When You Can’t Rejoice With Those Who Rejoice
Hugs, smiles, homemade desserts, secret family recipes, and heartfelt prayers. We, as a church family, sure know how to throw a celebration! Whether we’re rejoicing in a wedding, a new baby, a baptism, or anything in between, we celebrate with the fullness of joy (and plenty of casseroles, too)!
Except for when we don’t. What about those times when joy is far from reach? Paul’s exhortations in Romans and 1 Corinthians almost feel like they’re mocking you: “Rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15),” and “When one member is honored, all rejoice together (1 Cor. 12:26).”
What Do You Feel Instead Of Joy?
First, we need to look at what is replacing our joy. This will help us get at the root issue. Let’s use a scenario we’ve all probably been in a few times over the last year. What is the first thing to cross your mind when someone announces good news? For example, when that couple in your small group announced they were pregnant. Was your first reaction anger at God for blessing them instead of you? Was it the sting of not having children of your own or having a complicated relationship with your kids? Or perhaps you didn’t really care at all, and it took a lot of energy to muster up a fake, “Congratulations!” Each of these reactions is telling of where your heart is at today.
Let’s look at the first reaction in our example – anger. Of course, anger is only an outward manifestation of what we truly feel. In this case, the heart is envious. It can come out in a few ways – bitterness, jealousy, and sometimes gossip. Jonathan Edwards defined envy like this, “A spirit of dissatisfaction with, and opposition to, the prosperity and happiness of others as compared with our own.”
The root of envy is seeking satisfaction outside of Jesus. It is not a sin to be tempted; we are all tempted every day. We must acknowledge our temptation to be envious and choose instead to reach deeper into the well of joy and gratitude we have in Christ and rejoice instead of growing bitter and angry. This can only be accomplished in God’s strength! As Hebrews 4:16 tells us, “come boldly to the throne of grace for help.”
Let’s continue to the second response to hearing good news from others. Someone’s joyful news struck a painful chord within your heart, an unfulfilled desire with your own children (or lack thereof). This is different than envy – envy pits you against them, whereas sorrow focuses solely on your circumstances.
It is not a sin to be sorrowful. The scriptures are full of lamenting! However, when you allow that sorrow to swallow up the joy of others, it’s time to refocus. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 tells us, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” Be honest about where you’re at and how you’re hurting, but in the end choose joy. It will mean so much more to the person you’re rejoicing with!
This is most often my reaction. I can certainly fake it when necessary, but I know in my own heart that I just don’t care. I have other things going on, I am busy, I, I, I… am selfish. When I read passages like Romans 12:9-13, I can’t help but notice the passion behind these words: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Genuine, outdo one another, fervent, rejoice… That all sounds like a lot of work. And it’s exactly what we’re commanded to do.
My apathy is rooted in pride, and pride is a formidable beast to wrestle with. Keep reaching into that deeper well of God’s joy and strength!