I’m not skipping the first half of the verse (Romans 12:15) – “rejoice with those who rejoice” – because I think it’s unimportant to do so. Rejoicing with those who rejoice is just as vital to healthy relationships as weeping with those who weep; I just think that, because of our cultural fear of sadness, it’s easier to be with happy people (and be happy with them) than it is to stick around sad people, much less be sad with them. It’s not that rejoicing with those who rejoice has no challenges: jealousy is but one of the barriers to truly being happy for and with one another. But, in the recent uptick of posts by mental health organizations on social media these past few weeks, it’s become clear to me that there is a staggering number of people who are weeping alone.
We are called to weep with those who weep. It is one way we are keepers of our brothers and sisters. It’s also, for obvious reasons, really difficult. Weeping with someone is more than weeping for them; the latter is merely sympathy, which can be kind but is often distant. For some situations, this is appropriate. But weeping with someone requires empathy, and this is more than, as Brene Brown would suggest, saying, “Me too.” Brown argues that empathy asks us to reach back into our story to find a place where we were in a similar situation or felt comparably to the person before us is feeling: if they just lost their job, empathy for Brown would look like remembering the time you lost your job and really feeling the loss, humiliation, fear, etc. But empathy doesn’t just remain focused on the self: our own stories are connection points with others. They are the first step in feeling with someone, weeping with them. We don’t just stop at our own tears. To truly weep with someone, we must strive to feel the way they feel about what’s bringing them to tears, not merely how we felt if/when something similar happened to us.
That so many people have been weeping alone is tragic; weeping with those who weep is also a really difficult thing to do. One reason might be because of our compulsion to “fix it.” I, for one, can get a little panic-y when a beloved friend is sharing hardships because I don’t know how to make them go away or stop. But the knee-jerk response to “fix it” isn’t bearing one another’s burdens, as we are called to do in weeping with those who weep. It is, actually, attempting to avoid burden bearing by erasing or resolving pain prematurely. While there are times that a quick fix is available, our calling is to get under the weight with those who are carrying it and add our strength to theirs.
So we weep with those who weep. Sometimes the best we can do is sit next to someone and put a hand on their shoulder as they cry. Sometimes, we can shed tears by their side. And sometimes, we are able to feel as they feel and cry, not only on their behalf, but as if we were them. We sob and lament as if it were our own heart breaking not because it will always fix the hurt, but because not being alone is balm enough to bear it.