Psalm 6 – Our Tears Find a Better Way

Please, Lord,
    don’t punish me when you are angry;
    don’t discipline me when you are furious.
Have mercy on me, Lord,
    because I’m frail.
Heal me, Lord,
    because my bones are shaking in terror!
My whole body is completely terrified!
        But you, Lord! How long will this last?
Come back to me, Lord! Deliver me!
    Save me for the sake of your faithful love!
No one is going to praise you
    when they are dead.
Who gives you thanks
    from the grave?

I’m worn out from groaning.
    Every night, I drench my bed with tears;
    I soak my couch all the way through.
My vision fails because of my grief;
    it’s weak because of all my distress.
Get away from me, all you evildoers,
    because the Lord has heard me crying!
The Lord has listened to my request.
    The Lord accepts my prayer.
All my enemies will be ashamed
    and completely terrified;
    they will be defeated
    and ashamed instantly. (Common English Bible)

“Don’t ever discount the wonder of your tears. They can be healing waters and a stream of joy. Sometimes they are the best words the heart can speak.”

William Paul Young, The Shack

Sometimes, even oftentimes, our tears find a better way.

It seems as if many folks don’t know this. Whenever someone is distraught, discouraged, or in the throes of despair, the advice given to them is often unhelpful, and even hurtful.

“You just need to be strong,” “Keep your chin up, I’m sure you have a lot to be thankful for,” and “Don’t cry, everything will work out okay,” are statements which betray we are uncomfortable with tears and are unsure what to do with them in others.

It can also be worse than that, with exhortations which only harm and don’t assist. “Dry up those tears or I’ll give you something to really cry about,” “Being sad and depressed like that is a sin, you know,” and “God wants you to be happy, so just put a smile on your face and fake it until you make it,” are a misuse of words and an abuse of language’s power.

So, I say again: Our tears find a better way.

To hold back our tears, to stuff our sadness and grief, does not make it go away. It’s still in there. And, if left there for too long, will come out sideways in harming others or even ourselves.

Whenever we put away our tears, we’re setting aside God’s most powerful means of healing, health, and wholeness. Tears are the conduit of integrating body and soul, where what’s going on inside is expressed on the outside.

Often, you don’t even need words when you have tears. The presence of the tears themselves becomes a form of language. They’re just there, and they are beautiful. Tears are evidence of brokenness, and more importantly, of healing and of strength, not weakness.

Tears are the body’s release valve for stress, sadness, grief, anxiety, and frustration. Like the ocean, tears are saltwater. They protectively lubricate the eyes, remove irritants, and contain antibodies that fight pathogenic microbes.

Dr. William Frey is a biochemist and an expert on human tears at the University of Minnesota. He states that our bodies produce three kinds of tears: reflex, continuous, and emotional. Each kind has different healing roles. Reflex tears allow the eyes to flush noxious particles when they’re irritated by smoke or exhaust. Continuous tears are produced regularly to keep our eyes lubricated and protected from infection.

Emotional tears were the experience of the psalmist. Whereas reflex tears are 98% water, emotional tears contain stress hormones that get excreted from the body through crying. Emotional crying stimulates the production of endorphins – the hormone necessary for happiness and a decrease of pain.

As the only creatures carrying God’s image and likeness within us, humans alone shed emotional tears. And that’s because God cries.

Jesus wept. Real tears. Emotional tears. Tears of genuine feeling and solidarity with the community, lamenting at the death of a dear friend, Lazarus.

“The Teacher is here,” Martha said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village but was still at the place where Martha had met him.When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

Jesus wept. (John 11:28-35, NIV)

The Lord Jesus came to the village three days after Lazarus died. He knew exactly what he was about to do: raise Lazarus from the dead in a miraculous resurrection. Yet, he did not come all smiles stating, “Hey, guys, don’t be sad! Watch what I’m going to do!”

No, instead, Christ participated fully in the sisters’ and the community’s grief. Only until he had done this did he proceed to performing the miracle.

The tears, just as much as the resurrection itself, were redemptive.

There was a time, long ago, when the word “loser” meant exactly what the word says – that someone had lost someone. It was a descriptive word recognizing the aching hole in the heart that one experiences from the death of a loved friend or family member.

Now, however, the word “loser” has taken an insidious twist over the years – meaning someone who hasn’t won, somebody who didn’t have what it took to be a winner. It is now a negative term that nobody wants to wear as a moniker, at all.

Perhaps that is one reason why so many people wear plastic smiles, pretend they are strong, and insist on keeping up appearances… And it is killing us with unprecedented numbers of depression, anxiety, and outright despair with nowhere to place it.

