I can’t say that I cry a lot. But certainly, like everyone else, I “have my moments,” so to speak.
When my son left home in his ’94 Chrysler Intrepid all by himself bound for Las Vegas, I’ll admit I shed a few tears. Las Vegas was so far away – I knew I’d miss him. When my mother, and then my father passed away, I shed some tears. And I did the same when my wife’s parents left this world. When a close friend divorced, I wept in sadness. And when he remarried, I also wept – for joy.
We tend to do that, don’t we? Our emotions get the best of us and tears fall. We just can’t seem to help ourselves.
We often look at tears as weakness. As a pastor, in my conversations with people when they are sharing a difficult experience, they start sniffling and tears form in their eyes. They weep, and then they get all embarrassed. “Oh, I’m so sorry, pastor. I didn’t plan on crying. I tried so hard to hold it back.”
My response is always, “That’s OK. It’s natural. You’re human. Don’t worry about it.” When the tears come like that, we are expressing something very deep down within us. I’d go as far as to say, it comes from our very souls. Something touches us so deeply that our natural response is tears. It could be grief, sadness, loss, stress or any number of things. These are times that we’d rather avoid, but that’s just the way life is. It’s not a perfect world.
It’s like my grandmother used to say: “Johnny, we’re not in heaven yet.” How true! As the apostle Peter says, “Now for a little while we may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (I Peter 1:6) But there will be a time, the Bible promises us when “God will wipe away every tear from your eyes.” (Revelation 21:4) That verse goes on to say, “And death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
That’s a good reminder. The grief, sadness, pain and tears we experience in this world will one day be no more. God will end the trials and tribulations and usher in an eternity of perfect joy. But until then, we do have experiences that give us pain, sorrow and tears.
The other day I happened upon an old sermon written during the middle of the 19th century by Thomas DeWitt Talmage. The title of the sermon was, “The Ministry of Tears.” His main point in the message was that, although tears come to us when we have hardships and trials in life, they can also minister to us. In other words, God can use them in our lives to be a blessing.
How so? You might wonder. Talmage mentions two things. First, he says that tears minister to us in that they keep this world from being too attractive to us. “Something must be done,” he says, “to make us willing to quit this existence.” If it were not for trouble and its accompanying tears, “this world would be good enough Heaven for us,” Talmage says. But tears help us come to realize that our present existence is full of brokenness and sin and that our souls long for something better. And we come to that realization it’s like the old country song puts it, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door, and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”
Then Talmage also points out the second ministry of tears: tears help us to have sympathy. Having experienced sadness and tears ourselves, we are able to minister with sympathy and compassion to others experiencing hardships and sadness. He takes as an example an elderly mother. He describes her as “almost omnipotent in comfort.” Why? The answer is because “she has seen it all.” She has shed tears of sadness, disappointment and all kinds of sickness and hurt. To paraphrase a commercial I’ve seen on television, “she knows a thing or two because she’s seen a thing or two.”
True, life isn’t always easy. Even Jesus knew that. In fact, as John 11:35 says, “Jesus wept” at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. And as Isaiah 53:3 prophetically states, “he was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” And then the prophet continues, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”
How true! Through faith in what Christ has done on the cross, our sorrows are indeed carried away. Not in this world. “In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus said. Our tears are a reminder of that. But it won’t be like that forever. “Take heart!” he says, “for I have overcome the world.”(John 16:33) Indeed he has! And someday that will become a reality when “God will wipe away every tear from your eyes.”
About the writer: The Rev. John Koedyker is pastor of congregational care at First Reformed Church, Grand Haven.