I sat across from my friend, with tears in my eyes, and offered her the same council I had received so many years before: “Take things slowly and understand that being around other pregnant moms may bring up difficult emotions; don’t feel guilty about declining some baby shower invitations for a little while if they’re too painful for you to attend; you are grieving and it is okay to acknowledge that grief.”
I can still remember when this advice was first given to me. I had just miscarried our first baby and the tender words came from a woman who had walked the road of miscarriage multiple times before. She sought to extend a hand of grace to me as I navigated my way through the murky waters of grief. She was the church body to me, assuring me that the pain I felt would be understood and that others wouldn’t expect me to act as though nothing had happened.
Now it was my turn to share this with a sister in Christ—to remind her that her church body would be weeping with her, seeking to be sensitive to her loss. Just as we had rejoiced at the good news of new life within her, so too would we would weep over the death of that life. I sat, stomach swollen with the baby I am carrying, desperately trying to enter into her present pain, to assure her that she was not alone.
A few weeks later, I received an email from her: “I would like to throw a baby shower for you, remind me of your due date again?” I was overwhelmed by her kindness, but also concerned for her pain. Had I not just advised this woman to stay away from baby showers altogether? And now she is offering to throw a shower for me—to decorate her home with the sweet reminders of new life, to celebrate our baby when her own precious child had so recently been taken from her! After some prodding, she assured me that she was truly excited to serve me in this way. She promised that it would not be too painful for her.
As I thought about her kind offer, I was reminded of Paul’s exhortation to the Romans to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and “weep with those who weep.” (Rom. 12:15) We find him expressing this same idea in his first letter to the Corinthians: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Cor. 12:26) My friend’s willingness to rejoice with me, even in the midst of her own suffering was a beautiful picture of unity within the body of Christ.
This type of unity and self-sacrifice does not come naturally. A single woman who’s been longing for marriage doesn’t naturally celebrate with genuine delight as her newly engaged friend shows off her ring. A man who’s been relatively untouched by sorrow doesn’t find it easy to enter into his friend’s grief when his wife dies of cancer. Rather, as sin-prone beings, we tend to find ourselves too overcome by our own pain or too intoxicated by our own joys to tend to the needs of others. American culture itself is built on individualism and self-sufficiency. We are encouraged to take care of ourselves and taught that reaching out for help when we need it is a sign of weakness. By contrast, the unity found within the body of Christ is what makes it so beautifully attractive to a world that is craving genuine community.
Paul’s encouragement to enter into one another’s pains and joys found in 1 Corinthians is couched within his explanation of each person within the church being an integral member of the same body. Each of our gifts, we are told, are meant to benefit the body as a whole rather than elevate one member above another. Though Paul encouraged the Corinthians to seek the higher gifts such as speaking in tongues and prophesy and healing, he challenged them to accept God’s unique gifting of each individual with thanksgiving, for “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them as he chose.” (1 Cor. 12:18) We must trust our infinitely wise and good God with the way he designs his church, right down to the last member. There’s purpose to each person’s gifts (whether the gifts be flashy or hardly visible) as we serve the needs of the body as a whole. Paul emphasizes the one-ness of the church and thus combats our natural tendency to seek isolation and self-promotion.
Thus, Paul is able to assert that each member should also be compelled to care for the pains and joys of other members of the body. In other words: my sister in Christ’s pain in miscarriage is my pain, just as my joy in pregnancy is her joy—for we are one in Christ.
How beautiful it is when the body of Christ “functions properly” in this way as Paul says in Ephesians 4! It is a reflection of the Savior himself, who is holding together his church and equipping it to grow up in love. It is a testimony to the one Spirit who lives within every member of the body. We must battle our natural tendencies of isolation, self-preservation, and self-focus, instead seeking to live in the unity of spirit Christ has made possible through the cross. We must seek to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.
Are there members of the body who you have neglected? Have you shied away from entering into a sister’s grief or celebrating her joy? Pray for the humility and love needed to treat her in the way you are called to: as if she were a member of your own body!
“…for we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:5 ESV)