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)
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.
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.