Our tears show us a better way. It was the way of the psalmist. It is the way of our Lord. It is the way of life.

You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.

Psalm 56:8, NLT

Beloved God, since all communion with You is prayer, my tears are psalms of petition and canticles of praise to You. The prayer You value greatly and always hear is the prayer of my tears; for You are a compassionate and kind God.

Surely, all truly great prayer rises from deep inside and springs spontaneously to the surface in the form of weeping. Perhaps, then, our tears are the purest and best worship of all.

May Your people not be ashamed of their tears; may they flow naturally and freely to You, my Blessed Redeemer. In times of joy or sorrow, blessed be the tears as the holy prayers of our hearts. Amen.

Psalm 6 – Independence Day Celebration or Mourning?

O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
    O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
My soul also is struck with terror,
    while you, O Lord—how long?

Turn, O Lord, save my life;
    deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
    in Sheol who can give you praise?

I am weary with my moaning;
    every night I flood my bed with tears;
    I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eyes waste away because of grief;
    they grow weak because of all my foes.

Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
    for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my supplication;
    the Lord accepts my prayer.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror;
    they shall turn back and in a moment be put to shame. (New Revised Standard Version)

Methinks we Americans, especially on this our national Independence Day, must remember that this has not always been, nor currently is, a day of celebration for a sizable chunk of people in the United States.

Now before you begin offering some mental pushback that I am pouring cold water on a time-honored holiday, or begin believing I’m not a true patriot, I will simply point out that not only is today’s psalm lesson in the Revised Common Lectionary a lament, but also that I’m a guy with two academic degrees in American history.

If we only look at Independence Day from the perspective of white Northern European heritage persons, then it will seem that, speaking like this, I am not grateful for the blessings of being in this incredible country of my birth and the place I’ve lived my entire life.

But I am not looking from that angle today. I choose to acknowledge that on this day, every year for the past 246 years, today’s psalm has been the lived experience and expression of others who looked to the heavens and asked, “How long, O Lord!?”

A true people of compassion are able to suffer with those who suffer. The people of God really ought to be at the forefront of exhibiting empathy and standing in solidarity with suffering folk.

A patriot is one who acknowledges and affirms all it’s citizens, and not only the ones who look like me, talk like me, and act like me. After all, the original documents of the United States made room for this to be so. Empathy, compassion, and solidarity are intentionally built into our nation’s grand experiment of democracy and government.

“We the people of the Unites States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Preamble of the United States Constitution

The very fact that the previous quotation is true for some, and not for everyone, is a telling testament to the reality that we need to keep striving to live into our heritage as Americans and ensure that welfare for the common good of all citizens is continually sought, even if done so imperfectly.

Grieving, tears, and lament was the response of the former slave Frederick Douglass.

“The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your [white] fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me [a black man]. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave is the 4th of July?” (An oration on July 4, 1852)

Mourning and weeping was and continues to be the experience of many Native American peoples.

“While the United States and its settlers claimed its independence from Great Britain, this came at a cost of others, including this land’s Indigenous Peoples that were stolen from their own homelands. This patriotic holiday is nothing to celebrate because freedom cannot come at the cost of another’s freedom. America’s Independence Day is a celebration of imperialism, genocide, and American exceptionalism, and there is no pride in genocide.”

Daisee Francour (Oneida Nation of Wisconsin)

We cannot change history, but we can work towards a better future where all of our rights are respected and we all experience freedom and independence equally. Those with non-European ancestry who today in our nation experience racism and anti-ethnic aggression need to be acknowledged and affirmed as Americans with equal standing and an equal voice alongside the white population.

So, I would argue that both celebration and weeping ought to occur on this day. We should weep for the dreams and lives of indigenous peoples who were destroyed through westward expansion, and even today experience the ongoing effects of cultural genocide.

We ought to acknowledge not only our nation’s blessings, but also our curses which are still seen in exploiting others through envy, greed, sloth, pride, lust, and gluttony.

We, the people of the United States of America, ought to actively seek to live in more simple and less harmful ways. We should offer our voices, not in violent speech and language, but with creative and healing words.

On this American Independence Day, the Church should reaffirm her allegiance and citizenship to Christ and God’s Kingdom and renounce any nationalistic, economic, ethnic, and political divisions which are contrary to the words and ways of Jesus.

All of the citizens of the earth should seek to embrace non-violent, self-sacrificial love on behalf of everyone. Today is an opportunity to affirm that Christ is the Friend of all people, not just some.

No one ought to be wasting away in their grief and languishing in their tears when we have the means to acknowledge their suffering and to do something about it.

Our Father who is in heaven,

uphold the holiness of your name.

