Rejoicing with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15) seems like it should be one of the “easy” commands of the Bible. Certainly, the call to rejoice should be a delightful one. Few things are more desirable than a joyful life. Joy lifts our hearts, lightens our spirits, and gives us strength and hope. Sharing in each other’s joys—as well as each other’s tears (see the second half of the verse)—binds us together in love. All of this is very good. But it is not, I think, easy. Sometimes the command to participate in another person’s joy can feel more like a burden than an invitation to the fellowship of mutual celebration.
How is the woman who longs for a baby, but whose arms are empty, to rejoice when yet another friend shares the joyful news of her pregnancy? How is the man who has been looking for a job for eighteen months to delight in God’s provision of work to the young woman who has recently graduated from college? How can the person who struggles to make ends meet on minimum wage celebrate with those whose wages allow them security and the freedom to spend beyond their basic needs? How can the man whose wife has walked away from their marriage attend his best friend’s wedding and dance with a light heart? There are a thousand ways to ask this question—one of which I expect will capture your own struggle to rejoice with those who rejoice.
This verse echoes in my mind every time I hear the news of someone receiving the good gifts of marriage, children, and a place to call home — things for which I have been waiting for (at least it seems to me) a very long time. It reverberates in my soul when I spend an afternoon surrounded by friends’ families and go home alone. I rejoice with those who rejoice, but the joy is often tinged with grief, the two emotional strands so entangled that pulling on one thread would unweave my whole story. I can only make sense of my life by saying that joy and grief are wound together to the point where they almost seem to be one. But perhaps that is true of everyone’s story. I suspect that we all have moments in our lives when we need a friend to weep with us, even as we rejoice with her.
In learning how to rejoice with others who are blessed with the joys my heart most desires, I have found a few practices to be helpful. The first is to remember that God’s love and goodness are wider, deeper, and higher—and sometimes widely different—than I can imagine. God expresses love for me every day. When I cease to define God’s goodness simply in terms of the gifts I most desire, I see the gifts God most wants to give.
Noticing these loving gifts is my second practice. Several months ago, I started keeping a “thankfulness log.” At the end of each day, I jot down a few brief notes about the good things in that day. Paying attention to God’s goodness to me helps me to rejoice more freely in God’s goodness everywhere I see it, including in the lives of others.
Third, I am careful (if not always successful) to nip envy in the bud. Envy robs joy more quickly than just about any other thing, and insidiously, it sneaks in. It is good to name it, which draws out its venom and lessens its power to poison joy.
Fourth, I let myself mourn. It can be painful to attend a friend’s wedding when it seems unlikely that you will ever plan your own, or to hold a baby when you struggle with infertility, or to celebrate any number of joys when that particular space is empty in your heart. Express the grief: write it, draw it, cry it out. And talk to those who love you. They may be as blessed to share your journey of weeping as you are to share in their joys. Don’t hold back from them the gift of being bound in love to you and your story as it really is.
Finally, I have found that the best solution to the struggles in my life is to keep looking at Jesus, who understands both joy and sorrow and has lived them as deeply as any human being. He knows how they are woven together. For the joy of all that God would redeem through his suffering, Jesus endured the sorrows of rejection and the pain of the cross. It is his love that gives us strength both to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep.