God commands us to cry.
It’s not my favorite command either. Yet, while God’s command in Romans 12:15 to “weep with those who weep” is quite clear, many of us aren’t very good at it. We struggle because grief makes us uncomfortable. Or we feel we shouldn’t grieve if God is sovereign. Or we worry that weeping with others will encourage them to stay mired in bitterness. Or we simply don’t have the first clue how to enter someone else’s emotional world. Or all of the above.
If you can relate, I have good news. The simple truth that we are image-bearers of the God who enters our pain makes a huge difference in heeding God’s call to enter others’ suffering. Let me unpack why.
We begin by reflecting on what God has done for us. The incarnation of Christ is a glorious mystery — God himself came into our world, our experience, our very flesh. He chose to be a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering, not just in body but in spirit (John 11:32–36). He was tempted in every way as we are. He knew the valley of the shadow of death, the Father turning his face away.
“We often stumble because we are more anxious to fix people than to love them.”
In short, in love for us, he entered into the depths of our experience.
This entering and identifying with us did not end at his death or resurrection though. In fact, because of the presence of his Spirit in us, he is now more connected to us than ever, even to the point of seeing attacks against us as attacks against himself (Acts 9:1–5). How strange that Jesus not only rejoices with our triumphs of faith but weeps with us in our weaknesses and wounds!
Love’s first step in entering others’ sorrows is simply to appreciate the breathtaking choice Christ made to enter ours.
Enter Another’s World
I find, however, that even when we see this, we still often stumble because we are more anxious to fix people than to love them. An old ministry proverb, which I greatly appreciate, says that people “don’t care how much you know till they know how much you care,” or that you have to “build the bridge of relationship before you drive across the truck of truth.” While this wisely identifies our need to demonstrate tenderness and genuine compassion before expecting people to listen to our counsel, it misses that showing someone you care or building a relational bridge is not merely preparation for the “good stuff” that will come when you finally unload truth on them.
Entering, caring, and showing compassion already are the good stuff. Coming alongside hurting people to simply sit with them in their pain is the good stuff. Entering another person’s world is a form of ministry, even before you’ve said a word.
Is This Hard for You?
But what if I find all this convincing, yet when the rubber hits the road, I find myself unable to weep with those who weep?
First, Romans 12:15 isn’t written to a subset of Christians who are good at empathy. It’s written to all of us. This means we can all confidently expect our Lord to answer our pleas for growth in this area. His help is not limited to the touchy-feely people in our congregations. So ask him boldly for help.
“The first step in entering others’ sorrows is to appreciate the breathtaking choice Christ made to enter ours.”
Second, you can’t spend too much time thinking about specific ways Christ has done this for you. He knows everything about you — in which tender, raw, fragile, uncomfortable places has he loved you? Remember, he does not hold you at arm’s length because of your hurts, but rather, they arouse his personal, specific compassion and affection for you.
Third, practice putting yourself in other people’s shoes. By this I do not mean looking at someone’s situation and saying, “I’d never have myself in this mess. You made your bed, so forgive me if I tell you to lie in it.” Instead, try asking yourself, “What if I saw this as completely overwhelming and devastating to my major hopes in life?” While you might deal with a strained relationship, a fender bender, or a significant upcoming surgery with equanimity, others may experience these things as a catastrophe.
Part of compassion is sympathizing with others even when you see their crisis as a minor inconvenience or have a ready solution to their problems. After all, Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus in love for his friend, and for Mary and Martha, even though he was about to raise him from the dead and “fix” the problem in the next ten minutes. Solving people’s problems is not wrong, but compassion first enters their world, rather than dragging them into yours.
Does Compassion Overwhelm You?
Sometimes our problem is not that the problems of others seem too petty, but that they are too overwhelming to us. What then?
First, being overwhelmed and undone by the sufferings of another person or group is not necessarily bad. Ezra was shocked and horrified by the sin of the people after God brought them back from exile. Jeremiah was devastated by both the faithlessness and the destruction of his countrymen. David, Job, and Jacob sat in ashes and mourning when they heard news that loved ones had been slain. It’s okay to be flattened by a broken world.
“It’s really easy to step into the place of the Messiah without realizing it.”
Second, however, a warning: it’s really easy to step into the place of the Messiah without realizing it. Far too often a good desire to care for others drives us to functionally usurp Christ’s role as Keeper and Savior. We can feel as if others’ fates rest in our hands — that they stand or fall based on our help. As a result, the most common reason we get overwhelmed by others’ problems is that we are trying to own their responsibilities and burdens as our own.
While we may be right to care deeply about their predicament — spiritual, physical, emotional, relational — we are free to leave their lives in God’s hands. Our call is simply to love them faithfully, acknowledging where life is painful and broken, grieving losses with those we love, and letting the process leave us all the hungrier for a coming day of unfiltered righteousness and healing.
Weep with God
Just as we are commanded to weep with God’s people, so we are commanded to weep with him. God gives us grief in order that we may share his heart for his people, his kingdom, and his glory. To worship him is to ever increasingly delight in what he delights in and also to grieve over what grieves him. So be encouraged; even your most uncomfortable emotions — and those of the ones you love — are your chance to walk more closely with the Shepherd of your soul.