We often think of sympathy as feeling bad for someone. When someone goes through a tragedy, we express our sympathies. We express that we feel bad for them. Merriam-Webster.com defines sympathy a little differently. It is “an affinity, association, or relationship between persons or things wherein whatever affects one similarly affects the other.” Do you see the difference? Instead of simply feeling bad for someone, we are affected by what affects them. Their tragedy becomes our tragedy. This is the type of sympathy that the Bible describes when it commands us “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). It also explains, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (I Corinthians 12:26).
Suffering together doesn’t mean we take the weight of the world on our shoulders. Instead it means we share the weight.
I’ll be the first to admit that sympathy is difficult. We think that we have enough pain without taking on the pain of someone else. We can’t carry the weight of everyone else’s problems. This is true, but we are thinking about it in the wrong way. A good example would be lifting a piano. Lifting a piano by yourself is impossible. When you get 3 of your friends to help, the weight becomes manageable. The weight is split four ways. When you grieve with someone who is grieving, you don’t take all of their grief on yourself. Instead, you take some of the weight of grief off of them. You share it. Suffering together doesn’t mean we take the weight of the world on our shoulders. Instead it means we share the weight.
For our congregation to weep and suffer together, a couple things need to happen.
We need our eyes open to see and help those who are hurting. Most people aren’t very good about asking for help. Often, we need to observe the need and ask how we can help. We need to remind them they aren’t alone. We need to be ready to share their struggles with them. We need to think through ways to help them in their struggles. How can we better care for families who have lost a loved one? How can we better assist members with financial needs? How can we encourage those who are discouraged? How can we help people struggling with certain temptations?
We need to be honest when we are the ones struggling. We often feel like it is weak to admit that we are struggling. It is difficult to ask for help, but our church cannot suffer and weep with us when we don’t let people know that we are suffering and weeping. Church is not for people who have it all together. A congregation is made up of broken people who need Jesus and need each other.
It is hard to share the pain of others. It requires focusing less on ourselves and our needs and more on the needs of others. It requires sacrificing our time and comfort, but it is how Christ has designed His body, the Church, to function. This can all sound rather discouraging and tiring, but there is another side of this. Not only do we “weep with those who weep,” but we “rejoice with those who rejoice!” We share our struggles, but we also share our joys and victories. We go through the ups and downs of life together. Simply put, being part of a congregation means that we do life together as we follow Christ together.