Welcome to adulthood, where no one is ever in the same life stage at the same time again. Childhood is the one and only part of life we were all in the same life stage: school. The sense of camaraderie of our school days is not appreciated until we are well into adulthood, realizing how nice it was to not have to navigate friendships with everyone scattered, doing different things in different places. At least back then, we all had a similar foundation, a common ground, from which we could to relate to our peers.
Once we are out of high school, though, and in some cases - even sooner than that, it’s all over. We stagger between each other even as we travel miles away, some moving into marriage and parenthood, some exploring adventure and traveling, some setting up careers, and still others doing all that’s in between. The close friends we made in school will maybe stick around. But more than likely, they will not. Even those to which we are still in close geographical proximity may drift away. We have adjust to the fact that the days of being in the same season as our peers are over. In fact, it can sometimes feel like we are always in opposite seasons of life.
If we want to have successful relationships, there are many lessons to be learned. One of the most valuable things to learn in life is to not abandon friends who are in different life stages than we are.
Another of those lessons is how to weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice. It seems simple, but when you throw in all the different, winding paths life takes us all down, it gets complicated.
Because you know you have to weep with your weeping friend, and you even want to, but you may be bursting with joy at your own good news. Or you know you have to rejoice with your rejoicing friend, but you may be weeping for your own loss.
Let me ask a few questions:
How do hard working employees who wanted that promotion so bad they couldn’t sleep, celebrate those who find success? Likewise, how do those who are finding great success in their jobs celebrate their accomplishments, while friends or other co-workers are struggling?
How do married people celebrate and enjoy their marriages, while also standing with their single friends who long to be married, but do not have the option yet? Likewise, how do singles longing for relationships, stand as bridesmaids and groomsmen in wedding after wedding, celebrating the joy of their friends, while desiring to also know that joy, and facing the anguish of their own unfulfilled prayers?
How do new parents celebrate their gift of life, while also mourning other friends’ losses, or struggles with infertility? Likewise, how do infertile couples mourn what is not and may never be, while celebrating the joy and blessing that seems to be given to everyone else around them?
How do we attend weddings, baby showers, and birthday parties, and celebrate the joy of others, right in the midst of our own anguish and heartache?
How do we attend funerals and sit down with our friends who are struggling in very dark places, right in the midst of our greatest joys and dreams coming true?
Is it possible to share it all?
Is it possible to rejoice and mourn at the same time?
Pain does not cancel out joy, and joy does not cancel out pain
I was reading the other day about a woman my age who had finally found out she was pregnant after years and years of struggling to conceive. Before this, she had endured many tear-soaked pillows, sleepless nights, fertility treatments, and everything in between. Everything changed when she saw those two pink lines. A long dark season had finally ended, and joy had broken in.
Right away, she started to plan her surprise announcement to her family, the announcement she’d dreamed of sharing for years. It was finally happening. Her brother’s wedding was right around the corner - just a few weeks away. She would celebrate the wedding, and a few days later, while her family was still basking in that glow, announce her surprise. What a time of celebration it would be for her whole family.
Yet, it was not to be. Just 13 short days later, she suffered a miscarriage. It was devastating. She was set to be a bridesmaid, and on the day of the wedding, was still reeling from the loss of her long-awaited baby. Waking up that morning, she went to her mother, desperately needing comfort and someone to acknowledge her loss and weep for the baby. Physically, she was exhausted and in pain from the miscarriage.
Instead of being met with sympathy and a listening ear, her mother simply said, “How dare you tell me that on a day that’s supposed to be happy. You just ruined our celebration.”
This mother, aside from being extremely cold-hearted to her own daughter, really needed to learn that pain does not cancel out joy, and joy does not cancel out pain.
We don’t need to be scared of joy and sorrow being in the same room.
As we walk this life, we will experience both joy and sorrow. Sometimes one will be very strong while the other feels distant - and other times, they will intermingle. What this mother failed to realize is that life can still be celebrated while someone is mourning. She failed to realize that she could still celebrate her son’s wedding, while also mourning for her daughter’s loss. This is called being a human, and living in a broken world. There will never be a time when every single person in our lives is rejoicing, and there will never be a time when every single person in our lives is grieving.
At every wedding or birthday party, there will always be someone silently grieving a loss, whether major or minor.
Likewise, at every funeral there will always be someone silently celebrating good news.
A word on sorrow
If we can learn how to celebrate the joy of others while our own hearts are pained, and to grieve for others’ losses while our own hearts are happy, we can actually do this thing called life together. The heart does not have to feel the happiness or sadness of the situation to properly celebrate or grieve. It can be done when even the opposite feeling is there.
How? By losing yourself for a moment and focusing entirely on those in front of you. It’s called humility, and selflessness.
Think of how we gather around and bless someone who’s just received great news, or crossed a major milestone in their life. Graduations, birthdays, wedding showers, baby showers. We surround the person with love, care, well wishes, gifts, and our presence.
What would happen if we did the same for those who have suffered loss? Maybe not right away, and definitely not overwhelmingly, but what if we, quietly and gently, with deep empathy, surrounded those who are suffering? We could enclose them in a blanket of love, care, support, hugs, even gifts, long after the funeral is over, long after people go on their way to live their lives and leave the grieving person to navigate their grief alone. We could throw a sorrow shower. Just like we throw showers for other major life events, we could recognize and acknowledge that heartbreak and loss are also major life events, and shower those we care about with love and comfort.
We must not be scared of sorrow, for it is nothing to be scared of. We turn away from it, because it is bitter. Yet, when we do so, we are turning away from a very real part of life. We are choosing to not acknowledge something that very much needs to be acknowledged. We are choosing to put our heads in the sand. And sooner or later, when we are faced with our own sorrow in life, we will wish we’d been there for our suffering friends.
Celebrating heartbreak, and mourning celebrations
We can do both. We must do both. For the sake of our hearts and the hearts of those we love.
We need to surround those who we know are suffering, especially in the times where their pain can be greater, like the infertile woman at a baby shower.
Likewise, no matter how hard it is, we need to rejoice with those who share good news and surround them with love and support, even when we are suffering heartbreak of our own. We need to celebrate in the midst of our mourning. Because this is how we do life with real people.
And when we do these things for the people we love, they’ll likely return the favor. Those of us who long for community and a big circle of friends who are family, must learn the art of walking alongside each other. This is what it looks like.
This is how we do life together. Life can be really, really beautiful when we walk with each other.