Wedding invitations. Christmas card photos of smiling, intact families and lots of healthy grandchildren. Baby announcements. Shower invitations.
You may not think of opening your mail as a prime time for temptation, but it can be if your life has not panned out exactly the way you hoped it would. When confronted with all the evidence of others' blessings, it can be hard to obey God's command to "rejoice with those who rejoice" (Rom. 12:15).
At face value, this should be an easy command to obey. Who doesn't want to be happy for other people? But when year after year has brought disappointment after disappointment, bitterness is the natural reaction to another person's joy. That's why God gave us the command, because rejoicing in another person's joy doesn't always come to us naturally. It's a step of obedience that must be taken by faith.
So how do we get from resentment to rejoicing with those who rejoice?
Remember What You Deserve
For years, my struggle for joy centered on my singleness. I saw friend after friend pair off, but I didn't. My mother's friends' daughters got married, but I was still single. It was very tempting to compare my life to theirs and count the reasons I was more deserving of marriage than all the happy brides whose shower invitations I received.
Now, God has given me the unexpected blessing of marriage in my mid-thirties. I've been happily married for over a year. But I don't have a baby, and I would like one. Meanwhile, I see a friend announce her fifth (or is it sixth?) baby on Facebook. Others have to rearrange their lives around "surprise" pregnancies. But thus far my womb is empty. It is so tempting to ruminate on reasons why I'm more deserving of a baby than they are.
This kind of thinking is deadly to my soul. As soon as I start living with an entitlement mindset, I've forgotten that I deserve nothing from God. What I deserve is eternal condemnation, but Christ's payment on my behalf has saved me from God's wrath. Thanks be to God!
It's true that your friends and acquaintances don't deserve God's blessings, but neither do you. If God gave health, stable jobs, marriage, happy children, and grandchildren only to those who deserved them, none of us would have any of those things. We don't deserve them.
What's more, when I fixate on whether I merit blessings, I start to believe that God is withholding what I want because I don't deserve it. If I'm always critically judging others in my mind, I start to assume that's how God thinks of me. I lose sight of the fact that He is a compassionate Father who longs to bless me, not because I deserve it, but because He has made me His daughter.
Believe in the Body of Christ
The apostle Paul gives a compelling reason for rejoicing on behalf of other Christians: We are members of the same body. "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (1 Cor. 12:26). If we are parts of the same body, then one Christian's blessing is your blessing. What's good for the foot is good for the leg and the hand and the eyes.
Blessings are not a zero-sum game. There's not a limited amount that God can bestow. If one part of the Body gets a blessing, it has not stolen it from another part of the Body or prevented that member from receiving the same good blessing in God's perfect timing.
Anything that enriches the Body of Christ enriches all of its members. If my husband's parents give him a gift, they are giving it to me as well because we are a married couple and all that he owns is mine. Likewise, when one part of the Body is blessed, every member benefits. This is what the Scriptures tell us over and over. Will you believe it?
Expect to Receive Joy
Even in view of the fact that we are members of the same Body, you still may not feel like rejoicing for someone else. That's okay. You can walk by faith and choose to obey. And even if you don't initially feel gladness in your heart, you can expect joy to be the end result.
I have a relative who has no living children of her own. She experienced miscarriage, sorrow, and divorce. Meanwhile, her peers had children, and those children have grown up and had children of their own. She could have retreated into bitterness and focused on all that she did not have. Instead, she has loved other people's children and grandchildren as her own. I count myself as one of those who have been claimed by her. I believe that when God brought me a husband, she was as happy for me as she would have been for a daughter of her own. Her choice to rejoice in my blessing has brought her joy and kept bitterness far away.
Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). You may be the one throwing the shower rather than the one being showered. You may be bringing the meals instead of receiving them. It is harder to give than to receive. But we can expect Jesus' words to be proven true and that giving will lead to blessedness—another word for happiness. Let's believe His promises, obey His commands, and enter into the joy of those who rejoice!
Do you struggle to rejoice for others? Is there a false belief behind that struggle, such as God gives blessings to those who are most deserving? What step of faith could you take today in order to rejoice with those who rejoice?