience. God, who has emotions has made us in His image, and so we have emotions to help us be more complete people. The psalms are full of these emotions. It’s the way the Lord has made us. Rejoice in our humanity.