When sharing gets awkward: a time to weep and a time to laugh

Photo: Volodymyr Hryshchenko, Unsplash.

I come from a household of cele­bration. My family has always tried to find joy, even when situations are difficult. 

I recall funerals when we would be in the deepest grief, only to go to a family member’s home for a time of sharing stories, love and food. Our mourning would turn to laughter. The funeral would become a celebration of life. In our most difficult moments, we found joy and reasons to celebrate.

It is interesting to see what churches are willing to celebrate. Some celebrate a pastor’s ordination; others might see this as unbiblical or unimportant. Some celebrate their anniversary every year, others every 10 years or even less frequently. Some congregations like to clap when something good happens or to show appreciation; others consider applause inappropriate in church.

I especially notice these choices when churches have sharing times. These times are a sacred part of many of the Mennonite churches that I have been a part of. Sharing time is when the congregation speaks. These moments can be some of the most influential of our time together — announcements, reflections on the service, prayer requests and praises. 

Sharing can feel awkward, though, when prayer requests and praises come right after each other. Someone shares the worst moments of life, followed by someone else’s best moments. One person shares how good God has been. The next person is asking God to show up but has yet to feel God’s presence.

Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there is a time to weep and a time to laugh. When people share about their lives, we might wish those times weren’t so close together. 

The tension between celebration and lament is something God’s people are called to accept, acknowledge and handle with grace and sensitivity.

We see a lot of hardship within the biblical narrative. We also see stories of joy and celebration. We hold both together as we read the Bible. 

We cannot shut our eyes to the good things God has done. Yes, we should pray for healing, comfort for the afflicted, peace in a world of war, freedom for the oppressed. But we must not forget to celebrate God’s goodness. 

I realize that I say this from a position of privilege. Though I have faced hardships, I am fortunate to have the resources to bounce back from difficult times. Not everyone has the same opportunities. This can make it feel wrong to celebrate one person’s joy after lamenting another’s pain. 

But how can we follow God if we are unable to acknowledge God’s goodness? How can we be honest and vulnerable if we ignore the pain the people around us are facing? Both must be named. 

If we don’t make room for celebration, we fail to give people the affirmation they need and deserve. If we have no lament, we remain ignorant or appear insensitive to people’s hardships and struggles.

When I think about the tension between celebration and lament, my mind goes to the persecution of the disciples in Acts 5. Their healing and teaching has landed them in trouble with the council and elders. After being arrested, escaping from prison and getting arrested again, they find themselves defending their actions. The council wants to kill them, but one of the Pharisees, Gamaliel, convinces the others to let them live. Then they are beaten, threatened and eventually released.

The passage ends with the disciples rejoicing. They are celebrating their release. They are celebrating that their work is making an impact. They are celebrating even though they could face further persecution. They are celebrating even though they have suffered.

In any community, pain and joy coexist. It isn’t easy to live with this tension, but it’s a reality we have to face. Let’s not hesitate to lament one moment and celebrate the next.  

Jerrell Williams

Jerrell Williams is pastor of Shalom Mennonite Church in Newton, Kan. A 2015 graduate of Bethel College, he has a Read More

Sign up to our newsletter for important updates and news!