“Planet Earth looks blue and there’s nothing I can do.” David Bowie’s Major Tom
I listened to a podcast by Paul David Tripp recently. He spoke about our identity. He noted how “tears reveal what our hearts care about most deeply”. I’ve cried countless tears throughout my lifetime – about all sorts of things: boo-boos, broken hearts, defeats, victories, comedic timings and joyous moments, to name a few themes. The synthesis of these themes is that I’m aware (or feel like) something good or bad is happening. Tears are proof that we are cognizant of what is going on around us and inside us. When we feel heightened moments of pain/hurt, fear, sadness, love, joy, relief, grief, anger, exhaustion etc., tears emerge as well. Tears also protect outside harmful materials from invading our eye space – like dust, bugs, allergens and noxious gases. Our eyes must always stay a bit teary to guard against dry eyes, which can be detrimental to our vision. Tears manage worlds inside and out, and specialize in cleansing our bodies and souls. If we don’t cry (or produce tears), we are not healthy human beings.
Our sympathetic nervous systems respond to events, emotions and our mind’s interpretations of it all in a holistic effort to keep us safe, secure and sensible. Our blood, sweat and tears are a team of messengers that communicate with our conscious brains about our present state of being. Who am I? Who are we? Tears continue to baffle even the best experts, because of their mysterious solidarity to show up during both joyful and sorrowful moments. Practically speaking, tears seem to sum up that we are connected to what matters…or we want to be. Our internal capacity to deal with life on our own has its limit, and when too much life wells up inside, our eyes well up and the overflow spills out. Social psychologists have suggested that tears signal to others that we, ourselves, are in need of another’s solidarity – either to celebrate an aspect of life or mourn it. We cry because we care – others cry with us because they care about us. Is it that simple?
The shortest verse in the whole Bible is found in the Gospel of John, and it’s all about Jesus’ tears. John didn’t originally scribe his gospel verse by verse, but as a continuous narrative. Scribes over the centuries sought to make it easier for us to navigate the Scriptures, so they divided thoughts and stories into chapter and verse. Something about John’s observation of Jesus crying caught their attention, too. John documented that Jesus wept, as he stood by his friend Lazarus’ tomb. John 11:35 simply reads “Jesus wept”. Talk about solidarity – Jesus cried, as did others that day over the loss of a dear loved one. Research suggests that women cry five times more than men in an average year. I have to admit that when I see a man cry, it immediately gets my attention in a way that deeply moves me – something must really matter for them to emote in such a way. It obviously impacted the people who stood with Jesus by Laz’s grave. They commented to each other, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:36). But was that the only reason why Jesus wept? When Jesus saw Lazarus’ sister, Martha, by his grave, Jesus assured her that her brother would live again. Martha didn’t get his meaning. It seems Jesus wept, not just because Laz died, but because humanity doesn’t get how loved we are by God and how we can love each other (and life itself) the same way God loves. I confess, I cry most about not feeling loved and feeling like life is too hard, and isn’t turning out the way I had hoped.
Ed Underwood, a pastor and cancer survivor, details his understanding of how God loves us in his book, When God Breaks Your Heart. Lying in a hospital bed, Underwood doubted if God was there with him as he anticipated his death. But then he re-read the story of Jesus resurrecting Lazarus with new perspective. In the story, Martha and her sister Mary sent for Jesus to come heal their brother who had become very ill. Jesus received their message and seemed to dismiss their dire call for help. Even his disciples were confused by his seemingly indifference to the crisis. They urged him to act fast or else Lazarus would surely die. Jesus purposefully waited for a few days to pass, ensuring Lazarus’ death, and then responded to the sisters’ request. When Martha heard Jesus was on his way, she rushed to meet him and angrily accused him of not coming soon enough. She emphasized to Jesus that ‘if only’ he had come sooner (John 11:21). Mary didn’t even bother accompanying her sister to confront Jesus. She stayed home (John 11:28); I’m sure clutching a box of ancient Kleenex, overwhelmed by grief. Underwood writes that he deeply struggled with the same emotional and intellectual experience as Martha and Mary did. However, reviewing the Biblical story in full brought Underwood a new and profound comfort. Underwood defines how ‘comfort’ literally breaks down to mean “come forth”. He underscores that these are the exact words Jesus declared outside of Lazarus’ tomb, after Jesus first ordered the grave seal to be broken (John 11:43 KJV). Martha winced at breaking the tomb’s seal and reminded Jesus that doing so would release a bad stench since Laz had been dead a few days (John11:39). Thanks, Martha, for pointing out the obvious – death stinks. Do we need to be reminded of that? The answer is yes. Does God? The answer is no. God was already aware of this fact. That was the reason why He came to earth in the first place. When the seal of Jesus’ own tomb was broken, God completely removed the stench of death. His resurrection is the best thing to cry about. Jesus proved Himself Lord over life and death.
In Dan Allender’s book The Cry of the Soul, he strategically provides insight into how our emotions (and tears) don’t just reveal what is going on in our own hearts, but also reveals God’s heart for us. He writes, “God’s passion is to rig the world so that we are compelled to deal with whatever blocks us from being like His glorious Son.” Our tears are like a bridge that allows love to flow in a two way direction – not simply between me and someone else here on earth but between me and the God of the universe. God sees every tear that falls. Whatever the reason, each one matters. The psalmist David wrote “You keep my tears in Your bottle” (Psalm 56:8b). Why would God do that? Because everything about us means something to God. Our lives matter.