(Lisa Robinson)

Warning:  You will be leaving the world of Pollyanna Christianity and entering real life.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15).  Simple, right?  Well, I find it is when we can relate to what someone else is going through, whether it be pleasure or pain.  The test comes when it is something we can’t relate to and particularly when there is suffering involved that keeps one suffering or hinders the ability to rejoice.

Last Sunday, I left service for the ladies room and ended up in a discussion with one of the leaders.  The doors had closed by the time I came out of the restroom so I sat out in the open area where several big screen TVs were available to watch the service.  A few minutes after I got comfortable on the couch, a woman with a baby came and sat at a table near me.  Admittedly, I am not fond of babies and so my first thought, as is usually my thought whenever sitting in proximity to an infant, was that I hope the kid doesn’t cry.  But to my surprise, my second thought was how much differently that scenario would have impacted a woman who longs to have a baby but for whatever reason it hasn’t happened yet.  I could observe that lady all day long playing with her baby but a would-be-mother in that same scenario would most likely have a different longevity.  It would most likely be too painful.

Now I suppose with the mandate of Romans 12:15, for the non-sufferer there might be some encouragement or maybe just a hug.  But it is likely there would be a limit on the tolerance of how much the person in pain might be allowed to suffer.    Because let’s be honest, if someone is lamenting a situation that does not touch us, that we cannot relate to, we will most likely tend to allow only so much suffering  before the imposition of our thoughts intrude on our tolerance…’they should get over that’ or ‘I don’t understand why they are having such a problem’ or ‘let it go already’.  Our response in that case is tempered by our own sensibilities of what we think a person should or should not suffer.  It will not be long before that attitude is projected in tangible ways leaving the sufferer to feel they must suffer alone.

The same goes for rejoicing when nothing inside of us wants to rejoice.  Anyone who has experienced holes in their life that they want plugged understands the confrontation of their pain with the pleasure of those who enjoy that same thing.  It is different when it doesn’t matter to you than when it does.  I consider my own challenges with my own holes and unanswered prayers as I sit on the sidelines watching a party I long for.  I think of challenges especially today on Father’s Day, as I have witnessed  on Facebook blasts of well wishes for dads and proclamation of great ones.  All I could think of was what of the person for whom Father’s Day is painful, for whatever reason.  It might be hard for that person to rejoice given that internal conflict.  And it might be even harder for the fulfilled Father’s Day celebrator to understand why that person doesn’t rejoice on the same level they do.   Yet, we are to rejoice with the other who is rejoicing.  Admittedly, in some situations that is very difficult.

Relating to pain does not make it any less real for the other person.  Suffering comes in all forms and just because we can’t understand it doesn’t mean it’s not valid.  I find too that people generally don’t want to be confronted with suffering.   I think the main issue is that we don’t like suffering, in ourselves or in others.  Cheerful Christianity is much more popular and acceptable.  We want to hear when things are right, not when they’re wrong.   We generally want to be happy and suffering intrudes on that, especially by those who busts our spiritual bubbles with laments.  If something good is happening we expect people to be on board and are aggravated when they aren’t.  Yes, the sufferer must rejoice with the rejoicer but the rejoicer must also suffer with the sufferer.

So what’s the remedy?  The solution is not to prescribe acceptable criteria for suffering but to realize that it is suffering and the person has to work through it.  The remedy is understand when we don’t understand.  The remedy is to step outside of ourselves and exhibit a greater level of sensitivity, curbing exhibitions if necessary.  Remember that the person has something real that is hurting them.  Pray for them, love them, encourage them, minister to them, be there for them but don’t tell them their pain is not valid.  I think by doing that we just might find that the sufferer will be able to rejoice with rejoicers and the non-sufferer will be able to suffer with those who do.



C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    29 replies to "Dealing With Pleasure and Pain of Others When We Can’t Relate"

    • Kim

      The old saying, “Look them in the eye” comes to mind. You may not be able to relate to the specific pain or joy, but you can relate to pain and joy.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      Has anyone ever met someone lamenting over what you thought was self-inflicted suffering?

      Has that person ever been you?

      Is it Godly for a self-centered person who inflicts her own suffering upon herself to want you to hear and suffer along with her? And that if you don’t, then she judges you for being unloving and insensitive.

