9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.Romans 12:9-16
My mother died a couple of weeks ago. It is a season of mourning for me. And I know many others who have recently lost loved ones– husbands, fathers, mothers, and children. It is very easy for me to mourn with those who mourn right now. My heart aches with empathy. I know that mourning feels like, even if I don’t understand the exact nature of another person’s grieving. We are called upon to mourn with those who mourn. We want to share the burden of grief– to come alongside, to show support and sympathy. It is not just a “Christian” reaction to share sorrow. Yet, as Christians, we are commanded to truly participate in the grieving process with our sisters and brothers as they mourn. It is more than a simple expression of sorrow, or a kind word at the funeral home. It may involve “checking in” with someone weeks later, to see how they are coping with grief. It may be providing practical assistance– meals, help with funeral arrangements, etc.. Often, it involves speaking words of remembrance– providing the comfort of hearing familiar memories, and keeping loved ones “alive.” Even though we know our loved ones are “home,” or “in a better place,” or “at peace,” there is something chilling about their absence, and more so when they seem to be forgotten by those around us. Most of all, we can share our steadfast love and encouragement through dark days, through prayer, visits, listening, and providing hospitality.
We chose to have a friend read Romans 12:9-21 at Mom’s funeral. It summed up so much of who she was and what she had tried to instill in us as her children. And I was intrigued anew by verse 15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” It always seems like the first part of the verse should be the easiest, and the last phrase more difficult– more bitter. But in reality, I find it can be almost the opposite.
I don’t much feel like rejoicing lately. I’m not trying to be morose, but grieving is a long and painful process. There are moments of happy memories, and even relief that Mom no longer has to suffer. There is also reason for hope in the resurrection of the dead, and eternal life with Jesus. But the daily reality right now is of loss. Painful, heart-wrenching separation. It hits in quiet, unexpected moments with paralyzing, mind-fogging numbness. And I don’t much feel like being surrounded by the noise and gaiety of celebration. My laughter sometimes rings hollow, and my tears are often close at hand.
But God’s word says that I am to rejoice with those who rejoice. I am to help them celebrate their blessings, just as they are to comfort me in my sorrow. And this is part of God’s perfect plan! Bitterness and isolation can come if we choose to stay away from the happiness of others, or refuse to acknowledge our own grief. We can become resentful, even angry, as we listen to laughter from a distance, or compare our grief to someone else’s joy. Life is sure to bring both into our path at some point in our journey. There is no escape from grief, and no guarantee of ease and delight around every corner. God Himself is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18), and yet He calls us to make a joyful noise (Psalm 100:1). Even Jesus attended feasts and funerals. He wept (John 11:35), and He cried out in anguish from the Cross (Matthew 27:46). But He also rejoiced with those He healed, and with His disciples as they traveled, ate, and talked together.
There is healing in laughter. There is refreshment in rejoicing. And even in our grief, we need to allow for moments of shared praise and congratulations for those who are in a season of blessing. It is equally true that we should not allow our rejoicing to blind us to the suffering of others. We need both–sorrow makes us slow down a bit, contemplate, and prioritize; joy heals and gives us energy to keep running the race.
Today, my prayer is that God would open my eyes to the blessings of others, and the joy that He brings in all situations! And that He would refresh my soul to bring comfort to others who are grieving, and additional joy to those who are rejoicing.