My worst course in college was German. Thank God I needed only four semesters to graduate. From my studies and experience, I am too well acquainted with the German word schadenfreude, which describes a malady of the spirit. Quite simply, it means finding joy at another’s misfortune or downfall. This is a pretty dismal spiritual condition. St. Paul enjoins us “to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep.” And yet it is all too easy to fall into the perversion of the spirit by which we take pleasure in another’s misfortune and become sad with another’s success. The name the Church has given that latter disposition of the soul is the deadly sin of envy.

I’ve been struggling with schadenfreude of late with the news that the January 6 Committee has referred to the Justice Department four criminal charges against former President Trump. Actually it is more than just “of late.”

It is right to want justice done — and to feel some sense of satisfaction that criminal acts may lead to some just penalty, but I’ve been enjoying schadenfreude a little overmuch. It is said that “confession is good for the soul but murder on the reputation.” Nevertheless, I confess that I indulge this malady of the spirit too much. Schadenfreude can be addictive. Sometimes I turn on the evening news just to obtain the rush of it. And the more I indulge it the more it craves a place in my soul.

So it was of some relief that I opened The New York Times recently to find an op-ed by Julia Fraga (November 25, 2022) and read about her cure for schadenfreude. It is freudenfreude! This is the joy in another’s good fortune! Thank you, St. Nick! I believe St. Paul would approve.

Fraga maintains that we can cultivate joy by showing an active interest in another’s happiness. Maybe freudenfreude can become a spiritual practice. It may even shove schadenfreude to the side for a moment.

So, on my list for Christmas this year is hope for a little less schadenfreude and a little more freudenfreude. Church may help. In the more informal worship at Grace Baptist Church, where I am the pastor, the congregation is small enough that on Sunday mornings we share celebrations and concerns. Almost every week I am surprised by the power of what is said and felt. There is a certain amount of oversharing, of course, about nasty gall bladders and the such. That comes with the habit of years of Wednesday Night Prayer Meetings. Yet we listen and, by the grace of God, we rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. It’s like a spiritual glue that helps hold us together. It’s like something healing from the inside.

Psychologists may call such spiritual practice the cultivation of empathy. We have a famine of that in our nation today. But such sharing of joys and sorrows is the Tie That Binds — and it is a healing balm to our spirits.

So away, schadenfreude, and come freudenfreude come!

H. Stephen Shoemaker is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Statesville.

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