Laughter filled the pews and hysterical tears streamed down the cheeks of mothers of the children who looked on innocently, cross-legged, as they beheld my noisy re-enactment of the labour pains of childbirth…
Bible stories begin to take on a whole new significance as you grow into adulthood and encounter the pain of guilt and shame in your experience. When the epiphany of the meaningfulness of the story of Isaac’s birth hit me, it nearly overwhelmed me. With a deep breath, I began to tell the story to the twinkling eyes and fidgeting feet:
Young Abram had fallen head-over-heels in love with the gorgeous princess, Sarai. Nervously, he popped the question. She said yes. YES! You never saw a man so happy. Abram cartwheeled down the street as he envisioned the beautiful home the young couple would build together – all the lovely babies they would create to fill it…
… You never saw a man so broken as, after numerous fruitless attempts, it became evident that there would be no babies. Sarai took the discovery of her infertility extremely hard and it placed a terrible strain on their marriage. She felt personally responsible for ruining Abram’s lifelong dreams. Over time that guilt evolved into a sense that she herself was a ruin and no princess. While the marriage survived, Sarai carried that guilt and shame with her throughout the next decades, learning well how to put a brave face on it.
90 years old, Sarai had changed her name to Sarah, but the shame still remained, albeit covered with a convincing smile. While planning for her retirement with Abram, now Abraham, an extraordinary company of men frequented their home. The men began conversing with her centenarian husband. Sarah eaves dropped from inside her tent:
“Where is your wife, Sarah?” asked the men.
“Over there, in the tent,” Abraham replied.
“I’ll be back in about a year,” said the Lord. “When I return, Sarah will be a mother to a son.”
Ok, pause the story because we know how it goes. At this point, I got the children to imitate me as I held my belly, leaned back and bellowed, “ho-ho-ho”; slapped my knees and crumpled forward, shouting, “ha-ha-ha”; then folded my arms over my chest and rolled back, wheezing, “he-he-he”.
I’d like to suggest that the reason for laughing that Sarah verbalised, i.e. ‘being too old’, was little more than a plausible front for the painful truth – her laughter was a visceral response to the unexpected exposure and agitation of an old and unhealed emotional wound of shame covered by the time-hardened sticking plaster of pretence. Indeed, one of the main reasons we seek things to make us laugh is to medicate against emotional pain, especially that of shame.
"If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive," says shame researcher, Brené Brown. Though not its purpose, this is one of the most profound definitions of conversion and baptism that you’ll ever hear.
“AARGH!” Sarah cried.
“Push, darling!” urged Abraham.
“I’M PUSHING!” Sarah yelled back.
The congregation erupted in laughter while a heavily pregnant lady looked on in horror from the pews. I looked on in horror as mocking laughter escaped my mouth while Jesus hung naked from Calvary’s tree. A piercing sorrow shot through me as He screamed:
“MY GOD! MY GOD! WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME!”
Emmanuel – God with us – heaven’s ultimate statement of empathy went through hell as He fully identified with my guilt and shame.
“Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.””
Her extreme pain was suddenly forgotten as it was overtaken by an overwhelming new sensation. As she gazed into the tiny face of newborn Isaac, all the years of guilt and shame melted away. A tear escaped her right eye as something incredible happened:
With all the actions, we sang:
“Ho-ho-ho-hosanna! Ha-ha-hallelujah! He-He-He-He saved me. I’ve got the joy of the Lord!”
Isaac’s name became, not just a divine prescription, but the story of Sarah’s experience – she had experienced true laughter.
I told the children that God loved them so much, that He sent His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not suffer under the unbearable weight of guilt and shame, but will enjoy guilt free laughter.
So, reader, go love and laugh in the lightness to which you have been emancipated.
About The Author
My name is Omari, I am a Jamaican-heritage, UK-born, Londoner lost in Limerick, Ireland since 2015; stranger here and citizen of Heaven. I do paid business analysis work for various clients and various voluntary work for my Father’s business.
You can read/watch/hear more from me at The Chiasm. The Chiasm is a publication of the literary product of solitudinous meditations upon God’s Word and of communion with God up beneath the breathtaking, life-giving resplendence of the cross.