One Person’s Joy/Pain

i like facebook, for the most part.  it’s allowed me, as an incredibly inconsiderate male, to actually keep in touch with people that i would never think of keeping in touch with otherwise.  best of all, i can see when it is someone’s birthday.  but i can also have seen how facebook can hurt people, and drive wedges between them, in inadvertent ways.  and i’ve seen that especially when people post good news on their feeds, because believe it or not, there are many moments that when we share things that bring us great joy, others actually experience great pain instead.

for example: for most of our friends, the announcement of carol’s pregnancy brings nothing but joy and happiness…and maybe a few questions as to how we are going to take care of four kids, questions that make me scratch my head as well.  but for some people, i know that this announcement brings very mixed emotions, particularly for those who have not been able to have children of their own.  for people who are childless, announcements about pregnancy and pictures of little babies do not bring unadulterated joy, but often, pain, and sadness, and longing.  i have been told by couples who can’t have children that they have had to de-friend people on facebook because the images of their kids and the happiness that they share with them are just too painful to bear.  and so i have become especially sensitive to their feelings, even in the midst of my own joy.

but this dynamic is not limited just to this situation, not by a long shot.  many parents will post pictures and videos that showcase how creative and smart and well-behaved their children are, making the rest of us wonder why our children aren’t that creative, smart, or well behaved, if that means we aren’t doing something right as parents.  couples will post pictures on facebook of traveling with their spouse, giving each other a hug over a romantic overlook, status updates about how they have the best wife/husband in the world.  but believe it or not, those moments can also bring pain to those who have not found a person to share their lives with, and especially for those who thought they had found that person, only to have their heart broken.  for those people, pictures like that can initiate crying jags that last hours on end.  there are other people who are desperately lonely, not just for a mate, but for friends, for family, for any kind of community.  and so hearing about people hanging out and having great fun and building close relationships with one another is painful, because it reminds them of what they themselves lack.

pastors are not immune either, because i often feel the same way when pastors talk about how awesome and huge and exciting their church is, on twitter, on facebook, on video, on their blogs.  i’m truly glad that they are doing well, that God is moving through them and in their community, but sometimes, as a pastor of a small, struggling, suffering church, their joy is a little hard for me to handle.  i’m happy for them, but at the same time, wish they would just give it a rest sometimes.  actually, it’s worse than that.  their fruitfulness in ministry can sometimes make me wonder what’s wrong with me, if i am a lesser pastor.

you see?… one person’s joy is another person’s pain.  “joy/pain”.

i guess the question is how do we, as friends and family, respond in such situations?  do we curtail and hide our own joy to spare the feelings of those who might be hurt, or offended?  that seems unnatural, and i doubt that even those who would be offended would want that.  should those who are in pain hide and cover their feelings, so as not to rain on anyone else’s parade?  perhaps – that is the asian way of doing things. but there is something that seems altogether hurtful and destructive about hiding those emotions.  so it seems like we are stuck in a social quandary that has no real solution, only made 100 times worse by facebook.

perhaps the best way for us to deal with situations like this is through the development empathy, that ability to find joy in the joy of others, and experience pain in the same way.  empathy does not put a cap to our happiness and joy, but instead, gives it awareness.  no longer do we celebrate our lives while being blissfully unaware that others do not share the same happiness.  instead, we can celebrate all the more deeply because we know that our blessings are not shared by others – we are happy, and thankful, at the same time.  empathy also puts a floor to our loss and pain, because even though we personally may not be able to experience that particular joy firsthand, we can still rejoice because at least we can experience it secondhand, which is still better than experiencing it not at all.  so we do not simply mourn, but are comforted by the joys of others too.

paul writes in romans 12: “rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.”  and the method through which paul thinks such a mentality is possible is through love, through being devoted to one another in familial love, honoring one another above ourselves, avoiding self centeredness, avoiding conceit (verses 9-16).  and so true empathy begins with the realization that life is not just about “me”, but also about “us”, and the corporate experiences that we share with and through one another.  when someone is sad or hurt, be sad with them, because their sadness is yours.  and when someone is happy, be genuinely happy with them and for them, because their happiness is your own as well.

now, may we all facebook happily with a clear conscience!

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12 thoughts on “One Person’s Joy/Pain

  1. social media = double-edged sword. i hope i’m wielding it in a way that multiplies joy and divides sorrow; that when we share joy, we collectively rejoice and when we share sorrow, we join to bear it together, lessening the burden with those who mourn (like you wrote, but better). i hope that social media increasingly become for me a tool of compassion and not comparison.

    and hopefully, i’ll be better as using it to facilitate offline connecting (i haven’t met jonathan, which i must remedy)!

    1. you SHOULD stop by to see jonathan. he’s now five years old and going to kindergarden…just kidding. but if you don’t hurry up, he will be!

  2. I understand what you’re saying, but also think that if somebody allows pain at not being able to have what somebody else has to end a friendship, I’d say that friendship was never really genuine in the first place.

