The Christian Act of Offering Congratulations 

I read an article today which reminded me why I seldom read articles in magazines (print or online). It tends to inspire the impulse to put my head through a brick wall. Legitimized idiocy.

Here is that perfect example, this time courtesy of Redbook. (I followed the link to the original article; I wouldn’t normally read something like Redbook.) It’s entitled, Sorry, I’m Not Going to Congratulate You On Your Engagement. An excerpt is below:

Let it be known that I am thrilled for all of the newly-engaged. In most cases, I know (and like!) my friends’ new fiancés, I’ve been expecting the news, and I’m pumped to party at their wedding. But I absolutely hate wishing people congratulations on their engagement, and I won’t do it anymore.

By definition “congratulations” means an expression of praise for an achievement. Congrats on your new job! Congrats on buying that house! Congrats on watching the entire backlog of Gilmore Girls in one weekend so that you can be culturally relevant this fall! Congratulations, to me, implies that you’ve achieved something others haven’t, something you’ve worked hard for and earned.

Engagements aren’t an achievement. Engagements are a grown-up decision made between two people who have discussed their relationship and decided that, get, they’re clearly better together than not, so why not make it official? That’s a wonderful moment that deserves celebrating, but calling it an achievement implies that you’ve succeeded at something  (i.e. landing a husband) you otherwise may not have had the drive to go forth and accomplish. Then not being engaged must mean you haven’t achieved something, and, for the sake of this argument, that you’re the marital equivalent of someone sleeping in their parents’ basement at 30. It implies failure on the part of the unengaged and that’s uncool.

It only gets worse from there, but I will spare you.

Did anyone notice something interesting here? Her entire frothing “argument” is based on an incorrect definition of the word “congratulations.” 

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

congratulation (n.) 

mid-15c., from Latin congratulationem (nominative congratulatio), noun of action from past participle stem of congratulari “wish joy,” from com- “together, with” (see com-) + gratulari “give thanks, show joy,” from gratus “agreeable” (see grace (n.)).

Clearly the etymology of congratulations reveals it means “to show joy with” or “to rejoice with.” There is nothing in the origin of the word that indicates praise. While congratulations are typically offered on the completion or recognition of an achievement, the well-wisher is expressing joy to the congratulated, not saying “good job”, and certainly not saying “hey, take notice all of you single losers out there.”

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” Does this sound familiar? It’s from the Book of Romans, 12:15. We are commanded to rejoice with those who rejoice. We are not commanded to withhold our congratulations lest someone get their feelings hurt through an imagined negative comparison*. That’s just plain silly. The current popular culture in this country is obsessed with making sure no one has his or her feelings hurt, making sure everyone knows he or she is not better than the rest, and holding contests to see who can win the coveted “most marginalized/persecuted/scorned victim award.” (Christians need not apply.)

So be counter-cultural. Wish each other joy! Rejoice! And offer prayers that the marriage will be blessed and fruitful. 

*It would appear that this is an issue close to the author’s heart, as all of my research shows that she is single and most likely around the age of 30.

4 thoughts on “The Christian Act of Offering Congratulations 

  1. What a depressing article! Amazingly, it’s not a blog post in some insignificant spot, but a printed article in a real magazine! How pathetic. Now we glorify refusing to enjoy another’s good news because we feel pouty about our own loneliness. That’s not exactly an accomplishment…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. the poor author of that article! it’s sad how much our culture does not know how to rejoice or be happy for another… at the same time, I have seen those who are not married, and getting older, really struggle with feeling left out and they sometimes even get the message that some how *they* have failed because they are single. So it could be that her article is a reaction to this and the pain she has felt. I know, as someone who got married at 34, nearing 35, that it can be really lonely to be single. Add that to our culture of ‘me, me, me’ and resentment that can come on various levels and you get articles like this. I am loving my slow read of Elder Sophrony’s letters to his family and in one of them he talks about how one of our biggest mistakes is not being thankful for the many things we have been given. And I love Madeleine L’ Engle’s words on how it is often JOY that is missing from our (at the Western) world. I think what you are getting at is exactly that; JOY, thanksgiving, rejoicing with another, these are often missing. And that is a really good thing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, certainly there can be loneliness for those who would like to marry but are still single (for whatever reason). It is similar to the childless couple unable to have children (for whatever reason): painful to hear pregnancy and birth announcements. It is a natural thing to feel some sorrow, but we are called to rise above resentment and bitterness. When pregnant, I always cherished the most the congratulations from women who had lost babies or who were infertile. I knew how much they had heroically separated their own pain from their joy in new life. Blessed are those who share in the joy of others, even in the midst of their own sorrow.


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