Then one of the men said, “I will definitely return to you about this time next year. Then your wife Sarah will have a son!” …So Sarah laughed to herself, thinking, I’m no longer able to have children and my husband’s old….The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Me give birth? At my age?’ Is anything too difficult for the Lord? – Genesis 18:10-14
Abraham and Sarah had given up on having children together. Years past the age of fertility, they knew it just wasn’t possible. So when Sarah heard that she is going to have a child, her response is a natural one: she laughs.
But God asks, “Why are you laughing? Is anything too difficult for me?” And within the year, Abraham and Sarah have a son named Isaac, which loosely translated means “to laugh.”
It’s important to acknowledge that Abraham and Sarah’s infertility wasn’t a result of their own lack of effort or belief. It wasn’t, and plenty of faithful people struggle with starting families.
But too often, in all sorts of situations, like Sarah, we laugh off what is possible. And even worse, unlike Sarah, we laugh off what is possible not just for ourselves, but for others.
I was once talking to a woman who had an ambition to be a doctor as a child. When she told her parents, they laughed. Who ever heard of a girl being a doctor, they asked? Her dream was, literally, laughable. She didn’t become a doctor, and she still remembers that day as the one when she started to think her dream was pretty laughable too.
When I work with the children and youth of my church, I’m always aware of the power I hold to shape their futures. I try to remember that an off-hand comment might squelch a kid’s dream. Some might say that’s a form of coddling, but I don’t think that’s true.
Instead, I see it as a way of staying out of God’s way. God gives each of us untold potential. If we are fortunate, we learn to listen for signs of it early on. When the next generation is doing their own listening, the last thing I want them to hear is the laughter of those who believe some things are indeed too difficult for the Lord.
God, help me to laugh not at dreams, but at doubts. Amen.
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Emily C. Heath is the Senior Pastor of the Congregational Church in Exeter, New Hampshire, and the author of Glorify: Reclaiming the Heart of Progressive Christianity.