Do you know how many times weeping is mentioned in the Bible?
A lot. More than three hundred times just for the words wept or weeping; another two hundred and fifty for crying, eighty-five mentions of mourning, two hundred fifty for grief, and even more for tears.
Now, don’t get the wrong idea—joy is mentioned plenty in the Bible, and so is hope, and so are lots of other encouraging, uplifting words.
But the ancient scribes seemed to understand two core truths:
1.) Life can be painful.
2.) We should talk about it.
Death, loss, betrayal, defeat, fear, injustice, disillusionment, broken relationships, hope deferred—these cudgels to the heart are all around us.
Sometimes, we don’t see them coming. One minute everything’s fine. Next thing we know, we’re on the floor, feet knocked from under us, breathless, and wondering why the sky is tilted.
Other times, we do see them coming, but we can’t stop them. And then we’re flat on our back, gut-shot and gasping. Right along with those who caught a cudgel by surprise.
This week, I attended a meeting where two brave aid workers shared a few cudgel experiences they had on the field. Two of their fellow aid workers were killed in a fiery plane crash. Shortly thereafter, another aid worker, who was a close friend of theirs, was shot during a carjacking and only survived after a daring plane rescue. Then the community where they’d served and poured out their lives was influenced by a few local leaders who were hostile to foreigners. Those leaders eventually forced the entire aid team to leave the village.
The heartache and uncertainty they experienced was—and continues to be—considerable.
You might not have tangled with grief while working in a third-world country, but I know heartache has touched your life. I know at some point, you’ve wept alone. I can guarantee you’ve wrestled with pain.
And like my brave aid worker friends, you’ve probably come out limping, with more questions than answers, and a sky that seems permanently askew. You’re trying to do right in the midst of the storm, but it’s tough to see a way forward when every step is clouded by grief.
Fact is, I cannot count the number of people I’ve talked to lately who are in this place. Why? Because life is hard. It just is. A lot.
So, for the past few months, I’ve been researching the mentions of tears in the Bible. What does God think about our pain? Does He see? Does He care? And most importantly, how do we move forward through the cudgels?
A few Bible verses really caught my attention during this research.
The first is Revelation 21:4 “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer. All these things will be gone forever.”
The word “every” in this verse can be translated as “each individual tear”.
So then I considered Psalm 56:8 “You keep a record of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”
Again, those words: “each one”. Every single tear.
In ancient times, Middle Eastern cultures had a tradition of collecting tears shed in times of calamity and sorrow, and preserving them in “Lachrymatory” bottles, as a memorial of the grief. This tradition carried forward to Roman times, and into Victorian society, and even during the Civil War.
To me, there’s something poignant and lovely about this tradition. And about King David’s belief that the God of the universe was keeping a record of every sorrow, and saving each tear we cry.
So that got me thinking: What if we each get a Tear Session with God when we get to Heaven? A chance to have every tear seen–every tear we’ve wept in the dark, every tear we’ve cried when we felt utterly alone–and held, and acknowledged by an all-loving God? Perhaps, in that moment, He will wipe away not just our recent tears, but all those from our past, too. And all those caused by the cudgels of life. Every single one.
That’s a beautiful picture and a beautiful hope. But meanwhile, what about now? How do we function here on earth, when life leaves us chewed up, grieving, and unsure where to put our feet?
And that’s where the third verse captured my attention. Psalm 126:6 says, “They go to and fro, weeping, carrying their bag of seeds, but they will return home with shouts of joy, bringing a harvest with them.”
Which brings me back to my aid worker friends. At the meeting this week, their quiet retelling of their experiences was powerful. But most powerful was where they shared these stories: at a fundraiser. To help them return to the same country where they experienced such heartbreak in the first place.
Do they have all the answers? No. Is all their grief resolved? No. But they are as certain as they can be that this is where they’re meant to go, and what they’re meant to do, so they’re pressing forward.
When we’re trudging through seasons of grief and pain, there may be quite a bit of “going to and fro”. False starts. Fast stops. Closed doors. Reversing direction and trying again. Life is murky.
What is clear is that we’re to do two things:
1.) Keep going, and
2.) Don’t forget the seed bag
We are to take that collection of skills, abilities, and talents that is unique to each of us, and serve those we can, with what we have, wherever we go.
Sure, our results may show up in a zig-zag pattern for awhile, and sure that may not be the perfect layout we imagined for our lives, BUT there will be results, and there will be people helped.
Joy will spring up along the way, as long as we keep going.