This verse has been silently running through my mind for the past wee while. I have often thought about it in time of need, and it has been a challenge to me personally when I have been going through difficult times. The verse is from the Bible from the letter, entitled ‘Romans’ in the New Testament (Romans 12:15), from the apostle Paul to the believers in Rome. Paul was writing this while he was in prison, and the incredible thing is that even while he was bound and in chains he knew a deeper freedom than most of us know in this life. His freedom in Christ. However, even if you are not a Christian, I think this verse has something for all of us to reflect upon through the changing seasons of life.
It’s a tiny phrase, but it says so much. Don’t you think? “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn”.
I’m not entirely sure why this has been in my mind recently, however, I think it probably has much to do with seeing the contrasting seasons that some of my friends are in. Whereas previously, in earlier days, I would have been thinking of this from a more challenging place of mind and heart, when I was suffering and my friends were going through really happy times, times of joy, love and fulfilment of dreams, now I am looking at it from a different standpoint in terms of my season of life. I’m kind of ‘in the middle’ of things in terms of circumstances and wellbeing if I were to consider my experience in comparison with what some of my friends are going through. Some are rejoicing, and others are mourning. And at the moment, for the first time in a long while, despite the ups and downs of life, and as yet unfulfilled dreams, questions about the future as time passes, I’m actually doing just fine right now and making the most of things.
I have a friend who recently lost her mother. I have another friend who is overjoyed and loving life as a new mum after her season of wondering whether it would ever happen for her. I have friends who had wonderful seasons of joy, and the blossoming of marriage in their early 20’s, only to be faced with the painful sting of divorce, which was a surprise and shock to friends who know them and care for them.
I know some people for whom life has been a pretty happy ride ‘merrily down the stream’, just like a dream, as the nursery rhyme tells us. And overall most of us have a mixture of things going on. But there are seasons in life where either we ourselves or those around us could be said to be quite poignantly in seasons of mourning or of rejoicing. Mourning doesn’t necessarily relate only to bereavement. You could think of it also in terms of many of the painful depths of human experience. Mourning could be as vast ranging as the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, struggling to come to terms with your wayward adult children who have made wrong choices in their lives causing distress to those around them, it could be unfair treatment, unfulfilled longings, cruelty inflicted upon you by others, or illness, depression, losing the ability to walk, sing, smile, talk, or remember things or people you once loved.
Seasons of joy are also evident when we see them. Perhaps something broken has been restored. Maybe a fractured friendship or family relationships have been mended, and you feel a joy in contrast to the loss you once felt. Joy restored! Maybe it is characterised by accomplishment, carefree times, births and marriages, or new milestones. Perhaps a business venture or a project or a dream has come to fruition, or perhaps you have learned a new skill or lost some weight, become healthier, got fit, are challenging yourself to try new things, you feel healthy, life is going smoothly and for the most part all is well.
So, how do we relate to the contrasts in the lives of those around us? How do we “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn” as we are encouraged to do?
I don’t think that there is a simple or straightforward answer, as it is a lesson that we must learn and be shaped by throughout our life’s journey on earth. One thing, however, that does really speak to me is that even if we are not sharing an experience with someone else, even if they are rejoicing while we are hurting, even if they are mourning while we are rejoicing, or are just doing alright, even though we don’t necessarily share the same experience, we do all share a common humanity. And we are called to care about each other, to be sensitive to one another, and to consider each others needs.
It can be hard to know how to support a friend when they are in mourning. But we can be with them. Maybe this doesn’t mean that we are with them physically, as that is not always possible, but it does mean that we can consider what they are going through, what they might be feeling, and how we can ease their load at least a little. We can reach out to them and show them the kindness of a friend, we could help them with their practical needs, send them a gift or a card, or if they are open to us we could simply sit there with them in the quietness of their grief, or listen if they want to talk, or hold them as their tears fall….or…..give them space. Maybe if you have gone through a similar experience, or are going through the experience with them, then you will have a better idea how to bring some comfort in that particular situation.
Rejoicing with those who rejoice can be a wonderful thing. We might ourselves be in a place of rejoicing, and life is like one big celebration in this time, but what if we are not? What if we are just doing ok, or muddling along, or struggling with pain or heartache in our own lives? We can choose to rejoice. We can choose to be kind to others, to wish them well, to love them and pray for them, we can choose to celebrate their milestones, even when we are longing for or waiting for our own. We can choose to think kindly of others. We can choose to be the kind of caring and kind person we aspire to be, even when that takes challenge or a ‘sacrifice’ on our parts. That said, it doesn’t mean that you neglect your own wellbeing. Sometimes, it is just hard, nigh impossible to show up for others if you yourself are in a difficult place in life. Be kind to yourself, be gentle, and know that you are choosing to cultivate a mindset of kindness to others…and to yourself. I personally believe that it is only possible to do this fully by the Love of Christ. However, I also know that we each bear the image of the One Who Created us, and that even those who don’t believe in Him, still have a capacity for a deep kindness to others, through our shared humanity.
If you are in a season of rejoicing yourself, try to think of a time when you were not, as long as it is ‘safe’ mentally and emotionally for you to do so. Perhaps there was a time of hardship in your life. Perhaps the thing you are rejoicing about now is something that you were longing for, or waiting for, or heartbroken about in times past. Perhaps your dreams were deferred, your hopes unfulfilled, and maybe you were in a time of sadness. Do you remember the sting of pain that you felt when those around you were rejoicing over the things that were so far off from your own life and experience? Maybe what you are celebrating now, and rejoicing over, is a similar cause of pain to someone else in a season of ‘mourning’. Maybe you can’t see the full extent of what they’re going through, of course you can’t, we can’t. But you can consider them. You can rejoice over your blessings, but you should also be sensitive to others you may unintentionally be hurting. And if you have never had such a negative experience yourself, count yourself blessed, but still try to put yourself in the shoes of others, and think about how they might feel.
Only by showing kindness to ourselves and caring about others can we begin to respect the profundity of what it means to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn”. xx