Tears as Prayer

You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8

You could say there’s a lot to cry over this month. Deadly shootings in Gilroy, California, Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas. The amount of violence we’ve seen lately is hard to wrap your head and heart around. Or maybe you're dealing with your own personal loss or life transition and you feel those tears right at the surface of your heart. I have learned a lot about tears this past year, having just passed the one year anniversary of my precious son Peter’s death. I have found tears to be a helpful way to express feelings, good for mental and physical health, and one of the most beautiful ways to pray.

Crying is a natural response to stress, fear and physical and emotional pain. Another natural response is to try to suppress the crying, for fear of showing your emotion to others or fear of feeling emotional pain that you don’t want to feel. But crying has so many benefits including helping to calm you down. One study explained how crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system which helps people relax. Tears contain stress hormones and other chemicals so when you cry, you’re releasing some of those chemicals and relieving some of your stress. Shedding emotional tears also releases oxytocin and endorphins which helps you feel good and eases both physical and emotional pain.

But today, I want to invite you to another, even more beautiful benefit to tears. You can use your tears as your prayer. Have you ever had a time when you were so upset that you had no words to pray? I sure have! There were times over this past year when I went to pray and nothing came out but tears. I remember one time at church after being overwhelmed by tears, I sat staring at a big teardrop that had fallen from me onto the pew in front of me. I just stared at it, honoring all of the pain and sadness inside of it and prayed to God, “This is for you. You know everything inside that tear. Take it from me and hold it for me.”

Another time at the dinner table, I was about to say a prayer with my husband and burst into tears. I just sat in silence with my husband for a moment and then said, “Amen.” Nothing else needed to be said, and I felt such calm and relief afterwards. I love this quote I found this year, “Tears are God’s gift to us. Our holy water. They heal us as they flow.” Rita Schiano.

I hope you will allow your tears to come and allow them to be your prayer of sorrow or prayer of rejoicing. God knows your tears, collects your tears and will hold them to comfort you.

The Prayer of Tears

by Edward Hays

Lord, Beloved God,

since all communion with You is prayer,

may even my tears be psalms of petition

and canticles of praise to You.

This is a prayer that You value greatly:

the prayer of my tears;

it is a prayer that You always hear

for You are a compassionate and kind God.

And, Lord, I know You understand

that when I am overcome by my tears-

unable to speak or form a prayer-

that these very tears voice volumes of verse.

All truly great prayer

rises from deep inside

and springs spontaneously to the surface.

It would then seem

that from among the many beautiful prayers,

the sacred songs and canticles of praise,

my tears may be the best worship of all.

Help me not to be ashamed of them;

show me how I can let go of control

and let this prayer of my heart, my tears,

flow naturally and freely to You,

my Blessed Lord and Divine Lover.

In times of joy or sorrow,

blessed be my tears,

the holy prayers of my heart.

Amen.

I’ll be talking a little more about listening to our tears in our upcoming online retreat, and day retreat, “What if you began to say YES: A look at the many ways God speaks to us and our call to respond.”

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I’d love to hear if you’ve ever thought of your tears as prayer before or if there’s a line from the prayer above that speaks to you.

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