Beauty, Sorrow, Strength, and Tears

desert

There is beauty in our sorrow
There is strength within our tears
And you meet us in our mourning with a love that casts out fear

Strength within tears. When I think of the times I have cried, an ever increasingly frequent event I might add, strength and beauty are two of the last attributes that come to mind. I don’t like to cry and for years I didn’t cry but about once a year. I saw crying as a sign of weakness and lack of control. Not to mention, I almost always felt/feel very weak and drained after I cry which is not fun. It has only been within the last few years that I have come to accept and recognize the need for tears, at least in my own life.

Tears enable us to express emotion in ways too deep for words. We can join in someone else’s suffering by crying with them or we can express our own emotion through tears. Crying can actually help us release hormones and chemicals built during stressful times. Perhaps this is why people frequently say, “I just need a good cry to feel better.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” I don’t know about the first-rate intelligence part, but I’m learning the ability to hold two ideas in tension is certainly a mark of faith. The tension of sovereignty and free will, justice and mercy, suffering and good, obedience and joy, beauty and sorrow, strength and tears are all seemingly contradictory and ever present.

I’ve often heard stories of God’s sweetness and loving presence in the midst of sorrow. In my own experiences, there have been times I felt nothing close to good, sweet, or loving. Instead I felt alone, it was difficult, and I had doubts. Now, facing new uncertainties and tragedies, I am beginning to understand the beauty and sweetness is not in the circumstances, which are often lonely, difficult, and anger/doubt inducing, but the beauty is in the deeper understanding and knowledge that God’s promises hold true – even if I don’t feel it. God is faithful and in control even when I feel faithless and out of control. God is with me even when I feel alone. God is making my paths straight even if they are difficult and dark. Even though I walk through the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me (Psalm 23:4).

Now, I am not saying anyone who has said this or described tragedy this way is wrong or lying – not even close. I am not an emotional person by nature and I often connect intellectually to people and ideas before I connect emotionally; so for me, comfort comes first in knowing God’s promises hold true then feeling them – not the other way around. It has taken me 25 years to realize this and not feel guilty for not feeling spiritually happy in difficulty. Yes, there is a level of comfort and good, but there is also great pain and difficulty which can threaten to overwhelm the good, comfort, etc. I think God’s mercy can extend and help us feel good, even in the bad, but I also think God is still good, even when we don’t feel it.

Perhaps all of this can best be summed up by Psalm 27 written as David was being chased around the wilderness by Saul (1 Samuel 21-24):

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked advance against me
    to devour[a] me,
it is my enemies and my foes
    who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
    my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
    even then I will be confident.

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
    and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
    above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
    I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
    be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
    Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
    do not turn your servant away in anger;
    you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
    God my Savior.
10 Though my father and mother forsake me,
    the Lord will receive me.
11 Teach me your way, Lord;
    lead me in a straight path
    because of my oppressors.
12 Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
    for false witnesses rise up against me,
    spouting malicious accusations.

13 I remain confident of this:
    I will see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong and take heart
    and wait for the Lord.

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