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Proverbs 25:20 (NLT)

Singing cheerful songs to a person with a heavy heart is like taking someone’s coat in cold weather or pouring vinegar in a wound.

With friends like this, who needs enemies? Today’s proverb addresses a common mistake that many of us make as we try to comfort a person with a hurting heart. When a friend or acquaintance or colleague is discouraged or facing a heavy burden or trial, we often move to “lighten the mood” or get their focus off of the pain and onto something more pleasant…but in doing so, we actually aren’t helping at all, but rather, only serving to make matters worse.

Mourning and discouragement and having a “heavy heart” are part of the natural ups and downs of life and God has told us that there is a time and place for them (Ecc. 3:4). In the classic C.S. Lewis book, The Screwtape Letters, the senior demon (Screwtape) writes to his nephew (Wormwood) about what he terms “undulation,” which is simply the series of “trough and peaks” that every human will encounter in life:

“To decide what the best use of it is, you must ask what use the Enemy wants to make of it, and then do the opposite. Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than the peaks; some of His special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.”

In this fictional yet appropriate example, the senior demon recognizes the special nature of difficult periods in a person’s life as a profound opportunity to experience the power of God, which is exactly what the demons don’t want for any human. Instead of “mourning with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15), we seek to shorten or do away with these seasons. Instead of simply comforting a hurting or discouraged friend, we work to cheer them up or at the very least…to change the subject. C.S. Lewis would probably say we might actually be aiding and abetting demonic activity, and there is a reasonable chance that he would be right.

God uses the pain and suffering and discouragement in our lives to build us up, strengthen us, and draw us closer to Him. We should not respond to such meaningful work in each other’s lives with jokes, light-hearted banter, or attempts to change the subject.

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