For too long the place I fought the tears the hardest was church. It’s perplexing, isn’t it, but this is often the case with many. The music plays, the verses recited, the Spirit touches. And the tears beg to come.
Then the cheek is bit, the leg pinched, the eyes blink. Instead of allowing the holy work to press the grief, my mind races to anything it can to wage war on my emotions.
Why is this? What is it about our pews and pulpits, our services and sanctuaries that we’ve decided hold a No Trespassing sign against our tears?
I can only speak from my position, and I’ve realized in many ways that church for me has been a place I feel the most pressure to seem like I have it all together. There’s an unrehearsed script to follow it seems, and with it the pleasantries that tell us God is good so smiles must be on, and joy must look lighthearted.
But wait, what Bible are we reading? The one I look to reminds me that what I’ve bought into was not God’s protocol. I find comfort there. The Word never sweeps the pain under the rug, never requires rose-colored glasses to be readable. We follow the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief. Why do we, the grief stricken, refuse to identify with Him in this way?
When I had my first miscarriage, when my first precious baby died, each Sunday after was a battle against my wet cheeks. The weeks I cried more than those few hard-fought tears I felt like a complete failure.
When we lost our second baby, and the world kept rocking with aftershocks of more loss unfolding, I determined early on: the don’t-cry-in-church-war was over. I surrender. Each Sunday would mean the white flag would be waved, and the white tissue was, and I would cry without reservation. I was seared deeply in so many areas, and just waking up took enough energy. I had no energy to spare for tear battles.
And I remember one week, wishing church could be a safer place, and wondering what that would take. And it hit me, what that first ingredient to change would be.
It would be tears. It required us, the sufferers, the battle worn, to release and let the salty water fall. How can the church ever become comfortable with something it never experiences? How can we ever be a place where the hurting are welcome if we keep hiding our hurt?
And it’s always hard, when the burden is on the burdened. When in your sadness you also feel a sense of duty. But unless I allow myself to also bear my vulnerability and unless I also allow my pain to be increased with my embarrassment then I cannot, I just cannot, feel angst at the charade at hand.
I remember my first Sunday back at church, after months of absence due to health withheld and the ongoing unraveling. I walked in the door and almost collapsed from the weight of my grief entering this place. Memories of the last time there, colliding with the present, the new condition of so many things. Before met after and I reeled. Here was this place I remembered, this place that seemed the same; and here I was, so different, my scars invading the sanctuary. I started sobbing right away. I told the first person I saw that maybe this was a mistake, my coming here. It felt crass, wrong, to bring such grief into this place. I sat in the back row, right by the door. And I’ll never forget it, when a dear lady brought me a box of tissues and simply, sympathetically said, “I know it’s hard.”
If I had hidden my pain I would never have felt her loving balm.
Have you heard the speaker in your service talk about the heavy, the broken, who are filling the congregation? Have you, like me, wondered where they are? If we never let our guard down we will keep wondering.
We can talk trendy all day long about being authentic and relevant, and it sounds appealing, but it won’t look it. It won’t look cool to be a church that is “real” because real is hard, and we’re really messy.
But this is where the beauty is, because this is worship. In Luke 7:38, we see the woman fallen at Jesus’ feet, washing them with her tears. Don’t picture a few shed streams here- she WASHED a grown man’s feet (both!) with her tears! This was the washing of weeping.
Falling at His feet and giving Him our sorrow in such a tangible way as offering our tears- this is worship. This is intimacy with the Most High when we’re in our deepest low. And no, not all the sufferers will worship this way, and grief looks different in each. So don’t feel obliged to cry, don’t feel false guilt if this is not your mode of processing. But if it is- don’t fight it.
The call of God sounds cozy and inspiring, doesn’t it? The call to praise, the call to serve, the call to do and be and help. But what then when we are the helpless, when we need to receive, when the call is to come in pieces, and bring our ache with us. Sometimes God calls us to tears. He collects them in His bottle, so that one day He can wipe them away forever (Psalm 56:8, Revelation 21:4). Sometimes the call of God doesn’t seem romantic or inspiring at all. Sometimes it means taking our tear-stained cheeks and sniffling noses and offering them to Him.
I always bring tissues with me to church now. I hardly wear make up. And I can’t lie and tell you I like this season, or find ease in this mourning, or want to be this way. I miss singing praises with a light heart and a steady voice. I don’t like when the saltiness stings my face and heart. But this is the place God has called me to right now, and this is the worship He’s asking of me. If His desire were for my carefree praise, then that is the song He would give me now, as He does for many others.
My encouragement to you, dear hurting one, is to allow yourself to come to God today with your broken heart open to Him. This, just like singing and praising and preaching and praying, is worship. And if the tears well up, allow the well to spill over, adding to His collection of sorrows kept track of; an offering to Him that says Father, I’m weak, broken, wounded, and it is to You I come. To You, the God Who grieves, the Jesus Who wept. Today I lower my walls and give you my tears and look forward to that glorious day when You will wipe them all away.
So allow your tears to be shed, if they so beg, knowing that it is only through their release that He will collect them and one day wipe them away. Give Him your tears as you worship, and may our churches become the safest, most comfortable places, to cry.