Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. Ecclesiastes 7, verse 3.
Why do you think this one says what it says? Was King Solomon a gloomy gus? Here he was, the wealthiest, wisest man in the world and he seems forlorn. Hundreds of wives (that may be one reason), decades on the throne (that is pretty tiring), and he let his wisdom slip, trading his faith in God for faith in Baal, the Ashteroths, and other middle eastern gods. Maybe that’s one reason.
Maybe there’s another reason. If you remember from yesterday, we’re doomed. Life is a one-way death trip and whether you’re Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, or Bill from the gas station down the street you’re going to die. You and I each owe a death for a life and there is nothing we can do to change that. If you’re terrified of dying, maybe that’s another reason why this says what it does.
Maybe, though, there’s yet one more reason. Think about it: when you’re feeling down, it feels good to commiserate. When you are feeling bad, it’s nice to know there’s someone in it with you. I’m sure a psychiatrist could tell me why this is, or a therapist could explain the psychological dynamic; I’ll bet there is one. Me, I’m not that bright, and it really doesn’t matter much to me at the moment why this is. I simply know that it is. When I’m feeling bad, I feel better if I know there’s someone who can empathize with me.
I suppose it’s because I’m usually pretty independent but even an independent guy wants to know there is someone who checks his six. As I get older, I find I like to talk more, too. That’s no surprise: I can mangle a syllable with the worst of them and I mangle quite a few. But I’m analytic by nature; a therapist once told me it was as if I over-revere the intellect. Guess I’m guilty as charged. Consequently, I like to be able to talk through things that bother me. So when something gets under my skin, it’s comforting to be with someone who listens and helps me unpack and process my issues.
Until recently (i.e. the last few years) I rarely considered that this could be a Godly thing. God wants us to support each other, to encourage each other. Mind you, if we’re commiserating, I don’t want you to solve my problems for me. I don’t want someone to fix me, or to change, mold, remake, reshape, or make me over. I can do those things on my own if I feel they need doing. Suggestions and feedback are always welcome, but there’s no quicker way to get my goat than to try to do something to me because you think it needs to be done.
But there’s another side of it too. The older I get, the more I value friends. I’ve had many friends, but only a very few who I really let in close. When I was growing up, we moved around frequently and I learned to not let people get too close, to not build close friendships because they were just going to end anyway. At the time, you don’t see how crazy that idea is. It takes maturity to realize that, to live life, we need other people and it’s a better way to open ourselves to share even if it’s only for a short time. I guess that’s why I’ve taken to more openly sharing now, trying to learn ways to avoid building the walls of discomfort that deceptively told me for so long to block out other people. These days, I find it comforting to be able to listen. It’s a rare and valuable comfort to be a comfort to someone. Listening is a gift. Simply listening and then praying with someone is a rare gift.
Christ had friends. He had twelve really good friends, and He was God on Earth. He who needed nobody other than Himself chose to love other people. He chose to share His life with people He called ‘friend.’ When they didn’t understand His words, He helped them. Even though all of them deserted Him later, He still chose it. When He felt weak, He stayed with them. When He felt lonely, He sought their company. Jesus knew this verse and knew it well – after all, He had inspired it – but He only got to live it out as we do when He joined the ranks of homo sapiens. There’s a Christian song that says “Who am I that you are mindful of me? I am a friend of God.” No greater comfort could exist when you’re feeling low.
It’s a rare gift that others have done for me when I’ve been down. There’s a fine line between being empathetic and crossing that line, and I consider it a blessing now to understand that, to be more cognizant of it. Being an understanding friend doesn’t mean you have to take responsibility for someone else’s issues, but you do get to be involved in helping them work out the solution. In doing this, you share and you both improve. These days, I’m finding that the best way to accomplish that with them is to listen and be a witness of faith first. I think that’s perhaps what Solomon was alluding to.