Laugh or Cry
There was a song years ago that crooned “Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone” which many may remember. It actually comes from a longer poem by Ella Wheeler called Solitude written in 1883. Part of which intones:
Laugh, and the world laughs with you; Weep, and you weep alone;
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth, but has trouble enough of its own…
Rejoice and men will seek you; Grieve, and they turn and go;
They want full measure of all your pleasure, but they do not need your woe.
And I for one, can think of times in life when things were tough and for one reason or another there was no friend to share the load – maybe it was something I didn’t feel was my story to tell but was still tearing me apart; maybe it was me not being willing to risk sharing though I wanted to; maybe it was just such a busy and difficult time in friends’ lives that they had troubles enough of their own to not be available to share in mine. Life can be lonely and even depressing at such times.
In that context I was thinking of Jesus and the upheavals in his own life: questionable birth history which if Nazareth was anything like people we know today, would have carried its own grief. And then it is assumed that his stepfather Joseph died and left him to provide for his mother and siblings at what could have been a fairly young age. Although the gospels only relate conversations between John the Baptist and Jesus as adults, there is no reason to think since Mary was close enough to Elisabeth to go there during her pregnancy, (where she discovers that Elisabeth was also going through similar miraculous happenings), that Mary and Elisabeth would not have stayed in touch and kept the boys who were cousins in touch with one another also. Jesus’ ministry starts and not too long thereafter, his cousin who apart from his mother and Elisabeth, was probably the only friend on earth who had at least some experience of what it meant to have a mission from God. That friendship was cut short by Herod.
We are told that he bore our griefs and carried our sorrows as well as our sins. Yet He hadn’t been shielded from his own human griefs and sorrows either. Humanly speaking to lose John when he did, had to be a real blow and we find that when Jesus was told that Herod had executed his cousin ‘he slipped away privately by boat to be alone.’
Much of his ministry could be categorised in the laugh-and-the-world-laughs with-you column—feeding 5,000 people twice, resurrecting Jairus’ daughter, and the Roman centurion’s child, and his friend Lazarus, casting demons into swine, healing many, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey with crowds hailing him. And the crowds kept growing, the party got bigger. Then he was arrested and the adulation of the crowd was no more. In fact, suddenly the corner has been turned and in the poet’s words: “they-want full-measure-of-all-your pleasure-but- they-do-not-need-your-woe.” The crowds that now came were baying for his blood. Even his closest friends who wanted to keep watch with him slept and others slipped away, one even to disown him in a spasm of fear; rejected by his nearest and dearest friends at the most crucial and dangerous time in his life. And those are just some of his own griefs and sorrows—he also absorbed all of ours before his work was finished.
We can probably each find looking back in our own lives times where we have felt cutting rejection or fierce emotional upheaval and at that time desperately wanted someone to understand and support us. Looking back with hindsight we may also realise that in those crisis moments not all of our choices were ones we would repeat now. Yet how good it would have been to have had a friend who stood by, even (perhaps especially) when not always agreeing, but supporting us in prayer and in presence nonetheless. If honest with ourselves we can also find times where we could have supported, could have been there for someone—perhaps the situation was too painful, too messy, or we ‘knew’ a poor choice was being made so we could comfort ourselves with turning away rather than staying and praying through the crisis with and for that person.
Jesus doesn’t walk away when we need solace, doesn’t turn away when we have made the poor choice, is never too busy to listen, is always willing us to lean into him and let him live his life in us and through us. He is also ready to rejoice with us, to laugh with us, to grieve with us—he has seen it all as a human and knows the emotions that go with our joys as well as our sorrows. He is the friend who is always there to listen, to understand and to guide if we will let him.