This September marked 13 years [now 17 years] since the iconic buildings of the World Trade Center disappeared by the New York skyline and changed American culture for the foreseeable future. It would be impossible to enumerate all the ways that the character of the nation has been impacted by that one event. But here is a piece written just four days before it happened that in an odd way, prepared my soul for life after 9/11.
3 My tears have been my food day and night,
While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
Psalm 42:3 (NIV)
How can tears be food? Food is that which sustains life. Without food, the human body withers and dies. The intake of food is a symbol of God’s blessing throughout the Scripture. One day, the redeemed will sit at the wedding “feast” of the lamb and will be nourished by the bounty of His table. Food, adds to life’s enjoyment
Tears on the other hand, are generally thought of as subtracting from life. We know there are tears of joy and gladness. But generally, when we see tears in others we assume some sadness or loss, or hurt, or injury, or betrayal, or disappointment, or longing, or death, or illness, or failure, or fear. Tears don’t add to life, they subtract.
But the Psalmist tells us something different, something that captures our attention. He is in pain. His enemies surround and taunt him. His soul languishes with longing for the presence of God. His spirit thirsts for a living relationship with the Living God. His psyche is downcast—a remarkably descriptive and evocative word for depression (cf. vs. 5).
But in the midst of the turmoil and angst of his situation these startling words arrest our eyes:
“My tears have been my food day and night.”
How can tears be food? Is there a nourishment that flows to the spirit of a man or woman from their tears? All tears? Or just certain types of tears? How can the tears of anguish and loneliness and longing nourish? And how can sustained eating of such food, “day and night”, nourish and sustain a beleaguered heart? I’m not sure I know—but I have some thoughts.
The tears of our sadness and loss drive us to the realization that we need, desperately need, others. That is a good thing.
The tears of our hurt and injury remind us of our fragility and need for God’s redemption and protection. That too is a good thing.
The tears of our disappointment and longing are God’s megaphone, calling our hearts to value ultimate things. That is perhaps our greatest need.
The tears of our failures and fears cause us to run into Him whose arms are always open. That is our only hope.
But perhaps more than all of these, our tears, when they are centered in a righteous defense of God and His truth, which is at least part of the context of Psalm 42-43, nourishes the soul precisely because those tears are all the believer has to hold on to at times. They are the expressions of love and commitment that the loving and committed heart gives when there is nothing else left to give. They nourish because in the heavenly abode of God they are received, remembered and bottled (Ps. 56:8).
And because they are remembered, they will be recompensed. So the righteous, who live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4), are nourished by their tears because they know on the basis of the all-seeing eye of God and the promise of His word that every tear is recorded. Every tear is valued and treasured by the God who is worth standing for when the taunts of unbelievers are mockingly loud.
“Where is your God?” Our tears declare our hope in Him. And in the supernatural and paradoxical plan of God, they nourish our souls. Your tears, every one of them, are precious to Him. Remember that, and comfort yourself and one another with your tears in the midst of the heartache that threatens your soul.
© Marty Schoenleber, Jr. 2001
Go to Psalm 42-43.