What does it mean that “the heart may hurt even when laughing” (Proverbs 14:13)?
Charlie Chaplin, who used to act in silent movies, is said to have said, “To really laugh, you have to be able to take your pain and play with it.” It’s no secret that many comedians deal with tragedy in their personal lives, and many of them admit to being depressed. Solomon said, “Even when you laugh, your heart may hurt, and when you’re happy, you might end up sad” (Proverbs 14:13).
At first glance, this proverb seems negative, and the New Living Translation makes it even more so: “Laughter can hide a heavy heart, but when the laughter stops, the grief stays.” But Solomon wasn’t trying to be negative.
The proverb says that there is some happiness in the world, but it is always mixed with sadness. Happiness on earth is temporary and, in the end, not satisfying. “Even in laughter, the heart may hurt” seems to echo Solomon’s thoughts in Ecclesiastes 2:1–2: “I said to myself, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.’ But that also turned out to be meaningless. ‘Laughter,’ I said, ‘is madness. And what good does pleasure do? ““Happiness and merriment aren’t real and can’t last.
“There is a time to cry and a time to laugh,” says Ecclesiastes 3:4. There are times to cry and times to dance (NLT). Life is full of happy times and sad times, times when you laugh and are happy and times when you cry and are sad. Laughter and sadness often happen at the same time during these times. The wise person who follows God will not be surprised by the ups and downs of life or lose hope when they happen. He will instead accept that they are normal and get ready for them.
“Even when you laugh, your heart may hurt” echoes the wisdom in Ecclesiastes 7:2–4: “It is better to go to a funeral than a party. Why? Because death is the end of the journey of life, and people should always keep that in mind. Sadness is better than silly laughter, and accepting sadness somehow makes our hearts feel better. A wise heart knows how to deal with pain, but a foolish heart only wants to be with pleasure (VOICE).
A wise person lives with the knowledge that he will die one day. Going to funerals and dealing with loss and grief remind us that we will all die someday (Job 30:23; Hebrews 9:27). God gives us one life on earth, which is the only chance we have to get to know Him and accept His gift of salvation. If all we do all day is laugh and have fun, we won’t be ready to face death. We should spend every day getting ready for the end of our lives.
Grief and heartache are good for us because they remind us to put our hope and faith in God: “Show me, Lord, the end of my life and how many days I have left; let me know how short my life is. You’ve made my days as short as a handbreadth, and the length of my life is nothing compared to you. Even people who seem safe are only a breath away from trouble. Everyone seems to be walking around like a ghost. They hurry around, accumulating wealth, but they don’t know who will end up with it. But what should I look for now, Lord? “I’m counting on you” (Psalm 39:4–7).
Heartache is part of the human experience. When we take up our cross and follow Him, we find that the Christian life is full of sadness and joy, loss and gain, living and dying (Matthew 16:24–28; Luke 9:23–27). Heartbreak is painful, but it gives us a chance to see how bad our sin is and how much we need to grow spiritually. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be consoled,” because of this (Matthew 5:4). God’s grace and forgiveness can only be poured out on people like a river of joy when they are hurting because of their sin. Only then can someone say, like the psalmist, “You have turned my sadness into dancing.” You took away my clothes of sorrow and put on me clothes of joy (Psalm 30:11, NLT).
Deep inside every person is a pain over the fallen state of humanity and a longing to be brought back to our true home with God (1 Chronicles 29:15; Ecclesiastes 3:11; Psalm 42:2; 119:19–20; Hebrews 11:13, 1 Peter 2:11). In the economy of the heavenly kingdom, people who are sad and have heavy hearts will be blessed in the end because they will laugh and celebrate at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7–10). Their sin has broken their hearts, but God will comfort them and they will be happy forever in the Lord’s presence.
Solomon tells us that even when we are laughing, our hearts may hurt, and when we are happy, we may end up sad. This is a reminder to keep our hope in God, even in the worst storms of life. We can be sure that everything good and bad that happens to us has a time and a reason, and that the Lord is ultimately in charge of them all (Ecclesiastes 3:1–22). “You show me the way of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with pleasures that will last forever at your right hand,” says the Bible (Psalm 16:11).