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.