The heart knows its own bitterness,
and no stranger shares its joy.
It’s never easy to know what it going on in the hearts and minds of others as we interact with them. Part of the wisdom of this proverb is to acknowledge that when someone is acting in a way that that we don’t understand, we have to acknowledge that there may be something that is going on beneath the surface, in their emotions, that is bringing forth that behavior.
Perhaps the person who was just rude to us in the store just lost someone dear to them. Perhaps the kids who are being loud and rambunctious in a restaurant are happy to finally be out of the house after an illness. Someone who cut you off in traffic is racing to the hospital to be with a loved one. Most of the time, you can’t really tell what is motivating behavior, and a graceful approach to strangers is often the best course of action.
Not that we should seek to remain aloof or stoic in our dealings with others. We shouldn’t seek to be strangers to those closest to us, or push others away who are experiencing times of strong emotions. Romans 12:15-17 tells us “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.”
We should seek to understand and share in the emotions of others when possible, and avoid jumping to conclusions or judgment in situations where we cannot. Jesus could see into the hearts of those who he was interacting with, an ability we do not possess. While we may have our intuitions and perceptions, and sometimes they turn out to be true. It is when they are not and we act on them, that we can end up doing real harm to ourselves and others.
One of the most telltale signs of self-righteous behavior is a tendency to completely ignore what others may be feeling or dealing with in a situation. One of the best ways to restore peace and harmony with others is to try as best we can to see things from their perspective, listen to their heart, and go from there. While strong emotions are not an excuse for negative behavior, understanding as best we can, the emotions driving that behavior and addressing them is an important part of achieving reconciliation with others.
The section in Romans 12 that talks about rejoicing with the joyful and mourning with those who mourn? It is immediately proceeded by this verse, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” And is followed up with “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[i] to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
We are called to rise above the name calling, behavior judging, assumption making pettiness to bless those who we are in conflict with. Trying to understand and share in their emotional state is an important part of following Jesus, and one we must practice if we are to become more like him.
We saw Jesus do this, recorded in the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) And why was Jesus weeping? Not just like one, manly tear, but expressing deep sorrow? Lazarus, his friend, and brother to Mary and Martha had died. Jesus knew he was there to raise him from this death. So why did Jesus weep if he knew he would perform this miracle as a sign of his authority?
“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “ (v33)
Jesus felt the pain and anguish of those around him. Death, especially of someone we are close to is a heartbreaking thing. Death, was not part of God’s plan for us, it should never happen, yet, due to our rebellion against God, it happens every day. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t break Jesus’ heart to see it happening or the pain it causes others when it does.
Some people shared Jesus’ heart that day,
“See how he loved him!”
Others however, didn’t care to share Jesus’ heart for the situation, and jumped right into judgement,
“But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’”(v36-37)
So while we cannot have the insights into the human heart that Jesus does, we can seek to follow his example of empathy and grace. As proverbs tells us, the interworking’s of the human heart can be very mysterious. But we are called to share in the trials and joys of others, even those with whom we disagree or are in conflict with.
Prayer for Today
Father, to me, the emotions of others can be a huge mystery. But everyone’s heart is known to you. Jesus, help in in following your example to share in the lives of others in a deep and meaningful way. It is a risky choice, and one that cost you everything. Give me the courage I need to listen to the hearts of others, and to share in their struggles and triumphs. When I am in conflict with someone, give me the patience and insight I need to restore peace. By your Holy Spirit guide me in ways that are not just helpful to me, but build others up. Amen.