What do you do if a friend says to you ‘I want to cry, but if I start I’ll never stop’? Or ‘don’t be nice to me – I’ll cry’. Do you feel momentarily paralysed? Maybe you worry that you won’t have the right words to ease their pain.
The chances are they may want to cry or at least speak with you about their troubles. The very fact they’ve sought you out is the first step towards openness and hope. But they’re afraid – is it safe to be vulnerable with you? What will you think of them if they open up and give you a window into the honest struggles of their soul? How will you respond to the grief or sorrow that besieges their heart?
It’s the kind of a situation that may well come with the territory of biblical counselling or pastoral ministry.
Studying biblical counselling on the Certificate Course has helped me overcome some of my fears – both as the one who cries and the one who is learning to handle the tears of another. The Lord has taught me, time and again, to overcome my fear of not having the ‘right’ words or of being exposed. It is about trusting that both of you are safe before God who understands our pain and gives us His words to hold onto, rather than our own flawed resources.
Being able to cry (and handle tears) connects us to one another and to God. He can help us overcome the feelings of shame and fear that hold us back from more fully living the two great commandments. He does this as we learn to trust that He is at work when we are feeling vulnerable and exposed. Knowing we are weeping in the presence of the living God who knows our hearts and our pain transforms our experience of tears.
There is much in the Bible on this subject of weeping. The Psalms, with their litany of emotional honesty, are a good place to find help with our tears. I heard a very helpful sermon from Isaac Shaw (Delhi Bible Institute) on Psalms 39 and 126 which presented these insights into how we can speak with those who weep:
Pray your tears
Anyone who is suffering can be comforted by the fact that the psalms of lament made the cut into the Lord’s book of poetry. Psalm 39 even ends with the surprising words ‘Look away from me’. As with Jesus, when he heard this from people who wanted him to leave them, God continues to move towards us with tender compassion. He does not look away, but pursues and stays near us even when we don’t deserve it. He knows how we speak when we are desperate. He understands. The very fact that the psalmist can say this shows us that it’s OK for us to pray like this. We can be real, we don’t need hide stuff or feel overwhelmed by our emotions. Psalm 39 models that for us. It speaks with such eye-watering honesty that we can speak with honesty, too – to God and to one another.
Understand your tears
As Christians we know that God pulls no punches on the subject of expecting trials. Yet when we find ourselves in the eye of the storm or broken by wave upon wave of suffering, we can be vulnerable to believing other voices. Maybe it’s because God is angry with me, we muse. Or we kid ourselves that God has let us down in some way.
There may be times when suffering will ravage us and cause us to grieve deeply. At times we want to question and rail at God. Then, more than ever, we need to speak honestly with one another about how we’re processing our thoughts. By listening to the beliefs beneath the tears we may uncover guilt, self pity, impatience and wrong thinking. Or even a desire to give up. We need friends around to speak honestly with, to help realign our gaze and reorient our hearts.
Sow your tears
Psalm 126 uses a beautiful agricultural metaphor. It encourages us to sow our tears. We are not just to express but also invest our tears – don’t waste them! They will produce a harvest of joy – if we can take them to the tree where the man of sorrows hung. Jesus, the only one with a perfect heart, had a heart that was full of anguish and familiar with sorrow. He knows what it feels like to weep tears of desperation. He shares our suffering.
Yet when we take our gaze off ourselves, and onto Him, we’ll see that His tears resulted in our joy. The tears he wept at Gethsemane, from the cross, have assured for us an eternal reality which can grow dim through times of suffering. He fulfills the meaning of Psalm 126:6 “Those who go out weeping carrying seeds to sow, will return with songs of joy.”
At times such as these we need to hold out the precious hope of this eternal perspective that assures us that this will pass. The Lord promises that one day He will wipe every tear from our eyes. Can you imagine that? God himself taking your face in his hands and tenderly wiping your tears away. Until that day, it is our privilege and calling to hold that same promise of hope to others as we walk with them through this vale of tears.