I came across a set of photographs of tears taken using a microscope. They are fascinating to look at; vastly different in their detail and patterns, like looking down at changing landscapes from an aeroplane.
The photographer, Rose-Lynn Fisher, has pictures of tears from all sorts of circumstances: tears of happiness, grief, pain, reminiscing, tears caused by irritation or for lubrication, and many other sorts—each like a unique work of art. Some are jagged and angular, some are densely detailed, like an aerial view of the Amazon rainforest. Others pictures are sparse in their detail, yet others square and block-like like a city plan. I love how she describes them as “aerial views of emotion terrain.”
Our tears are mostly salt water but contain a variety of substances—including enzymes, oils, antibodies, hormones, and even natural painkillers the body releases under stress. Each of these seems to impact the detail. (Although another photographer seems to think these additives are less of a factor.)
All this came to mind because I was preaching last Sunday on Psalm 6. The songwriter is at the end of his tether, he says his “I flood my bed with weeping… my eyes grow weak with sorrow”. Perhaps you know that feeling.
But what really struck me was what he said next: “the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping”
The Hebrew language is picturesque. The word translated ‘sound’ also means ‘voice’—the Lord heard the voice of my weeping. I think there is a rich tenderness to that. It's as if he's saying, "God is fluent in the language of your tears." They speak to him—when words won't come. Of course, as God, he knows all things instantly, but there is something richer, closer, more personal about this way of putting it. And perhaps we need reminding of that.
For it is when we are at the end of our tether, or can't see past the tears that Satan whispers to us, "He doesn't care", "He doesn't see," "Your problems aren't worth his attention." In those moments we can feel that God is cold, distant, aloof. Perhaps like that detached and pristine parent who when their child comes with tears running down their cheeks pushes them away so they don’t mess up their own clothes. As if God isn’t interested in the mess and messiness of our lives.
But Psalm 6 paints a different picture. The tears of God's people speak with an eloquence and a clarity that he hears. Here is the God we can come to, tears and all—a soggy mess of emotion and pain—and he won’t push us away. Do you need reminding of that?
And his fluency in the language of tears is not textbook learning; it comes from experience. For in a richer way than even David knew when penned these words in Psalm 6 we know that he knows. God the Son became “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). And as our High Priest he is able to sympathize with our weaknesses and so provide what he knows we need. He understands the accent of our tears.
So "let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:16). Let your tears bring you to Christ.