Friendship, Listening, and Empathy: A Prayer GuideTwo Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian LifeSabbath Keeping FastingA Renewed SpiritualityNurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationPersonality Type in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: Tears

Lynne Baab • Wednesday March 8 2017

Drawing Near to God with the Heart: Tears

Some years ago I attended a session of a class on the Desert Fathers, those monks of the fourth and fifth centuries who lived in the deserts of Syria and Egypt and who dispensed wisdom to those who came to visit them. I was blessed indeed that this one particular class covered the topic of the Desert Fathers and their attitude toward tears.

The Desert Fathers advocated weeping. They experienced tears as an excellent way to express sadness and sorrow at our own sin. They believed that at the same time that we are crying for our sins, we will find that our tears are also about the joy and wonder of God’s grace and forgiveness. These two components of tears, sorrow for sin and joy in God’s grace, will not be separate, they believed, but we will switch from one to the other almost instantaneously.

When I became a mother in my late twenties, I was surprised to find how much more easily I cried than ever before. Tears have been closer to the surface for me for since then, but in my forties my tears somehow changed. I couldn’t put my finger on the change until I sat in on that class on the Desert Fathers.

The tears I experience now really are about both sorrow and joy. I do cry about my own sin. These are seldom tears about one-time sins. My tears seem to center on the sins I can’t stop doing: recurring negative thoughts about specific people, my tendency to hate myself because of being overweight, and longings and attractions I have for things I don’t have. As I wrote last week, part of maturity for me has been facing my inner darkness.

Just like the Desert Fathers predicted, mingled in with my tears of sorrow for sin, I find tears of joy and wonder that God’s love is so great and that he has shown that love to me. In fact, it’s in the face of the God’s abundant love and grace that I feel such sorrow, because I can’t seem to receive his overflowing love in some parts of my life. Some parts of my life are so broken. I am so blessed, yet I continue to turn away from God’s blessings and seek my own way. Not all the time, but more often than I want to. I cry about that.

I also cry about sin in the world. I cry about the 21,000 people who die each day from hunger-related causes, mostly children,[1] and I cry at the hugeness of evil that keeps the rich and poor so separate and living such different lives. I cry about the hugeness of evil that would motivate people to give their lives so innocent people would die in terrorist attacks. I cry about the people I know and love who are experiencing pain from so many different awful things in their lives. And simultaneously I am crying because God’s grace and love are much more immense than evil. His love and grace are so real and significant and tangible in so many ways, yet there are so many places in human life that seem immune to his love. How can this be? It makes me cry.

I cry because of my longing for heaven. I long for the place and time where everything will be made right, where evil will no longer exist, and where my love for God will be able to flower into the kind of joyous obedience and peaceful acceptance that I long for now. I cry because my moments of emptiness now are so painful in the light of the reality that heaven is coming one day.

Sometimes I find myself getting tears in my eyes in public setting where it is embarrassing to cry. I’m trying to learn to let those tears be there, as an expression of a deep heart and soul reality that I believe mostly pleases God. As I have accepted my tears more fully, I am finding I can identify more clearly the emotions that lie behind the tears. Mixed in with the tears that please God – sorrow for sin, the awareness of God’s grace, and the longing that everything will be put right – are also tears of self-pity and self-aggrandizement. Even in my tears I find the bizarre mix of faithfulness and selfishness that characterizes all of human life – this mix that got me started crying in the first place!

I commend to you tears as a way of expressing deep longings and heart realities. Our tears can be a tutor to help us understand what we are truly feeling and what we truly value. In our tears the Holy Spirit brings out heart realities too deep for words. When we are consumed by embarrassment at our tears, we lose the opportunity to let our tears teach us and express inner realities without words.

This is the sixth post in a series about Drawing Near to God with the Heart. Previous posts:
Introduction: Drawing near to God with the heart         
God woos us          
A journey with the Psalms           
Praying the Psalms       
God's presence through the Holy Spirit          
Facing the inner darkness         

(The series continues next week with "All will be well." Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. This post is excerpted from my book, A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife, available in paperback here and on kindle here.)


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