      Nah, that never happens.

    • Ed Kratz

      TUAD, so if a person suffers it is because they are selfish and have self-inflicted pain? Would you actually tell someone who suffers its their fault? Because that IS what you are suggesting. And how do you evaluate when someone is inflicting pain on themselves vs. genuine grief over a situation? And that is the problem I think I’m trying to address. We impose our own standards of what is acceptable grief and then blame the other person for not getting over it. Rather insensitive, IMHO.

    • Steve Martin

      I believe Kim has the right idea.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      Lisa Robinson,

      What’s the title of your post?

      You can’t relate to the pain in what my comment is saying.

      Rather insensitive, indeed.

      In addition, you need to read/comprehend it better.

    • Ed Kratz

      TUAD, when you ask ‘has that person ever been you’?, I presume you are making a connection between what I write and what you perceive as my actions or character even though I am attempting to address an issue broadly and not self-focused. If that’s the case, I can’t help but notice the mockery with which you write. You may think whatever you wish, but please do be respectful when commenting on this post. Thanks.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      These questions are broad-based and for every reader of this post:

      (1) Has anyone ever met someone lamenting over what you thought was self-inflicted suffering?

      (2) Has that person ever been you?

    • cherylu


      Maybe it would help if you explained a bit more what your definition of “self -inflicted suffering” is. Could you clarify, please?

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      Is it possible for suffering to be self-inflicted or self-imagined or self-induced?

      Or is it impossible for any suffering to be self-inflicted or self-imagined or self-induced?

      Has any one ever heard or used the term “drama queen”? Is the term “drama queen” always inappropriate? Or has anyone ever seen or known someone where the term is applicable?

      If so, is it possible for a “drama queen” to suck someone into their orb of self-inflicted or self-induced or self-imagined suffering?

      Or is this out of the realm of possibility that no one could possibly relate to?

    • cherylu


      I get what you are saying now.

      I don’t, however, think that was the topic of Lisa’s post.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      I thought the suffering of drama queens was included in the topic of this post.

    • Ed Kratz

      TUAD, I ask again – by what measure do you evaluate whether pain is self-inflicted vs suffering that someone is legitimately experiencing because they are hurting? If you cannot relate to what they are experiencing, how do you know whether they need compassion or disdain for something you perceive as being self-inflicted and overly dramatic? Is that not you imposing your own criteria on what a person should and should not experience and setting limits for their suffering? I will grant that this does happen but your response indicts the person who just talks about as necessarily being a ‘drama queen’ and self-centered.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      “I will grant that this does happen”

      Since *you* grant that it does happen, I’m simply content that you realize and acknowledge that there are indeed self-centered drama queens who will suck people into their orb of self-inflicted or self-induced or self-imagined sufferings.

    • John from Down Under

      TUAD – none of us here are very good at decrypting riddles. Do you have anyone specific in mind with those comments?

      Regarding “self inflicted” suffering, how long is a piece of string? I can give you a few examples.

      * My uncle died of lung cancer because he was a heavy smoker. Maybe we shouldn’t have visited him in hospital or give him a proper funeral because he inflicted his own suffering.

      * We should close down all the rehab clinics because ALL the addicts have inflicted their own suffering.

      * I was visiting a man in prison for 3 years who had committed an unlawful act. I probably should have let him rot in jail, but in my naivety I was thinking that maybe getting his life back on track should be something to work towards.

      As far as your other comments, some vocalize their pain, others keep it all in until they blow up and some make it all up just for attention seeking. Discernment is always wise but it does not nullify Rom 15:12

      • Ed Kratz

        TUAD – none of us here are very good at decrypting riddles. Do you have anyone specific in mind with those comments?

        John, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that he is referring to me, which would be both an unfortunate and inaccurate assessment not to mention counter-productive to what I am attempting to address in this post.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      “Do you have anyone specific in mind with those comments?”


    • cherylu


      Thank you for writing this. It seems to me there is a challenge for all us in Romans 12:15. Sometimes we may need to be the mourners with others–even while we are rejoicing ourselves. At other times we may be mourning and need to rejoice with others.

