“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12:15
I watched a tennis match recently that taught me an important lesson about rejoicing and mourning; sometimes they share the same stage. Big-serving American John Isner (6’9”) overcame Frenchman Julien Benneteau in the finals of the 2011 Winston-Salem Open.
Isner, the 26 year old who turned pro in 2007, was the higher ranked player and heavily favored. He grew up in North Carolina just 25 minutes from the stadium, site so his family and friends were there to cheer him on. In fact, he stayed with his folks all week, and drove daily to the courts for his matches. It was a classic hometown drama especially since it was also the inaugural tournament. Then there was the underdog.
Benneteau, the 29 year old who turned pro in 2000, has been hampered by injuries most of his career. He qualified for the tournament, meaning that final match was his 8th match in 7 days. Benneteau’s semi-final match had finished very late and involved three long, grueling sets. He was very tired. Adding to the drama, Benneteau was 0-5 in finals. He had been in five finals but had lost all. At 29 his chances of winning were becoming slight.
Surprisingly, Benneteau won the first set. Isner won the second set, and drawing energy from the crowd, won the third set, the match and the tournament. It seemed as though the stadium rejoiced with the hometown boy.
But there beside him was Benneteau.
While Isner paraded before his friends, Benneteau sat with his face buried in a towel weeping unreservedly. I was torn between rejoicing with Isner and mourned with Benneteau.
I had always taken Paul’s admonition “rejoice with those who rejoice” and “mourn with those who mourn” as relating to separate events—not the same event (Romans 12:15). That match called for a tremendous amount of heart, a heart big enough to contain sorrow and joy. Inseparable from Isner’s moment of joy and triumph, was Benneteau moment of sorrow and loss. To savor the one was to taste the other.
Intricately tied to joy is sorrow, and that union is called life. There is no living in this fallen world without experiencing disappointment and loss. The desire for victory without the taint of loss strikes me as an immature desire. The desire for joy without pain is fantasy.
At the end of that match I was able to see both men in the greater scheme of human experience. I saw one waving and smiling, and the other sitting and weeping. They were both part of the same human story on the same stage, one the victor, one the vanquished. I was able to rejoice with the winner, because that was proper. But I was also able to mourn with the 29 feeling who may never get another chance win a title.
Spiritually I gained a little insight into how to cope with setbacks—rejoice and mourn—as needed. Even in defeat I have “fixed” before me a joy that nothing on earth can temper. If I fix my eyes on Jesus, “the author and perfecter of [my] faith,” then there is victory in defeat. I perceive not only the “cross” and “shame” found there, but also the “joy set before” me (Hebrews 12:2).
Even Benneteau, given time, was able to take in the moment, and rejoice. “I’m disappointed losing in the final. For me it’s tough,” said Benneteau, “but if I had been told last Saturday morning when I played my first-round qualifying, that I would make the final, I would have signed up for it for sure. So I have to take the positives from the week.”
Had I been told that at the end of my trials I would be loved so well by the God of the universe—“I [too] would have signed up for it for sure.” We are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. But we walk with the Good Shepherd, and He is leading us to still waters. He is taking us onward toward that green pasture, and there He will wipe our tears away (Revelation 22:5). “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” and the Lord will be our light (Revelation 21:4; 22:5). “He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).
 ATP Staff, Isner Beats Benneteau to Win Title (Winston-Salem, NC: Association of Tennis Professionals, 2011).