Sorrow is better than laughter; for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made glad. Ecclesiastes 7:3 (New King James Translation)
Sorrow is better than laughter, for sorrow has a refining influence on us. Ecclesiastes 7:3 (New Living Translation)
Don't you just hate it when someone tells you something you don't want to hear but you know it's true and right? I know I do. And this verse is like that. It almost seems like a contradiction in terms ... sorrow better than laughter ... how could anything be better than being happy? I don't know about you, but I hate to go through sorrowful times, and I daresay everyone I know would say the same thing.
But, I also know, that for those of us who have gone through them, like I did with the death of my first husband and then, three years later, a diagnosis of cancer, a double mastectomy and chemo, not to mention a number of other very difficult and/or disappointing scenarios and lost dreams in my life, sorrow does play a very invaluable and crucial part in our lives.
Laughter, even though it's great for our immune system and gives us those crinkly laugh lines at the outer corners of our eyes, generally doesn't make us think as deeply as sorrow does. It doesn't pull us up short and make us realize our own limitations, weaknesses and vulnerabilities and how we need God because we just can't be what we should and live like we ought to without Him. It doesn't often show us what's really important in life and cause us to reflect on all we've been given and where we may not have expressed gratitude and really appreciated our blessings. It doesn't require us to realize our own shallowness or self-centeredness, mistakes we've made or sin we're living in and the need to turn from those things. It doesn't motivate us to empathize with others in similar situations, give of ourselves to help, or live a life of service like sorrow does. It seldom pushes us to overcome difficulties, develop wisdom or deepen our characters.
Just like fire refines gold or heat enables the glassmaker to pull, shape and mold the glass into beautiful vases or stunning works of art, so God often uses sorrow to pull, shape, mold and refine us into people who recognize His sovereignty in the impossibilities of our lives, who take on His character, love and self-sacrificial nature and can help others who are sorrowful, who have endured and persevered in the tough times and are now stronger, deeper and more insightful about life and wiser in our choices.
I picture the Grand Canyon and wonder how plain and not grand it must have been before God loosed the raging waters and the elements to cut it deeply, stripping away huge chunks of land and sculpting it into what it's become. It certainly wouldn't be the attraction it is now if it had just had tiny droplets of dew and gentle breezes floating over it, making the prairie grasses ripple with glee and hardly leaving a trace of its passing. I think of the pioneers who faced sorrow in ways I'll never know to accomplish what few of us could even fathom doing today; the folks I've known in my lifetime who struggled through the fighting, unknown, and deprivations of the World Wars and Great Depression and who emerged with great wisdom to share; the people who've been martyred for their faith, the families who've been left behind and gone on to love the murderers and bring the love and forgiveness of Christ to them. And, I can tell you that, as much as I don't like it, I know that verse is true. As much as I love to double over with laughter, as much as it's good for me for a moment or a day, in the long run, I'm thankful for the sorrow I've been given. For, as an unwelcome gift at the time, I know that when I've let God use it, it has certainly changed and molded me for the better as I know it's done for countless others.
Ask God to help you not waste the sorrows in your life but to use them for His purposes that you might be one of His most beautiful sculptures, able to inspire beauty and a hunger for wisdom and truth in others.