Day 10. Holy laughter

[above: Sarah and Adeline, Mother and child share Christmas joy. —Courtesy of Sarah Gehman]

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. (Philippians 1:3–5 NRSV)

It is the heart that is not yet sure of its God that is afraid to laugh in His presence.

—George MacDonald, Sir Gibbie

In college I had a friend who often laughed during prayer. Those of us who were more accustomed to solemnity were shocked at first, but soon we couldn’t help smiling at the childlike, un-self-conscious delight that bubbled out of her when she was praising God. Her spontaneous giggle in the presence of the Holy felt holy to us. 

George MacDonald would have loved her for it. What is more beautiful, he prompts us to consider again and again, than the pure joy of a childlike heart embraced by the most loving Father? The mute, abandoned boy in his novel Sir Gibbie is so delighted upon hearing the story of the prodigal son that he bursts into “a wild laughter of holiest gladness.” 

“I wonder how many Christians there are who so thoroughly believe God made them that they can laugh in God’s name,” MacDonald muses, “who understand that God invented laughter and gave it to His children. . . . The Lord of gladness delights in the laughter of a merry heart.”

But true laughter, holy gladness, requires freedom—from the weight of the world’s cares, from self-concern, from suspicion and envy, from regret and worry. It is the laughter of a child wholly at home in the arms of someone who loves her. And this, for MacDonald, is what it means when Jesus says we must become like little children: to trust that our King, the one toward whom all our prayers are bent, bends down to kiss us with the tender love of a perfect Father. We are free to laugh in his presence because we have nothing left to fear. 

Jesus, the Child in the manger, came to gather the children—the young ones and the old ones growing young again—and to lead us to the One whose arms are spread open wide, welcoming us with joy.

PRAYER: Father in heaven, have mercy upon your child who comes before you weighed down by fear and sorrow. Break the chains of doubt that keep my heart from being free in your presence, and help me to trust that I am completely and eternally embraced by your love. Teach me to laugh again. Amen.

By Jennifer Trafton

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #133+ in 2019]

Jennifer Trafton is the author of two novels for children, The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic and Henry and the Chalk Dragon. She is a former managing editor of Christian History magazine.
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