God asks 2 important things of us in Romans 12:15.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
How are you at these two things?
Last night Jason and I had an extensive conversation about this verse. We were talking about how when someone is weeping, it can come pretty naturally to weep with them. We often don't know what to say in the midst of another's pain, and the most helpful thing to do is to keep our mouths shut tight and weep with them. It's easier than finding words anyway, and most of the time the words we come up with are of little help in the process. People need to know we are WITH them in their pain. We might not be able to empathize fully, there's most likely nothing we can do to fix it, but we can certainly take on a bit of the pain and feel it with them. And that is comforting. It counters feelings of "you could never understand" or "you don't get it," because the very words that lead to those accusations were never spoken. Instead, what is communicated is, "I'm with you." And what is more comforting in the midst of pain, than to know someone is walking with you in it. Whether they can understand or not, if you don't have to trek through the pain alone there is comfort found.
But the verse doesn't lead with weeping. The verse leads with rejoicing. Celebrating the victories of others: the wedding of good friends, the birth of a child, a promotion at work, finishing a hard earned degree, the growth of a friends' church, finding community, a flourishing business. These things are all worthy of rejoicing, and often those experiencing them rejoice openly over the good, but for YOU and for ME as we watch their celebrations, how do we respond?
This is harder. Jason and I were talking about why this might be. Why do we find it difficult to celebrate others' successes?
You might have other reasons to add on, but Jason and I believe it might be about 2 primary things:
1. Pride. 2. Jealousy.
1. Pride says, "I'm deserving." It tells us, "I have worked hard enough to have earned something good." Pride tells me what I ought to receive while discounting the worthiness of those around me. Pride arches it's back, ready to pounce out the joy in other's successes. And let's be clear: Pride is not an alter-ego, although I wish it were. It's me. It's any time I believe I am more deserving than someone else. Yuck. If it were an alter-ego, I could strike it down and kill it once and for all. I could banish it from my house and lock the door against it. But it's not just in my house; it's in my heart. And sometimes it feels as though killing it would be the death of me too.
2. Jealousy says what's yours is mine, and what's mine is mine. It stakes a claim on what my pride has told me I deserve. It reaches out to try to snatch what someone else has been given. It's like trying to steal someone's Christmas presents. They were a gift to another, but I want it for me. NO ONE readily admits to jealousy. Somehow every single person knows how gross it is. I can't tell you the last time I've been willing to admit that I'm JEALOUS of someone. No way. That's an ugly character trait and everyone knows it. Everyone would turn their head in disgust if I were to say it out loud.
Pride creates jealousy, yet jealously wounds our pride. How vicious they are. Pride and jealousy feed each other, yet despise one another at the very same time. To admit my jealousy tells my pride that maybe I'm not so deserving after all. Maybe I'm not who I thought I was.
In the story of the Prodigal Son the older brother displays pride and jealousy perfectly at the celebration for his younger brother. You can read the account in Luke 15. In his pride, the older brother believed that HE was deserving of the party. He was jealous of the celebration for his punk brother, when he had always stayed. That party should have been HIS.
Look at the verses before the story of the Prodigal Son, though. Earlier in Luke 15 a man loses a sheep and a woman loses a coin. When finally they're found, they both do the exact same thing! They invite others to rejoice with them! The Prodigal Son does the same, but plays out how the request to join in another's success can happen: either you can enter into the joy or you can remain outside of it.
Who in your family or community is rejoicing right now? How can you enter into it? Not begrudgingly, not to further build up your pride, not to get a better look at what you think you deserve, but to open-heartedly, unabashedly, unreservedly, all out CELEBRATE another's successes?
Your time will come around too. Someone will join you in your celebration. There will be people who laugh with you with the same free-spirited rejoicing. And we'll all experience the exhilaration of rejoicing in the way of the man with the found sheep, the woman with her recovered coin, and the father over his returned son.
[The picture is from my bachelorette party, where the best friends a girl could have all came together to celebrate in the most amazing ways possible. They show me on a regular basis, what it looks like to rejoice with those who rejoice!]