If you’re one of those heroic people who are always able to rise above the challenges life throws at you with a victorious attitude (“My head is bloody but unbowed”*), move on to another email. This message is not for you. This is for those who often feel surrounded by loss, defeat, sorrow and fear; for those who identify with the complaining Psalmist:

I am weary with my moaning every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eyes waste away because of grief. (Psalm 6:5-7)

Or as another shameless crybaby Psalmist put it:

My tears have been my food day and night. (Psalm 42:3)**

Well, have I got a psalm for you! Psalm 56 is attributed to Israel’s King David, describing a time when he seemed to be at the mercy of his enemies and was forced to cry out to God for help. The first few verses describe the sorry state he is in, surrounded by relentless attackers. But verse 8 marks a turning point, and the psalm ends with confidence and optimism. Here’s the realization that made the difference:

You have kept count of my tossings. Put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? (Psalm 56:8)

Maybe you’ve lost count, but God hasn’t. You probably feel that the tears you’ve shed when you feel utterly helpless, at the end of your rope, have been wasted because no one’s listening, but God is.

Think of this image: God has a bottle set aside for your tears. He keeps a record of every hurt you’ve suffered in his book. He knows about every time you’ve tossed and turned through sleepless nights. Read the verse again, putting your name in place of the “my.”

To emphasize how exacting God is in recording and remembering your pangs of emotional suffering, the author uses language very precisely. The Hebrew word for “tear” is singular, not plural. It could be paraphrased as “each of my tears, one by one.” And then, please notice that the Psalmist reminds God of “Your bottle,” God’s own tear-bottle. It’s not that you’re saving up grievances in a bottle you possess. It’s God’s bottle, with your name on it. He has one reserved just for your tears.

God knows about tears from his personal experience. He sent his Son into the world to cry with us. The story in John 11 tells about Jesus’ interactions with his close friends, the siblings Mary, Martha and Lazarus. In a brief paragraph we read:

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 

Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:32-36)

And then there’s the Cross! Imagine what tears — on both sides — are behind the anguished cry of Jesus, “My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?”***

 In addition to the expressions of empathy discussed above, the Biblical Psalms also contain some wonderful assurances about the ultimate outcome of your tears:

Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves. (Psalm 126:5-6)

Thank you, God, for crying with us and for promising that our tears will make a difference!     

— Pastor George Van Alstine

* From William Ernest Henley’s famous poem Invictus.

** See also Psalm 80:4-5; 102:8-9.

*** Mark 15:34, based on the words of Psalm 22:1.