Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Weeping, Rejoicing and Giving Thanks

It is delightfully easy to thank God for the grace we ourselves have received, but it requires great grace to thank God always for the grace given to others.  James Smith

"Weep with those who weep."  We've been commanded to do that.  It makes sense that we have to be reminded to enter into the sorrow of others.  Sorrows which we have not experienced are foreign to us and may seem insignificant.  If the circumstances of our lives are such that we have not yet personally experienced grief or loss, we can be dismissive of others.  Thus we need to be directed to weep with our brothers and sisters.

But we are also commanded to "Rejoice with those who rejoice."  Is that command entirely necessary?   That's the easy part, right?  Do I really need to be told to do that?  How hard can it be to be glad for my neighbor who is experiencing some great joy?

Well, if we're honest with ourselves, it's not always as easy as it seems.  

When MY child has rebelled and left the faith and all of YOURS are walking the straight and narrow, do I really rejoice with you?  Or do I secretly harbor resentment?  Would I be momentarily glad if one of your children slipped and think, "Aha!  Now who's the perfect parent?!" 

If my marriage is difficult, do I rejoice with those who find joy and fulfillment in it?  Or do I cynically assure myself that it must be a pretense...or that their turn will come...or that they are too shallow to desire something better?

If my fellow church-member has the financial resources to travel the world, drive reliable luxury cars, wear the latest fashions, eat at the finest restaurants, provide all the sleekest electronics for their children, donate significant sums to the church and other charities...and I am stuck with year after year after year of lack, debt,  unreliable cars, clothes from Goodwill, off-brand food from Aldi, and decisions about whether to buy a gallon of gas or a gallon of milk...do I rejoice with or criticize them for their wealth?  "They probably haven't been honest in their dealings."  OR "They come from money...and don't even know what it means to work and to appreciate the simple things in life." OR "They appear generous, but who wouldn't be with THAT kind of money?  It's not like it's a big sacrifice or anything."

If I am sickly and HE is the picture of health...if I can't seem to make a single friend and SHE is surrounded by hordes of doting friends...if I cannot form a coherent sentence and HE can speak with great eloquence etc., etc., etc...do these disparate circumstances create a bitter and critical response in me?   Am I able to genuinely rejoice in others prosperity, success, health and happiness?

Most of us rarely, if ever, give voice to those kind of sinful thoughts, but they probably crop up in our hearts more frequently than we care to admit.  This is why we have to be TOLD to rejoice with those who rejoice!  Someone is going to have it easier or better or different than we do and that hounding desire for fairness will tempt us to scoff at, criticize, diminish or otherwise dismiss our neighbors' joy.  Our own lacking or sorrow stings more forcefully in the face of others' rejoicing.

But if we are to live faithfully before God and among one another, we must learn to rejoice FROM THE HEART with those who rejoice.

Ultimately, I think it comes back to an attitude of thankfulness.  And remember, we are not commanded to BE thankful (something we feel in our hearts), but to GIVE thanks.  We must cultivate a heart of thanksgiving by practicing the duty of returning thanks to God for all He has placed in our path...both the seemingly good and the seemingly bad.  Until that attitude becomes second-nature to us, we must consciously and purposefully set out to give thanks.  Nurturing a heart of thanksgiving will shape our response not only to our own circumstances, but also to the circumstances of others.

God knew just how deficient we would be in this area and therefore established our central ritual as one that promotes a practice of giving thanks.  The Eucharist is the culmination of weekly worship and resets our hearts and minds to one of thanksgiving. (I do realize that this is only one of MANY aspects of this rite...but it IS one!)

So this week, may we be enabled to Give Thanks, Weep with Those Who Weep, and Rejoice with Those Who Rejoice.  No matter what...


Les said...

Really good post, and a challenging one too. I needed that.

annie said...

I'm so glad you're blogging because this was really helpful! Thank you.

Terri A said...

I needed to hear this. Thank you for your honesty and your challenge.

Rich K. said...

Provocative post! Very compelling. How bittersweet it is to swallow the words of truth. Keep the posts coming....I need my medicine in large doses. :-)

Jon b said...

Thanks, Lori. You are very good at specific application.... Preachers have a lot to learn from you.

Lori Shaffer said...

Originally posted on January 20, 2011.

Alicia said...

Very nice, Lori.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Lori for getting right to the heart of the matter. Have you been looking into my heart? Appreciate your candor and for giving us the right answer to the problem. Joanie