The only way there is through. To reap a joy, we sow a tear, but it’s work, hard work, so we don’t travel alone. We journey with safe others.
I knew there had to be an ocean of loss behind the lifestyle mask they were wearing. For all the stories of trauma, they had managed life quite well. Everything in its place, compartments for this and that, and rooms of memories best kept locked and securely walled up. Everything was under control, supposedly.
But just like a camel carrying too many straws, this last one, small as it was, was the one that broke the camel’s back.
They were exhausted from the weight of keeping everything together. Their body was beginning to break down. It couldn’t cope with the load. It was never meant to.
They needed to cry.
It was only a couple of words, and the tap began to turn.
‘How are you?’
Apologies made quickly. Composure snatched, but the facade had cracks, and the face was awash.
There is a time for the tears to flow.
I have at times cried like a waterfall. Deep emotions bursting out without any ability to hold them back.
At times by myself, but more often with others, sometimes unsafe others.
People who didn’t know what to do with a few milliliters of tears. They felt awkward, so they tried to Fix, Advise, Save and Set straight. Worse still, they went and blabbed about it to others.
All I wanted was to be known and loved. To be held securely within the quiet presence of another.
That’s all. Perhaps some tissues and a glass of water too.
There is a time for the deep to be known and held. To know that you’re not alone with the hurt.
I can still smell Eden.
As I write this, it is springtime. I walk out into the garden, and I can smell the perfume of flowers filling the air. Flowers compete with each other for attention. Colors, sounds, smells all remind me of something very deep in my being. Something just beyond.
As the first man and woman left the Garden of Eden, they would still have had the memories, the aromas, the tastes of delight in their thinking. It’s still in our memories too.
Deep down, unbeknown to us, we have a longing for something akin to the garden.
Harmony, wholeness, peace, beauty, unity, joy all in a perfect, unending experience.
I was made for another world, not this one.
I have a toenail in Eden, but I am sitting outside. And it hurts. Bad.
C.S. Lewis puts it well.
If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy,
the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.
There is a longing, and sometimes the loneliness washes through one’s eye.
So we gravitate towards the stories of happy endings. We make up a world that is as close to Eden as we possibly can. We grow our gardens, plan our futures, extract the honey, smell the roses, and think life is good.
Then a storm of broken world reality smashes into us.
We discover how our supposedly ‘secure’ world is broken. It hurts. Bad.
Under the tears, there is a groan of ‘This isn’t how it’s meant to be’ and ‘I didn’t deserve this.’
I agree, and we grieve together.
Sowing in tears
Doing the work is hard.
Facing the truth can be hard.
Knowing the pain can be a hollowing out of the soul. A ‘spitting out’ of anything redundant and past its ‘used by date.’
Being real can be too real for some.
It was a whole nation of people that had been sent out of their ‘promised land.’
Israel had been carted off to exile in a foreign land. Reality hit home hard—laments, tears, pain, anguish. A whole book had been written about the trauma. It’s called Lamentations.
Could you write a book about your pain and struggle?
Your writing could be the soil out of which some new emerges.
Tears softening the hard crust of self-protection.
There is a beautiful song in the book of Psalms.
When Jehovah brought back his exiles to Jerusalem, it was like a dream!
How we laughed and sang for joy.
And the other nations said,
“What amazing things the Lord has done for them.”
Yes, glorious things! What wonder! What joy!
May we be refreshed as by streams in the desert.
Those who sow tears shall reap joy. Yes, they go out weeping, carrying seed for sowing, and return singing, carrying their sheaves. Psalm 126
I have found that those with a deep sense of joy always have a back story where many tears have been shed.
It’s like you can’t have one without the other.
Every tear is an investment—a reality trip into truth.
Tears bring us to gratitude.
Whenever I cry deep emotional tears, it feels like I am washed out? Something has been emptied.
Also, a feeling of being tired, very tired. A need to curl up and sleep somewhere and with someone safe. To be held.
