My husband and I host a weekly small group comprised of eight married couples who are all under the age of 35. At the close of each of our meetings, the girls and guys divide to share more intimately and to pray for one another specifically. This past spring, our demographic made for some complicated and sometimes uncomfortable prayer request times. Our semester’s praises and prayer requests were all over the map, especially in the realm of fertility and childbearing, and we rarely left our time together without the shedding of tears.
There were prayers for peace and safety for a first time mom in anticipation of labor; for comfort after learning that an unborn baby’s heart had stopped beating; for steadfastness in the midst of grief and anxiety after multiple miscarriages; for protection and wisdom when an anatomy scan revealed abnormalities; of thanksgiving in sharing the news of a surprise pregnancy; for preparedness as the due date for a second child approached; and steadiness of heart and discernment after a third failed round of IVF. The most difficult weeks were the ones in which someone would share a great joy on the same night that someone divulged deep sadness or anxiety. And that wasn’t a rare occasion.
At times I feared that our group would not survive because of the fact that we were walking triggers for one another. But instead, God caused this community to abound in love for each other. I witnessed the beauty that emerges in the tension when weeping and rejoicing are happening all at once. But this did not come naturally for any of us. We fought feelings of guilt in weeping and feelings of contempt in our rejoicing.
In the twelfth chapter of Romans, the apostle Paul uses the analogy of a body to demonstrate how we are to regard ourselves and other believers. Although his description of us as one body is intended to serve as an illustration for our spiritual giftedness and varied roles, his council to think of ourselves “as members of one another” in verse 5, offers us a helpful framework for working through this tension. In fact, tucked within this very chapter is where we find that exhortation to “weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.” It seems so simple. So easy. But when you’re telling a longing friend about your pregnancy or watching the belly of a sister grow while mourning your empty womb, it reveals itself to be quite a challenge. Nothing about it is natural.
Does this tension sound familiar? Maybe you are struggling with guilt because you feel as if your pregnant belly or your children are salt in the wound of your sister. Maybe you are really fighting contempt or bitterness because you long for or feel as if you deserve what your sister seems to take for granted. Regardless of which side of this command we land on, we can doubtless agree that the problem of self and the desire for our own comfort gets in the way of our ability to love one another well. So what do we do? How do we wade through the awkward tension and love our sister(s) well?
Members of Christ’s Body
In order to embrace the lot we have been given and to correctly respond to the position of others, our membership within this body must be viewed in terms of our connectedness to the head, who is Jesus Christ.
Just as the brain informs the body parts of their function and clearly defines their roles, Christ provides us with our context in which to view our gifts and the commands for how to relate to one another.
We know that just as he assigns our roles, he is sovereign over our experiences. We can trust that whether our families are growing or we are in seasons of waiting or mourning, there is nothing that happens outside of his sovereign will, and that he is working all things for our good.ⁱ Viewing our circumstances in the context of his sovereign goodness relieves us of both our guilt and our contempt as we remember that we are no more in control of our own lives or wombs than our rejoicing or grieving sister. We can let ourselves and each other off the hook and trust that he knows what he’s doing. When we long for his glory more than the dreams we have for ourselves or for our neighbors, our desires become less relevant. When we understand his glory to be our ultimate good, our own agendas shrink, giving way to a genuine and selfless love for others.
Beyond context, Christ’s headship also supplies the direction and commands for how to operate in community when things seem tricky. His word gives us instructions about hospitality, haughty thinking, bearing one another’s burdens, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. But beyond simply directing us with the commands, he supplies the Holy Spirit to empower us with the wisdom, strength, and humility to love our sisters well when the task far exceeds our capacity or our know-how. He promises that if we abide in him, he will supply all that we need for life and godliness, even in the context of awkward encounters with hurting or celebrating sisters.
Members of One Another
But we are not just individual arms or legs connected to that head. There’s a reason we are called a body. We need one another. In this particular situation in which the tension of weeping and rejoicing is painful and awkward, we must resist the temptation to avoid each other. We must continue to meet together, reminding each other of God’s goodness, praying for one another, making practical gestures to celebrate with or mourn with each other, confessing when we don’t know what to do or say, and repenting of our own selfishness, animosity, and love of comfort.
In light of what we know of God’s character and sovereign control, just as we can embrace our differences in varied giftedness, we can experience each other’s joys and sorrows not as measures of what we do or do not have, but as members of one another, craving the glory of God and the building up of the body more than our own comfort.
We can weep together, just as Jesus wept at Lazarus’ tomb because our broken bodies and experiences of death are not God’s design. But we can also rejoice together as God sustains and renews life because these are occasions to see him at work, affirming that death does not have the final say and that he is indeed making all things new. May that reality, our ultimate shared hope, protect us from the lesser hopes that would prevent us from weeping and rejoicing as members of one another.
Find more practical and specific ways to love friends who are walking through sorrow related to fertility and loss here.
ⁱEph 1:11; Rom 8:28