The Purpose of Our Collective Tears

It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting.

Ecclesiastes 7:2

I don’t know how prepared you are to give of your tears or how familiar you might be with what that entails. I’m going to write a bit about mourning this morning. Grief, loss, and death, I know are not necessarily fun topics to read about. I don’t know a lot about pandemics, the spread of viruses or the long term effects of these things, but I am  fairly confident that if political leaders and people are willing to show any hint of prioritizing stimulating the economy and bailing out large financially irresponsible big businesses at the risk of spreading a deadly virus, it’s safe to say that some compassionate folks may have to take up the business of empathy and grieving.

*Scroll to the bottom if you just like practicals*

And that person might be you or me. So here’s how:

Tears are beautiful. One day, in the Kingdom of Heaven there will be no more use for them. But here, now, tears of the emotional variety are a visual display of our pain and our stress and our empathy. As they are released chemicals are typically released in our body that calm our mind and relieve us of physical pain. In this way they are chemically associated with doing good for the inside.

It is important to keep in mind that the capacity for tears or crying is more important than volume. So like anything crying too much or persistent crying amidst a depressive episode could yield little to no benefit. It’s important to discern and distinguish between the two.

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For instance:

Yesterday, my mom put her cat Tabitha down who was 19 years old and had kidney failure. I cried a bit on my drive to her house thinking about my mom during this season of quarantine, thinking a little about Tabitha and how interesting of a cat she was. Those tears were in some ways helpful because I was prepared to empathize with my mom and imagined what it was like to lose a pet but also adjust in a season when being home a lot and perhaps for a extended season is necessary.

Later on that evening, I cried again while being exceedingly frustrated and uncertain even scared about what decisions to make, feeling like life is still out of my control and being frustrated and double-minded about how to live out what I feel called to in the midst of my current vocation after a season where I already felt isolated for the previous 5 months. These tears were less helpful, but still helpful. In part because these tears were more a response to an unclear uncertain emotional framework that had me stuck on myself. If I was still crying those same tears now they would not be helpful and perhaps self-indulgent.

Let’s return to loss and grief and death though for a moment. Some of you may have experienced the loss of a loved one. It was a deep loss that you may have not been prepared for and suffered or may suffer still as you learn to adapt to a new rhythm without that individual. Sometimes their loss might still illicit tears or sadness but hopefully, that loss has not kept you unable to find fullness in life.

Hopefully, you found a helpful ritual or prayer or found ways to accept the loss and have been given new eyes of appreciation for others. Hopefully, also, you will be presented with the opportunity to help others walk through their own grief and loss.

My hope is that this will not be a season that you will be called upon to do that, but there is a chance in the coming weeks even months you might know several people who lose something or someone due to this virus.

Not all loss is death, but death feels the most permanent. And in seasons where isolation is already becoming the norm if someone were to die while others are isolated and may not be able to mourn as easily communally, we will need to be diligent in helping to heal those who suffer loss.

We have power to minister and bring healing to others when we stay alert and aware in the midst of our own loss, to not checkout and isolate, but to remain available. To be reminded that others too will suffer the loss of spouse or grandparent or parent or child, that while our grief and loss is unique in the individual or thing lost, the experience of losing is not unique to us.

So a couple of practicals:

-Imagine you are in their position, in the coming weeks it might not take that much imagining (we’ll see)

-Listen more than spouting advice or cliche phrases of optimism (Scripture written in an encouraging note or a timely word spoken gently might be helpful but listen first)

-Pray for them

-Make sure they are fed and checked in on

-Affirm that they are loved, again gently

-Maybe not a reminder for the one suffering, but death is not the end of everything and it is a part of life; death might become more normalized, but Jesus has promised us eternity with Him for those who believe. So yes, a priority on the restoration to or perseverance in their most important relationship.

-Remember God is with us in our tears

Psalm 56:8

You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?

The Tender Year

I have now lived in Charleston, SC for a full year. I have approximately 3 weeks left of my residency. Several weeks ago, I was praying on the beach about my future, my next step in the next season. And it was such an uncertain time of prayer.

This time last year I knew what I was heading into and for how long, with a clear path ahead. It was the culmination of 7 months of waiting.

But this time, this year, I think back on 3 weeks ago and remember not having a clear direction and resolving to pray this, “No matter what happens I ask to be tenderhearted.” And there is a strong part of me that loves that I prayed that prayer.

I love that prayer because it is my desire. I love that prayer because when I gently love and reflect on all the wonderful friends and family and enemies God has put in my life, I find it is in everyone’s best interest that I would be tenderhearted rather than hardhearted.

In Luke 1:76-79, Zechariah the father of John the Baptist prays this part of a prayer over his son:

“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare a way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because the tender mercy of our God by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Tender Mercy

What beautiful phrase, the NIV, NASB, and ESV only translate this phrase into English 1 time in all of Scripture. NKJV has multiple instances of tender mercies in the Psalms and only additionally translated “tender mercies” in the epistle to the Colossians. Why does it matter?

I believe it matters because tender mercy is the gentlest of all mercy offered. It is the kind of tangible mercy offered in the darkness, in death, when we are in desperate need of sunshine, guidance and a path of peace.

Tender mercy is the mercy needed when suffering violence. Tender mercy is the mercy for lost-ness. Tender mercy is the tangible mercy needed when there is no other answer or explanation.

And yes, while I am desperate in my need for mercy for my actions against God and humankind, sometimes we are in need of the most tender mercy for our doubts in our darkness.

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I need tenderness of heart so as  not to become guilty of accusing God of having a wicked character when I have suffered or am utterly confounded by my circumstance.

We need tenderness of heart to mourn more victims of violence in the face of inaction. And while those are left asking why or will this be fixed, without any answer, or worse met with indifference, we remain in need of the tenderest of mercies.

This mercy is only available through the Spirit of God. Humankind cannot manufacture this kind of mercy.

But we can posture, we can kneel. I can move ever so slightly towards the light until I am warmed, softened, embraced, then set free to love and to give what I’ve been given.

Yet, I can only give what I have, and if I have not felt this tender mercy for myself, how can I give it?

I must have it again. I must know it, be immersed, even baptized anew in this maternal, vulnerable mercy.

It’s been a tender year for me. I don’t know how it’s been so far for you. I don’t know if you’ve felt like you’ve been connecting the dots from one disappointment to the next. I don’t know who you’ve lost or how many times you’ve lost them and to what degree of permanence. I don’t know to what extent you have been grieved or have suffered by the routine of mass shootings in America. Through it all, stay tenderhearted.

Let your heart feel hope for the future, for your obedience to the Lord, to follow Christ’s lead, perhaps hopeful for finding romance, perhaps hopeful for one day reconciliation to someone who has moved on the Heaven, hopeful for an end to meaningless bloodshed, hopeful for peace on a path guided by the sunlight in the tender mercy of God.