April 12. Romans 12:15. How to Love part 12: Empathize.

Romans 12:9-15. Let love be genuine…Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Genuine love is courageous. It goes where it is most difficult to go, where we often don’t want to go – into the hearts of others. Into their joys and sorrows. Into feelings and emotions.

This is far more than simply entering into facts with others. “What happened?” Or “what did you do?” Give me the facts. But what about “How did that make you feel?” Or even more genuine – recognizing the feeling and emotional state of others without even having to ask.

So let’s be honest, this is very hard to do. Romans 12:15 seems to even contradict Romans 12:9. How can I be genuine if I don’t actually feel what you are feeling? Trying to obey 12:15 just seems like a recipe for hypocrisy and inauthenticity.

The truth is we are often so selfish that we are turned off by other people’s rejoicing and sorrowing. We cringe at emotional expressiveness. The “too happy” Tigger is a show off or a braggart. The “too sad” Eeyore is a bore or a buzz kill. The result is often a very neutral response, just enough to not come across like a jerk who just doesn’t care (Winnie the Pooh), and not too much so as to get sucked into their emotional drama.

OK maybe I’m only describing myself.

Hopefully you’re much more well-intentioned in responding to other’s emotions. But even in our best efforts we often fail to do as Paul tells us in Romans 12:15. What do we do when others are sorrowing? Yep. We cheer them up. We show them the silver lining. We become theologians of glory instead of theologians of the cross. But that’s not what God tells us to do. He tells us to weep with them.

And what do we do with other’s joys? We rarely feel a simple joy for the other person. Instead we try to co-opt their rejoicing, wishing some of their good fortune might rub off on us. Or bringing in one of our own positive experiences alongside of theirs so as to share the glory. Neither of these is rejoicing with those who rejoice.

I’m convinced that we’re all really bad at this (again maybe it’s just me).

Paul’s admonition here reminds us of one of the most important truths of our life in Christ: this life will be one of constant rejoicing and constant sorrowing. We must constantly rejoice because we are in Christ, we have hope, we have salvation, we are loved. But we must also constantly sorrow because we are not with the Trinity yet, we are not fully formed into Christ, we are still plagued by a world and a self that are both full of sin. The Christian life is a severe dichotomy. We are human and divine (not God, but divine). We experience pain, failure, sin, temptation, and suffering in our humanity. But we also experience God’s own life, love, and the lordship of Jesus Christ in our spirituality.

For many Christians the response to this dichotomy is numbing (video games, binge watching, or far worse), neutrality, keeping the feelings in check, stoicism, playing it cool, avoiding the shame of emotions, (big girls don’t cry).

But we are meant to feel as Jesus himself felt. Deeply. Powerfully. From the guts. Like he did at Lazarus’ tomb. Sorrow and anger at the death of one of his best friends. Then joy at his resurrection. We share these emotions of Christ. He is in us. Including his feelings. And we are “members one of another,” so we are called to share each other’s experiences and feel what they feel as Christ feels it in them.

But how? True genuine loving community is the key. We must create safe environments where we can share our joys without broadcasting our own greatness, and our sorrows without fishing for pity (so not social media). A small group. A circle of spiritual friends. The church. This is where we can be with each other to know joys and sorrows, to know the details of someone’s life and to feel along with them.

This community takes time and hard work. It takes preaching the gospel to yourself over and over. But it is the only way to overcome the jealousy and the apathy that keeps us from rejoicing and sorrowing with others. Trusting that in Christ we have all the love and respect we will ever get and ever need will produce in us the genuine love that it takes to rejoice with those that rejoice and weep with those who weep.

Joys and sorrows are meant to be shared. It’s not just helpful, it’s necessary. God is only truly glorified when we see his goodness in his grace. This is what rejoicing and weeping provide, an opportunity to see the grace of God. To see his goodness in the joys and to trust his goodness in the sorrows.

When God’s glory is shared like this it will grow. Watching the winning play, hearing the concerto, seeing the mountain peak – it’s always more glorious when it’s a shared experience. God’s glory and goodness is no different. This is why Jesus came to earth, to rejoice with us and to weep with us, and in so doing to reveal the goodness and glory of God.

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