      I know I have a long ways to go in being able to live both sides of this commandment with any degree of consistency at all.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      Lisa Robinson,

      My comments were not about you.

      But if you want to think so, go ahead. Nothing I can do about it.

    • mbaker

      I, for one, appreciate Christians who are humble and yes even courageous enough to say they don’t have perfect lives even though they try to live by the Bible. No one can judge the depth of mental or physical suffering someone else goes through.

      So I prefer to leave off the ad hominem labels, and just follow the biblical admonition.

    • David Edmisten

      Lisa, this is a great point that you are addressing. Can we truly rejoice or suffer with those whose experience is outside what we have experienced? It can be tough. As a pastor counseled me – can we have understanding, even if we don’t understand?

      I think most of us would rather hear the good news and find it easier to cheer along when we’re already cheerful. So to help, it means more dying to ourselves and really praying for compassion and understanding. And being willing to respond in action when God prompts us to come along someone where our first instinct might be to close off.

      I applaud Christians who are willing to talk openly about struggles, pain and times where its hard to do what we know we need to do. That is where relying on God’s strength is found.

    • Laurie M.

      Good thoughts, Lisa.

    • Phil McCheddar

      No-one knows exactly what it feels like to be in someone else’s shoes (Proverbs 14:10) but I don’t think it’s difficult to relate to someone whose suffering is caused by a predicament we haven’t gone through ourselves. With a little imagination we can at least feel something of another person’s pain or grief or worry. I haven’t ever worried where my next meal is coming from, but I have worried about other (lesser) things, so I know what it’s like to feel worried. Therefore, if my Christian brother in Pakistan or Iraq has no food, my love for him makes me sympathetic towards him since I can see he’s in a situation I would hate to be in myself, and I can imagine at least something of his anxiety by projecting myself into his circumstances.

    • J.R.

      Lisa, I’m sorry but your last paragraph leaves a lot to be desired. Especially, “The remedy is understand when we don’t understand”. Therein lays the problem. Pain, especially emotionally devastating pain such as suicide of a loved one is impossible to understand. It’s impossible for those grieving to understand it. And for those such as my sister, no amount of grieving, crying, praying, and counseling with her stayed the hand which eventually took her life.

      I couldn’t understand her pain; I couldn’t feel the hole in her heart. And even if I could, I don’t think it would have mattered.

    • Ed Kratz

      J.R., actually that was a play on words. Of course we don’t understand and that was the whole point of post – how do we suffer with another when we don’t understand their pain? Maybe I could have worded it better. But I think its interesting that you think the whole paragraph crumbles on that one phrase.

    • Phil McCheddar

      I don’t think the Bible emphasises the concept of relating to other people’s feelings empathetically. That is more of a modern idea that has developed in our age of psychoanalysis. Weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice is more to do with how we act towards others rather than how we feel towards them. When the shepherd found his lost sheep, he called his friends and neighbours to party with him rather than just to experience the same emotions that he was feeling (Luke 15:6). And the Bible sometimes refers to weeping as a deliberate act rather than a spontaneous emotional reaction (Jeremiah 9:17-18, Amos 5:16, Psalm 35:13-14).

    • J.R.

      Lisa, I didn’t say “the whole paragraph crumbles on that one phrase”. I said it leaves a lot to be desired. Much like my empathy towards my sister left a lot to be desired even though there was much crying, endless praying, and counseling with her prior to her death. Countless hours of loving affection through family and friends could not restore her joy.

      Why couldn’t I help her? Why do I feel like God turned a deaf ear to our prayers? I did everything you stated in your last paragraph and still we lost her. All I can do is resign myself to the fact that God is God and I’m not, the Lord gives and the Lord takes, blessed be the name of the Lord.

      Maybe that’s what I saw was missing in your post. We don’t always come out victorious when we suffer with those who are grieving.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      “Dealing With Pleasure and Pain of Others When We Can’t Relate”

      Can anyone relate to the suffering and pain in this father’s letter:

      A Last Statement

    • Kim

      I don’t think or did not get from the blog post that we had to relate to someones specific trial or hurt, but the opposite.. we should identify with the grief or joy the other person is experiencing.
      The point is though we can not relate…We CARE. truly.

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