The Gift of Tears

April 24, 2017

A woman who lost her husband recently shared of a particularly difficult night of despair and hopelessness. It was a night of desperate loneliness. That same night someone happened to call her and she shared her deep grief. As the person listened, they concluded this woman ought to see a counselor. As she shared her story with me, I wondered if she really needed a counselor.

Maybe Not Everyone Needs a Counselor?

The first four poems in Lamentations are alphabet poems, creating a sense of outward order in suffering. However, when one reads the poems they are anything but orderly. Like life, as much as we try to create order, inwardly we are broken. Lamentations 2 asks the questions “What can I say on your behalf? and “Who can heal you?” (Lam. 2:13-14, 17). In other words, “What can I say to bring comfort?” After explaining the reason for Judah’s suffering (in part, they had rejected God’s Word), Jeremiah’s response is to weep: “Arise, cry out in the night from the first watch of the night. Pour out your hearts like water before the Lord’s presence” (Lam. 2:19). So Jeremiah cried out and wept. Jeremiah did not need a counselor but rather needed to weep in the presence of God.

Tears for Today

Many of us may wonder what to do with tears. We counsel or preach or go out for coffee with someone to prevent them from crying. Successful counsel is when tears stop, right? So we believe the weeping widow needs a counselor. After all, isn’t God the God of all comfort? Doesn’t God’s comfort overflow into our lives? Shouldn’t our counsel bring an end to tears? On the other hand, could it be true that we may stifle the comforting work of God with our instinct to build a dam for the tears of others? Could tears for today before a faithful and comforting Father be necessary for our healing?

Tears Before the Father

Jeremiah encouraged tears before the Lord’s presence. There is tremendous wisdom in that counsel. As a young child, when you scraped your knee or knocked your head, wasn’t your first reaction to run to your father or mother and weep? You probably didn’t go to him and explain your medical condition. Weeping, you received your father’s comforting presence and then you told your story. You needed tears before your father. Tears before our Father in heaven are important. A few verses earlier, Jeremiah writes “Wall of Daughter Zion, let your tears run down like a river day and night. Give yourself no relief and your eyes no rest” (Lam. 2:18). Give yourself no relief! This is not because there is no relief or rest but because tears are the cry of a broken and struggling heart that cannot find words. Sometimes the wounds are too deep, the mysteries too complex, and God seems too distant. During these times, tears are to flow like a river day and night. Tears, in other words, are a gracious gift of God which express without words our brokenness before God’s presence. We do not need words during these times but have tears in the presence of our Father.

Ugly Tears

Lamentations 2 is not a polite chapter. Honestly, it’s ugly. The captivity of God’s people was brutal. There are inexplicable images recorded including children and infants dying in the arms of their mothers and women eating their children. How can such horror be experienced? We read further that “Without compassion the Lord swallowed up all the dwellings of Jacob” (Lam. 2:2). Lamentations 2 is a slow dismantling of life for the people of Israel. Tears are not polite and are often ugly. When we have no words for horror, we have tears. When we cannot explain the loneliness, evil, and darkness we see, we weep. These are tears no one wants but many experience. Tears give vent to the depth of our pain as we pass through the valley of darkness. Our human tendency is a desire to remove pain and skip to the happily ever after. We want to take away the ugly evil and explain away God and life. We want to tell people to see a counselor and we want to stop the ugly tears. But what should a counselor say? At times are not tears the most appropriate response? Is our counsel ever “Arise, cry out in the night … pour out your heart like water?”

Unfinished Conversations

At the end of Lamentations 2 we find an uncomfortable ending. Jeremiah boldly asked the Lord to “Look and consider who you have done this to” and then proceeds to get angry, asking “Should women eat their own children” (Lam. 2:20) and so on. The final words are essentially that the enemy has won and there is no comfort, only tears. It is an unfinished conversation, yet this is where the Word of God often leaves us. Uncomfortable, right? And so we grapple to find the words, but no words come. Why? Because God is comfortable with our tears. Even more, God uses our tears to pour out His mysterious, comforting presence. We may not know how but there is healing in tears. Tears provide an opportunity to be in God’s presence and, by faith, experience not answers or words, but the quiet comfort of a Father who knows our deepest grief and holds on to us.

Questions for Reflection

Should we be more comfortable with the tears of others? When someone weeps, should we always feel the need to speak? At times is a silent presence perhaps the most faith-filled response to the tears of others? Believing, we weep in God’s final answer found in Jesus Christ.