“Thou tells my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?”
In a little shop in Bethlehem, Israel, I saw an object that piqued my curiosity. Along with the customary olive wood carvings, jewelry, and oil lamp replicas on the shelves, I noticed several slender bottles, each about four inches tall. The storeowner held one up, asking if any of us ladies knew what it was. When we responded with blank looks, he identified the object as a tear-bottle. “It was a custom in ancient Israel,” he explained, “for young women to catch their tears in these bottles whenever they cried. When it came time for a woman to marry, she would present her tear-bottle as a gift to her bridegroom.”
My first thought was to be a bit skeptical about the romance of such a gift. How many men would really be interested in a bottle of stale, salty water out of some woman’s tear ducts? Yet the more I thought about the custom and its symbolism, the sweeter it became. If the tear-bottle represented the sorrows of her life, wouldn’t any woman want her bridegroom to be tenderheartedly aware of the things that cause her pain?
Whether it’s problems in a relationship, grief over a loss, a sever disappointment, unfulfilled longings, or even our own sinfulness, we would all agree that life carries its share of emotional pain. And being women, we often display pain in the form of tears. If you’re like me, you would probably prefer to confine your tears to private settings, yet you find that your emotions don’t always cooperate with you. I remember one Sunday when I cried through an entire sermon that addressed what was for me a painful topic. Although I tried hard to keep my tears hidden, I wasn’t completely successful. When heads were bowed for the closing prayer, I escaped to the restroom. I still chuckle to remember that the man on the end of my pew glanced up with a startled expression as I came stumbling past him in my tear-blinded state, complete with smeared makeup and runny nose. I must have been a frightening sight!
When the tears of life come, our tendency is to hide them from others as best we can. But one thing is certain – our tears are never hidden from our God. Just like those ancient Israeli bridegrooms who received tear-bottles on their wedding days, God is very much aware of our expressions of grief. David, the writer of Psalm 56, asked God to put his tears in His tear-bottle. David actually expressed his belief that his tears were important to God, that the God of heaven was sympathetic to the pain he was experiencing! David was also the writer of Psalm 103. Verses 13 and 14 illustrate God’s sympathetic concern for human frailty by comparing Him to a tenderhearted father:
“Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.”
In the Hebrew language, pitieth in its noun form is the word womb. It expresses the gentlest, most nurturing kind of parental compassion – the tender feeling of pity that a mother has for the child of her own womb. That is the kind of compassion that God, our heavenly father, has for His children. He made us, and He knows the frail stuff of which we’re made.
A memory from my early teens enhances my understanding of these verses. My sister and I had just come home from school, and we found both of our parents waiting for us in the entryway with sad new. Our grandfather had died that morning. My dad sat down on the couch with us, and as we absorbed the news, my sister and I both began to cry. I remember glancing over at my dad, and to my surprised, a tear was rolling down his cheek too! Rarely, if ever, had I seen my father cry. Later, when we all recalled that moment, he told us that his tears were not so much for his own grief over the loss, but for ours. His children’s tears had stirred his own heart to sympathy.
So it is with our heavenly Father. When our tears fall, He draws near in compassionate, complete understanding.
Isn’t the restorative power of tears amazing? I think that the phrase “having a good cry” rings true to what I find about tears in the Scripture. God is the inventor of tears. He gives them as a wonderful release for our pent-up pain, guilt, or frustration. He gives them to lead us to a cleansed, quiet heart again.
Of course, tears can be used for the wrong purposes – to pity ourselves or to manipulate others. But often, our tears flow from the genuine griefs that overtake us in a fallen world. When was the last time you cried from a hurting heart? Have you ever thought that God is watching you cry, that He cares deeply and intimately about your heartache, that He understands your emotional responses even better than you do? He created you. He loves you.
Don’t keep back your tears from your Father. Let them lead you near to Him, nearer that you could ever come with a cold heart and dry eyes. His Word tells us that it is an act of trust to pour out our hearts before Him (Psalm 63:8). Hold nothing back. When your heart has been shattered by disappointment, grieved by a loss, shamed by a besetting sin, or wearied by a desire ungranted, tell Him. He already knows. He completely understands. He is the One who can best comfort you. And one day, when you stand face to face with Him in His eternal Kingdom, He will wipe away all tears from your eyes.
Written by Eileen Berry. This article was published in the Winter 2006 edition of The Beautiful Spirit magazine.
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