Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep
Early in my pastoral ministry I received one of those middle-of-the-night telephone calls that every pastor dreads: “Pastor, our son has been in an accident. They don’t expect him to live. Could you please come to the hospital?”
I arrived at the hospital about one in the morning. I sat with the parents in the waiting room hoping and praying for the best but fearing the worst. About 4:00 a.m., the doctor came out to give us the worst: “We lost him.”
We were devastated. I was so tired and emotionally depleted that instead of offering them words of comfort, I just sat there and cried with them. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I went home feeling that I had failed the family in their darkest hour.
Soon after the accident the young man’s parents moved away. But about five years later they stopped by the church for a visit and took me out to lunch. “Neil, we’ll never forget what you did for us when our son died,” they said. “We knew you loved us because you cried with us.”
One of our challenges in the ministry is in learning how to respond to others when they honestly acknowledge their feelings. I find a very helpful principle in the conversations between Job and his friends. Job said: “The words of one in despair belong to the wind” (Job 6:26). What people say in an emotional crisis is irrelevant other than to convey how deeply hurt they are. We have a tendency to fixate on words and ignore the hurt. When grief-stricken Mary and Martha greeted Jesus with the news of Lazarus’ death, He wept (John 11:35). Paul’s words crystallize it for us: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). We are not supposed to instruct those who weep; we are supposed to weep with those who weep.