“Show true Sympathy (Prov 27,5)”

by John Wijngaards, GEMS OF WISDOM Series in the New Leader, 11 December 1975; in Telugu Bharata Mithram, 9 November 1975

“Singing Songs to a Sorrowing Heart Is Like Pouring Vinegar into a Wound” (Prov. 25,20).

Every person knows those moments in life when grief and sadness overwhelm us. It may be that we lost a dear friend or a relative. It may be that we failed in some enterprise on which we had sent high hopes. It may be that we are hurt and rejected, alone and misunderstood. Whether we weep openly or suppress our tears, we will feel the bitterness of sorrow in our heart.

If at such a moment someone else intrudes upon us and addresses us with jokes and laughter and “the singing of songs”, it jars on our mood. The lack of understanding may make us feel our own sadness even more. The unwanted gaiety will cause us pain, just as the acid of vinegar poured on an open wound.

People who are sad, lonely or depressed need the support of others who can “feel with them” (sympathein). The very fact that someone else can enter into our own frame of mind and can understand our sorrow, is a cause of great relief. It creates a bond of deep friendship. It establishes communication on the deepest human level. Having sympathy means that another person is so important to us that we can identify ourselves with his inner feelings.

Jesus Himself gave us an example ot such sympathy. When He met the funeral procession outside the gate of N ain He “felt sorry” for the

poor widow who had lost her only son, even though He had never met her before (Lk. 7, 13). The priest Heli showed sympathy with Hannah when he comforted her in the sanctuary of Shiloh ( 1 Sam. 1, 17). Paul tells us that we should “rejoice with those who rejoice and be sad with those in sorrow” (Rom, 12, 15) . True brotherhood and Christian kindness require that we can show true sympathy to those in sorrow.

Showing sympathy does not necessarily mean that we should speak much. In fact, often our sympathy will be more genuine and consoling if we show it in our whole attitude rather than in what we say. The Jews who were taken into exile expressed their sorrow over Jerusalem by hanging their harps on trees and by refusing to sing songs (Ps. 137, 1-3). When Jesus approached the tomb of Lazarus, “he wept” (In 11, 36). It is not those who speak most that comfort best.

In the last analysis the sorrow in our heart is a very personal thing. It cannot be fully shared by others. “The heart knows its own grief best. Nor can a stranger share its joy” (Prov. 14, 10). Human sadness makes us feel the existential anguish that lies at the root of our very being. It cannot be resolved by talk. It must be tasted, borne and overcome. It can be overcome if we know we are not alone, that we have the sympathy of true friends.