There is something wonderful that God has provided in the chemistry of the tear. Emotional tears contain protein-based hormones prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, and Leu-enkephalin (a natural painkiller). Nice drugs that can help us in our time of need.
Tears can bring us to a place where we can discover what truly matters the most. Grounded, we look to see what remains.
We, like those lamentors of old, discover compassions.
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23
The loss hasn’t consumed you. It may feel like it, but there is a remnant left. God’s love is there for you. As faithful and consistent as a sunrise.
It’s tough, hard, and soul-draining, but in the presence of compassion, we rise again.
We begin to see what truly matters. The little things such as the gift God has given in providing a natural pain-killer in the chemistry of a tear. Maybe it’s the sunrise, having a friend, a home to live in, a gift overlooked.
One of the shared experiences of going through the death of someone close is the realization of what truly matters. That life is short, and people matter more than things.
A stalk of wheat is gathered one stalk at a time. It’s work.
Picking a crop of anything is work. It’s attention to the detail of whether it’s ready for harvest or not.
Joy is in the details of what we focus on. The little things often overlooked.
We begin to look at what truly matters, and we give thanks. Joy droplets join others, and soon you have a trickle and then a river.
It’s a deeper joy you’re after. Not the fizz and pop that goes flat after the cap is taken off.
The joy you want is one that flows deep in your veins. Something unshakeable.
For that, you have to focus on the little moments brought to your attention and train the brain to soak and mould itself to them.
Joy doesn’t just knock on your door and say, ‘I’m here.’ No, it’s you with intention, unlocking the door, swinging it open, and laying out the welcome mat.
Safe enough to lament
I think many of us need a friend to feel safe to lament with.
I had someone call me the other day on the phone. The conversation went something like this.
Me: ‘Hi, how are you?’
Them: ‘Can’t complain, who would listen’ (laughter)
Me: ‘I would.’
I knew very little of their story. But I knew that they had suffered a loss in their family, but they were getting on with life the best they could.
I do hope and pray that they have someone safe enough to lament the loss.
So often, though, many people try to sweep under the rug the traumas of their lives and the tears that have not been shed and sown. They haven’t felt safe enough to lament the living and the losing in a broken world.
Instead, something else begins to grow—the opposite of joy. There is bitterness, resentment, anger, entitlement, and a kind of demandingness to make things right. They demand the ‘Garden of Eden’ without going through a valley of tears.
Don’t sweep the pain under the rug. It will only result in a moldy growing lump that you and others will trip over. Life is hard and was never meant to be walked alone.
When we shed our tears, what we most need is to have someone hold us, and that is all they say.
Quotes to consider
- I believe there is a profound correlation between gratitude and joy and the absence of gratitude and despair. Dan Allender Sabbath
- Most of us are spared life-wrenching tragedy, but none of us escapes the heartache of living in a fallen world. Dan Allender
- Do you want joy? Then open your heart to suffer. Suffering involves the ruthless paring away of all that will keep joy at bay. Dan Allender Sabbath
- What is joy? I can no more define joy than I can beauty. Perhaps it is best to say that joy is a touch of sweet madness that comes when we sense God is closer to us than our own heartbeats. Dan Allender Sabbath
- Joy has little to do with moments of success, reward, or honor. It is related to circumstances, yet it is not centered on something working out well. In fact, most of my joy has come within the frame of dark and troubling times. It has come in the midst of heartache and confusion. It seems uniquely related to death—death of a friend or even a friendship, the death of dream or an illusion that masqueraded as a worthy desire. Death has been the inevitable frame for joy. Dan Allender Sabbath
- Abundance is waiting to be plucked like lush fruit on a tree—all it requires is the willingness to delight in its plump fragrance and eat
- I always try to preach from my scars and not my wounds. So, talking about depression is not in any way a wound for me. Nadia Bolz-Weber
Questions to answer
- What’s it like for you to shed tears?
- Have you got a moldy lump under the rug where you have swept your pain? What does it leak out in you?
- Can you define what joy is like?