I wrap my arms around my niece and scoot back to make sure she’s secure on the sled. Her small body fits snug against mine, and with our snow pants and hats and scarves and mittens, it is hard to tell who is who. We both resemble marshmallows, although at two-years-old, she’s a far cuter marshmallow than me.
“Ready?” I ask softly in her ear.
“Ready!” Her smile stretches wide across her face.
My four-year-old nephew is already pushing my back, shoving me with all his might, and then, my niece and I are off, flying down a snow-covered hill on a flimsy piece of bright blue plastic.
I hold onto her as tightly as I can — more for my sake than hers — but she isn’t afraid. Instead, she is giggling, her laugh echoing across the hills that surround us and the frozen beach down below. Her laugh is contagious, and as we spin across the icy ground at the bottom of the hill, I can’t help but burst into laughter too.
I take a deep breath, my lungs gulping the cold air.
“Again!” She tugs my hand — and although I mostly want to lie prostrate on the ground because it’s hard to get up in snow pants — I roll over, grab the sled with one hand and her tiny mittened hand with the other, and trudge back up the hill with her.
It’s her brother’s turn next, so I wait at the top of the hill and watch them. A smile is frozen on my face, but even if it wasn’t so cold I wouldn’t be able to shake it.
I can feel God whisper to me, as I watch my niece and nephew play in the freshly fallen snow, in a soft voice saying, Isn’t it good to laugh, Aliza? Isn’t it good to have fun?
I turn my face to the sky, even though I know the Spirit resides in my very heart, and I laugh again. I think maybe God’s laughing too.
Because this — this fun, this laughter — is so good for my soul.
I’m not always good at having fun — at least not these days. I have a tendency of being serious, wanting to focus my time and attention on my apprenticeship to Jesus, on prayer and Scripture reading, on becoming more like Jesus — all of which are beautiful and important things.
But perhaps part of following Jesus is remembering to laugh.
It’s the middle of winter in Canada. When the snow is fresh, it’s beautiful. When the snow has melted, it just feels cold and grey and bleak. Right now my province is in the midst of a stay-at-home mandate. These days it can be hard to find anything to laugh about. Almost every conversation I’ve had with someone over the past few weeks has included one of us expressing how hard life feels right now. How lonely we are. How tired we are. How we long to see a light at the end of this very long tunnel.
Life feels serious, hard, and isolating. If I’m being honest, life has felt that way for awhile.
But the God who created laughter is reminding me to laugh again. Even in the midst of the winter and lockdown, maybe I can find something to laugh about.
I think of the way Jesus told His disciples to be like little children. Perhaps the children who played with Jesus didn’t play in the snow like my niece and nephew, but I bet Jesus spun them or tickled them or cracked some jokes. More than anything, I bet Jesus had a fantastic laugh.
So I am choosing to laugh. I’ll take a cue from my niece and nephew and I’ll take a hint from Jesus — I’ll try to become like a child again.
I watch my niece trudge back up the hill, yelling my name. “It’s our turn!”
I give her a huge grin, and get back on the sled, bringing her body close to me once more. Then I take a deep breath as my nephew pushes my back — and I laugh the entire way down that icy hill.
And if I listen quietly enough, I think I can hear Jesus laughing too.