Ding! came the familiar sound of my email inbox. I clicked on my latest message and saw a picture of a friend snuggling her newborn. She and her family thanked God for answering their prayers for a natural, pain medication-free labor and delivery.
As quickly as I opened the note, I closed it.
The happiness I felt for my friend mingled with my own sadness. Her news reminded me of my own daughter’s birth — a labor and delivery I wish had mirrored my friend’s experience. I felt the painful stab of an unfulfilled hope.
But I’ve also been in my friend’s shoes. Just as her email was difficult for me to read, there have been times when my joy has brought grief to someone else.
Perhaps you’ve been there too.
In Romans 12:15, Paul instructs us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice [and] mourn with those who mourn.” So, how can we live out this biblical mandate? How can we rejoice and be sensitive to the hurts of others? How can we deal with the pain we feel when someone else experiences that for which we hoped?
As I’ve sought God on how to achieve this delicate balance, I’ve found the following things helpful.
When You Rejoice
Examine your motives. Ask yourself a simple question: Are you sharing to bring glory to God and encourage others or is pride influencing your decision? Do you secretly desire for others to praise you rather than have their focus turned to God? Is there a sense of competition you feel with anyone who will hear your news? If pride is a factor, take time to repent and re-evaluate before you share.
Broadcast information carefully. While it’s easy to update your Facebook status or send an email to everyone in your address book announcing your promotion, sharing your latest vacation pictures, or the recounting the details of your baby’s birth, take the time to exercise caution before you hit “send.” Consider sharing general information with the broader community and saving details for those closest to you. And, if you know someone on your contact list may find your news difficult, send them a personal email first.
Be responsible, but not extreme. Yes, strive to exhibit sensitivity, but remember that you can’t control how others feel. Don’t hold yourself responsible for every painful emotion others may experience upon hearing your news. And, if you do unintentionally hurt someone else, extend grace toward yourself.
When You Mourn
Extend grace. Others will hurt you — most often unintentionally. Work to extend grace towards them. Believe the best about people and their motives, rather than assume statements and stories are insensitive or meant to hurt you. Many times others are unaware of the power their words and actions carry.
Allow grief. It’s OK to experience sadness and pain. This doesn’t mean you direct it at another individual, but rather recognize despite people’s best efforts, you may still feel hurt because of the brokenness of our world. Don’t be quick to push aside real emotions because you believe they’re ungodly. Just as we grieve over our longings, Christ also grieves over our brokenness and pain.
Evaluate your responses. Ask yourself if you’re being overly sensitive and too focused on your own pain that you don’t allow yourself to celebrate with others. If this is true, ask God to transform your heart to be one that can rejoice with others without consistently shifting your focus to your own sorrows. If you are still having difficulty, ask a trusted friend or mentor to pray for you also.
And ultimately, whether we rejoice or mourn, we should remember we serve a sovereign God who is in the midst of every situation. Knowing this means knowing we can always trust God’s goodness in our life and the lives of others.
Through prayer and wisdom, we can learn to better live out Paul’s words in Romans. We can rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn in a way that encourages those around us and honors God — even when it comes to reading our latest emails.