Bring in your kingdom

so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven.

Give us the bread we need for today.

Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you,

just as we also forgive those who have wronged us.

And don’t lead us into temptation,

but rescue us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:9-13, CEB)

Psalm 126 – Planting in Tears and Harvesting with Joy

The Sower, by Vincent Van Gogh, 1881

When the Lord brought back his exiles to Jerusalem,
    it was like a dream!
We were filled with laughter,
    and we sang for joy.
And the other nations said,
    “What amazing things the Lord has done for them.”
Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us!
    What joy!

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
    as streams renew the desert.
Those who plant in tears
    will harvest with shouts of joy.
They weep as they go to plant their seed,
    but they sing as they return with the harvest. (New Living Translation)

Many people are familiar with the phrase, “You reap what you sow.” Although the saying is typically referred to in the context of avoiding poor decisions (Galatians 6:7) the principle is woven throughout Holy Scripture in other scenarios, as well, as it is in today’s psalm.  

Sowing and reaping are, of course, agricultural terms. Farmers and gardeners tend to the soil through tilling, planting, cultivating, weeding, and eventually harvesting. The images of farming and the growth of plants serve as fitting metaphors for the spiritual life. Growth does not occur quickly. Instead, constant and vigilant attention to one’s spirit eventually brings a harvest of good works and godly attitudes. 

Jesus said, “My food is to do what the one who sent me wants me to do. My food is to finish the work that he gave me to do.” (John 4:34, ERV)

In a culture which values immediacy and having things now, the slow growth of the spiritual life can be a difficult principle to grasp. We may think that whenever we sin – with no immediate lightning to zap us – that therefore what we did must not have been so bad. 

Eventually, however, our implanted seeds will sprout and become visible to all. Conversely, we might believe whenever we dedicate ourselves to altruistic service, and then see no immediate results, that we must be doing something wrong. So, we may easily become discouraged and give up.

Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love. Break up your fallow ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you. (Hosea 10:12, NRSV)

The psalmist reminds us of the need for patience. Just as it takes continual watering to reap a harvest in the field, so the Christian’s life of weeping and tears, of tilling deeply into the things of God, is the necessary work to eventually spot a sprout, see growth, and finally bear fruit. 

The tedious cultivating and weeding of our souls is the task before us. If we are patient and consistent, we will realize a harvest of righteousness. 

The Sower, by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

Jesus taught his Beatitudes to help us understand that righteousness, peace, and joy come through connecting with our poverty of spirit; mourning over personal and corporate sin; embracing humility and meekness; hungering and thirsting after righteousness.

Only through the blood, sweat, and tears of spiritual agony will we come through to the deep happiness of seeing the Lord accomplish great things in our lives. In other words, joy is neither cheap nor easy. It is the fruit of many tears.

Spiritual farming involves sound practices of sowing and reaping. There is suffering before glory, tears before joy, lament before healing.

Just as a farmer cannot take short-cuts in the planting and cultivating process if he wants to have a bounteous and delicious harvest, so there is no getting around the painful work of grieving our changes and losses.

Avoiding the hard work of spiritual farming leads to a bogus harvest where we bite into a fresh ear of sweet corn only to discover a mouthful of worms.

Remember this: The person who plants a little will have a small harvest, but the person who plants a lot will have a big harvest.

2 Corinthians 9:6, NCV

The bulk of our lives are played out in the liminal space between sowing and reaping. The farmer plants and waits, attentive to the land and the weather until the time of harvest. We, too, exist in a time of patience. So, we pray, recalling past harvests and anticipate that with God’s good help, we will enjoy abundance.

This in-between time is often characterized by tears.

As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. (Luke 7:38, NIV)

I grew up on an Iowa farm. I only saw my father cry twice in my life. The first time, I was just a boy, two days after my eighth birthday – a devastating hailstorm destroyed the crops that had been planted just six weeks before. Despite farm equipment and technological savvy, the farmer is still at the mercy of the weather.

And we will always be at the mercy of God. Because God is good, just, and fair, the Lord does great and benevolent things. To be blessed, we need to embrace the dog days of summer in all its banality and its tears until we reach the time of reaping. There is joy, and it is coming, if we do the work of spiritual farming and wait patiently.

Likely, none of us awake in the morning, sit up on the edge of the bed, and say to ourselves, “Well, let’s see, I think I’ll cry and be sorrowful today.” We might do that with joy, but not with sadness. It can be easier to gravitate toward the fulfillment of dreams, laughter, and happiness than tears and weeping.

Yet, if we want to experience authentic joy, the path to it is through crying because it is our tears which find a better way.

“Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.”

