Romans 7:15. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
Life is complex, often the same experience will hold both good and bad. For example, I am grateful for our country’s awakening to injustice in our police force and I’m outraged by the death of George Floyd. Maturity is engaging in all of reality, the good, the bad and the ugly. When we engage all of life, we are able to maturely hold the complexity of our experience and the variety of the experience in others. The world desperately needs mature people who are able to embrace the deeply complex nature of life and the multilayered experience of others.
Too often I see people who are able to rejoice with others but unable to mourn on the other extreme. There are those adept at mourning with others but they are inhibited when it comes to rejoicing and celebrating the goodness of life. Maturity, as Paul invites us, is being able to engage all of reality with our emotions.
There are two ends of the spectrum of immaturity. On one end, there are those who can only look at the bright side of life; everything for them has a silver lining. Brene Brown helped me to see that these are the “at least” people. They can never just be with you in your negative reality – “I had a miscarriage”, “at least you know you can get pregnant”. John is doing poorly in school, “at least Mary is doing well” (see Empathy vs Sympathy YouTube). For these people, the only thing that is real is the positive side of life. Everything has to have a positive spin.
On the other side of the immature spectrum are those that can only see the negative side of reality. I confess that if I’m not mindful, this is the side I fall into. Our group seems to only see and give relational space to the negative realities of life. A friend and member of one of my Townsend Leadership Groups said it best, “When I was a coach, my team had this amazing run over the course of four seasons with 124 wins and 2 losses.” Do you know what I remember most from that season? The two losses. On this side of the immature spectrum, we easily embrace losses, failures, and disappointments. The positive side of life – wins, success, joy – seem to not be as real or hold has much weight as the struggles and difficulties of life.
It turns out our brain is actually wired to pay greater attention to dangers and threats than to notice the good. We have, in our neurological wiring, what researchers have termed a “Negativity Bias.” Negativity Bias is our tendency not only to register negative stimuli more readily but also to dwell on these events. This is actually a gift from God because in order to survive in the world outside of the Garden of Eden we need to be alert and attentive to all the things that could harm us. So, it is natural to be attuned to negative reality.
In order to navigate the negative realities of life, God gave us grief. Grief is the process of digesting the pain, hurts, tragedies of life. When we eat, our bodies have a process to metabolize the food taken in. Specially designed enzymes work into the food, breaking it down into a form so that our bodies can absorb the nutrients. Some things we take in have no nutritional value; they too are broken down in an efficient way and eliminated from our system. I rarely think about my digestive system until something goes wrong. When my body can’t digest something I’ve eaten, it is debilitating. I shut down and all of life is limited because of my inability to process the food. In the same way, events, hurts, pain, tragedy can get stuck in us like that undigested food and shut us down, limiting our ability to function.
When I am able to engage in a healthy process of grief, I can, over time, metabolize painful experiences. The painful experience becomes an important part of my story. I become more mature, more human, more humble, much more sensitive to others and grateful for the good things I have. There is a way in which the painful experiences of my life provide nutrients to my soul that make me a better husband, father, friend, and follower of Christ.
What about the positive experiences of life? God has similarly given us a healthy process to digest the positives experiences of life. That process is celebration. When I celebrate, I bask in the goodness of God, the goodness of life, birth, victory, beauty, joy and love. When we fail to celebrate the goods that come our way, we experience similar fruits from when we fail to grieve well. We are prone to burn out, resentment, depression, anxiety. It makes sense that if we only give weight to the negative side of life, we will experience life as only disappointing.
The old testament is filled with calls to celebration.
Deuteronomy 14:22-27 commands, “Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks…eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice.”
A tithe for the temple and a tithe for celebration. God knows that left to our own devices, we will get stuck in our negativity bias and either have a hyper focus on the positive and become an “at least” Pollyanna person or get stuck in negativity and get swallowed by all that is wrong in the world. God calls us to lavishly celebrate and enjoy Him.
When we celebrate, we are protesting against our natural tendencies to get lost in fear and anxiety. When we celebrate, you assault the gates of the hell we create through our scarcity mindset and our over focus on all that is wrong in the world.
Life is filled with good and bad. For the bad, we must enter into the well and grieve. For the good we must jump for joy on the trampoline to celebrate. The two movements of a mature person are to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. ‘