    Right around the time my wife had a miscarriage this summer, another close friend of mine gave birth. It was sad to be reminded of what we had lost, but in no way did I let that diminish my friendship, or even my joy at seeing pictures of their child. To do so would have not been fair to them, and would also have called into question the history of our friendship as a whole.

    More important than looking at what they have and we don’t yet have is remembering the emotional support they provided to us when we lost our child. Our sadness was their sadness, just as their joy is our joy.

    1. i agree – i think it is a little strange to say that we have “friends” whose happiness we can’t share in completely. perhaps that is one of the byproducts of allowing facebook to define “friends” for us.

      but i would also say that not everyone responds to the loss of a child in the same way…particularly women. for some women, the loss of a child brings them into a very painful and illogical place, where despite their desire to feel differently about their situation and the joy of others, they simply cannot bring themselves to do so. and in that situation, it’s not helpful to point out the inconsistency in their response – they know it, but can’t control it.

      in the end, empathy is not understanding and also agreeing with how someone feels – sometimes the latter may not apply.

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Pastor Peter! Your posts always have wise thoughts for me to ponder and help me reflect. You have definitely been blessed by God through your wife and children and through your church and the big C – Church. Congratulations and I will keep you in my prayers! =)

  4. I think it is natural for us to spread what gives us joy. What we miss is the ability to nuance and tailor the news to the person to whom we are sharing it and, with it, we miss the ability to show people that we see, hear and understand their pain. “We’re having a baby” is received much differently if it is shouted with a huge smile to a friend or said quietly over a cup of coffee.

    1. totally true. more annoying because on facebook, the news and pictures pop up unsolicited, almost like junk mail or a pop-up, totally contradicting the point of why people share such news! and yet, there are people, even without facebook, who gush about their joy without any empathy, or else receive the news without empathy either. so i guess facebook makes it easier for us to be inconsiderate, but isn’t the root cause…

  5. I also happened to view this blog from your LinkedIn page, and was beyond moved by its honesty. What a blessing of a blog entry.

Comments are closed.

One Person’s Joy/Pain

i like facebook, for the most part.  it’s allowed me, as an incredibly inconsiderate male, to actually keep in touch with people that i would never think of keeping in touch with otherwise.  best of all, i can see when it is someone’s birthday.  but i can also have seen how facebook can hurt people, and drive wedges between them, in inadvertent ways. Continue reading “One Person’s Joy/Pain”

12 thoughts on “One Person’s Joy/Pain

  1. social media = double-edged sword. i hope i’m wielding it in a way that multiplies joy and divides sorrow; that when we share joy, we collectively rejoice and when we share sorrow, we join to bear it together, lessening the burden with those who mourn (like you wrote, but better). i hope that social media increasingly become for me a tool of compassion and not comparison.

    and hopefully, i’ll be better as using it to facilitate offline connecting (i haven’t met jonathan, which i must remedy)!

    1. you SHOULD stop by to see jonathan. he’s now five years old and going to kindergarden…just kidding. but if you don’t hurry up, he will be!

  2. I understand what you’re saying, but also think that if somebody allows pain at not being able to have what somebody else has to end a friendship, I’d say that friendship was never really genuine in the first place.

    Right around the time my wife had a miscarriage this summer, another close friend of mine gave birth. It was sad to be reminded of what we had lost, but in no way did I let that diminish my friendship, or even my joy at seeing pictures of their child. To do so would have not been fair to them, and would also have called into question the history of our friendship as a whole.

    More important than looking at what they have and we don’t yet have is remembering the emotional support they provided to us when we lost our child. Our sadness was their sadness, just as their joy is our joy.

    1. i agree – i think it is a little strange to say that we have “friends” whose happiness we can’t share in completely. perhaps that is one of the byproducts of allowing facebook to define “friends” for us.

      but i would also say that not everyone responds to the loss of a child in the same way…particularly women. for some women, the loss of a child brings them into a very painful and illogical place, where despite their desire to feel differently about their situation and the joy of others, they simply cannot bring themselves to do so. and in that situation, it’s not helpful to point out the inconsistency in their response – they know it, but can’t control it.

      in the end, empathy is not understanding and also agreeing with how someone feels – sometimes the latter may not apply.

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Pastor Peter! Your posts always have wise thoughts for me to ponder and help me reflect. You have definitely been blessed by God through your wife and children and through your church and the big C – Church. Congratulations and I will keep you in my prayers! =)

  4. I think it is natural for us to spread what gives us joy. What we miss is the ability to nuance and tailor the news to the person to whom we are sharing it and, with it, we miss the ability to show people that we see, hear and understand their pain. “We’re having a baby” is received much differently if it is shouted with a huge smile to a friend or said quietly over a cup of coffee.

    1. totally true. more annoying because on facebook, the news and pictures pop up unsolicited, almost like junk mail or a pop-up, totally contradicting the point of why people share such news! and yet, there are people, even without facebook, who gush about their joy without any empathy, or else receive the news without empathy either. so i guess facebook makes it easier for us to be inconsiderate, but isn’t the root cause…

  5. I also happened to view this blog from your LinkedIn page, and was beyond moved by its honesty. What a blessing of a blog entry.

Comments are closed.