Vincent Van Gogh

Whether it comes from a certain denominational tradition, ethnic background, or family of origin dynamics, there are many Christians who love to emphasize Jesus as Victor and camp in resurrection power – while eschewing Christ as the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief and sadness.

By viewing only one dimension of Christ’s redemptive work, pastoral care often falls far short of true help. Trying to engineer cheerfulness and create solutions to a person’s genuine grief is, at best, not helpful, and at worst, damaging to their soul. It only leads to cheap inauthentic joy.

Sincerely singing spontaneous songs of joy, with a sense of abundant satisfaction, comes through suffering and sorrow. There must be a crucifixion before there is a resurrection. In the agrarian culture of ancient Israel, the metaphor of sowing a reaping connected well to the importance of planting tears and allowing them to flower later into an abundant harvest of joy.

Perhaps in contemporary American culture, a more apt metaphor would be financial investing and cashing out. The investment we put into attending to our grief with expressions of lament through tears, will eventually get a return, and we shall be able to cash out with a rich bounty of joy.

Easter is coming. Resurrection and new life will occur. The journey of Lent, with seeds repentance carefully planted, watered with tears, shall bring an abundant harvest of joy.

Gratias Deo. Thanks be to God.

Luke 19:41-44 – Theological Tears

As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (New International Version)

There are Christians who believe in withdrawing as much from the world as possible, this side of heaven. There are yet others who believe in accommodating to the world, its structures and society. And there are yet others who believe the world and the church are simply two distinct realms which Christians move back and forth within, like doffing one hat and donning another.

For the moment, let’s just leave all that aside. Instead, observe the pathos of Jesus. Christ came to Jerusalem, a city with deep roots in both religion and the world. He stopped and gazed affectionately at the ancient place with a heart full of longing for what she could be, as well as a heart profoundly sad for what she presently is.

And as Jesus stood and looked at the city in all of its religious piety, as well as its worldly pungencies, he wept.

This was not a quiet shedding of a tear. No, the word “wept” means that Jesus openly cried aloud over the city. This is the kind of crying which happens when a person is in the throes of grief and lament. Jesus was expressing great emotional heaves of loud weeping.

The reason Jesus was lamenting with so much feeling was that the city did not recognize they had a gracious visit from God. The Lord looked at the city and saw all the future disaster which was coming. He knew it could be different, and he was completely undone by the city’s inability to see God, right in front of their own face.

That Jesus wept over a city is more than a deep emotional response; it is also a profound theological statement of subversion against the present order of things. Tears and crying are ways of pronouncing that the status quo of human oppression and indifference is not okay – that there is an alternative path, The Way, which leads to peace and life.

Contrary to many contemporary forms of Christian spirituality, theology and tears are not antithetical nor foreign to one another. They are related, and when practiced well, they inform each other in a full-orbed Christianity that is both holistic and holy. We can no more separate the two anymore than we can divide the humanity and divinity of Christ into parts, as if Jesus were some weird schizophrenic God-Man.

A dispassionate follower of Jesus is really no follower, at all.

Now, let’s return to our view of the world and our involvement in it. Taking some cues from our Lord Jesus, the first and foremost posture we are to take toward the worldly city is not separation, accommodation, or dual citizenship – it is, rather, to weep, to grieve and lament, to sit with and feel the immense sadness of a society askew and awry of God.

The longing Jesus had in his heart was to see the city of Jerusalem annexed and incorporated into the kingdom of God. The way of peace, of shalom on this earth, is to bring all things and all the world under the benevolent reign of God. It’s as if there are Twin Cities, like Minneapolis and St. Paul, which exist side-by-side but have different municipal structures. 

The kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God exist next to each other. Jesus wanted to bring the earthly kingdom into the peaceful and gracious realm of God’s kingdom. But the people would have nothing to do with it. Both the religious establishment and the secular authorities of the city wanted their own municipal conceptions of how things should go – and they both rejected the Christ who could bring everyone true harmony.

King Jesus is our rightful benevolent ruler. Yet, there are so many who do not, or will not, acknowledge that grace and mercy is among them if they would but only look and see.

Let us lament this world, which is chocked full of both religious and secular people who do not recognize the time of God’s visitation. May we journey with Jesus and follow him in his Passion for this world and all its inhabitants. May we sit at the feet of Jesus and imbibe his deep love for all who are estranged from God.

Blessed Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the holy Trinity whom I serve – the world and even sometimes the church is estranged from grace – they have not recognized your gracious coming and presence. I lament such a state of things, and ask you, blessed Spirit, to draw all people to the Savior, Jesus Christ, in whose name I pray.  Amen.