There was an old woman who wanted a child more than anything. She prayed. God promised. Nothing happened. Her name is Sarah. She laughed, and I don’t understand her.
I get what it’s like to want something and not get it, but I still don’t understand Sarah. I don’t know what it’s like to be called barren. I don’t know what it’s like to want something that bad and not get it, and every single day feel like it’s because there’s something wrong with me that can’t be fixed. I don’t know what it’s like to know that it doesn’t just disappoint me, but the one I love. I don’t know what it’s like to try to meet his eye and feel worthless and ashamed because I can’t look at my beloved without seeing the hole where our family should be but isn’t.
Sarah was past the age of childbearing. Still, one day God showed up and said she would bear a son. Sarah laughed. I used to think that laugh was her unbelief. She just thought the idea of a pregnant old lady was as ridiculous as trying to put 2 of every animal on a boat, so she laughed to mock God. I figured she just didn’t believe as much as I do.
Then I heard Sarah’s laugh echo through someone else’s mouth. There was something in that laugh underneath the bitterness. It was shame, boiling over, and the only way to control it was to laugh. Sometimes you either laugh or you cry.
I don’t understand what it’s like to be barren, but I do know shame. I have my own. We all do, but it rarely translates into seeing someone else’s for what it is. The problem with shame is that it’s never honest. Shame won’t come out and say what’s wrong. It boils over. It lashes out. Shame manifests itself in frustrating and repulsive ways. That makes easy to to write people off at their lowest because they acted like a sinner in need instead of a superhero. The irony is that underneath the outward sins we find so offensive lies an inward condition that we can relate to all too well. Sin. Shame. Something wrong that just can’t be fixed.
As easy as it is to talk about all symptoms of shame, it’s hard to talk about the condition itself. So we usually just tell people to get rid of it. “Don’t be ashamed. It isn’t worth enough to carry around with you. Just let it go.” Except they can’t, and as often as we give that advice, we can’t either. We all hang on to shame. It’s worth too much to abandon. It’s worth God’s life.
Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame, the mockery, the beatings, and the nakedness. You don’t have to pretend that there is no such thing as shame. Look to the cross. See where Christ bore it for you. He exposed the shame we try so hard to bury, that we can lay aside every weight and sin which cling to us so closely. We lay it on Him. I see my shame time I look at a cross, and I know it’s not mine to cope with or carry in secret anymore.
Christ paid for it in blood so you can be known by God’s promises and not by your sins or your shame. You are someone Jesus died for. You are someone God died for. The same holds true for your neighbor. Sarah laughed. So what? If Sarah’s reaction wasn’t good enough for you, God’s promise still was.
Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
All the laughter in the world couldn’t keep God from bringing Sarah’s child into the world. God named him Isaac, which means “he laughs”. This wasn’t God’s “I told you so” or Sarah’s “aww shucks”. This was the God who turns shame into joy. Same notes, different song. This joyful laughter is a hymn to the God who would bring freedom from sin and shame through the child born of promise. From Isaac would come the one who would bear our shame on the tree. The cross is where your shame mixes with mine and all the world’s and God speaks peace. It is finished. We can still see our shame on that cross, but it’s not ours to carry anymore. Now we can be called Christian.
That same gift was given to all the world, even those we have contempt for. When we look at our neighbor, we don’t know them by their sins, their shame, or their inability to cope. We know them by the same cross that saved us. When we’re willing to acknowledge that Jesus died for our neighbor, we finally see someone worth loving, even when they don’t act lovable. The funny thing is, Sarah’s laugh is a beautiful thing once you lay her shame on Jesus.