The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


The blessing of tears

I'm a weeper. Many a time I have wished that I weren't. But funerals, weddings, births, farewells, celebrations, music, movies — I don't discriminate. I weep.

Recently I watched our 11-year-old granddaughter's birth video. Her mom and dad wanted to preserve "grandparently" wisdom for Ella to revisit throughout her life. Her other grandma tenderly held little Ella and eloquently spoke of present joys and future hopes. I also held Ella tenderly, looked into her sweet face, then into the camera — and wept. Just wept.

Where is my backbone? My pluck? My strength? I love words, savor their sounds and delight in their nuances. I celebrate their power to change intransigent minds and soothe ragged souls. Why do they then fail me at deep moments? I've pondered these questions for years. And only now, in my seventh decade, am I beginning to turn this conundrum around. I am tentatively looking at my "weakness" from another perspective, asking instead: "Where is the blessing in tears?"

Jesus gives us some direction. In Luke's Gospel he encounters the woman identified as a sinner, who entered the Pharisee's house, stood behind Jesus "at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair" (Luke 7:38). She says no words to him, yet Jesus says, "Her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love" (47). This powerful, life-giving encounter with Jesus is facilitated by tears.

Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, also greeted Jesus with her tears after her brother died. "When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved" (John 11:33). And then, "Jesus began to weep" (35). I imagine him with tear trails still on his cheeks, moved by others' tears, shouting, "Lazarus, come out" (43). And he brought his friend back to life.

Are these clues for us? For me? Perhaps it's in our brokenness, at our most vulnerable, that we are open to the work of the Spirit. When we have no discernible backbone, pluck or words, the strength of the Spirit can work through us to connect with our sisters and brothers in their deepest need. And maybe they can be brought back to life. These tears stretch thin a transparent spot where the transcendent penetrates the mundane. God enters in with healing in mind for me, yes, and for the whole body of Christ. Shall we then thank God for the blessing of tears? 


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February issue


Embracing diversity