You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You keep track of my sorrows. You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8
My Aunt Mary once pointed out this verse from the book of Psalms to me and I’ve never forgotten it. The idea that there is someone acknowledging our grief, writing an account of our sorrow, and collecting our tears to keep as a remembrance is comforting. Were we to keep track of all the sadness we experience in a lifetime we might become so weighed down with its burden we would have no time to appreciate and savor the many good things life also brings our way. We can be reassured our sorrow is never forgotten. This makes it possible for us to put the lid on the bottle of our tears perhaps in the beginning for only a short while, and eventually for longer periods of time. It enables us to close the book on our grief gradually, knowing a record has been kept and we are not betraying anyone’s memory or forgetting the intensity of the sorrow we experienced because we know it was important enough to be written down. This frees us to begin to write new and healing words, lines, pages and eventually chapters in our ongoing life story.
I’ve been thinking about that verse ever since I heard about the sudden death of a man who was part of my high school graduating class. We attended the same church for several decades and his sons were friends with mine. What can possibly bring solace to those who loved him? I know his family has a strong faith and a supportive faith community. Hopefully the knowledge that God is counting and acknowledging every tear they cry, and is grieving as they grieve, will be a source of comfort.
The process of collecting tears isn’t just a literary image. It has been a practice for centuries. Around the time of Jesus it was common for Romans to collect tears in bottles when someone died and place them in the deceased person’s tomb with them. The more tears you collected the more important the person was said to be.
During the Victorian period tears were collected in special bottles that had stoppers which allowed the tears to evaporate. When the tears were all gone, the period of mourning was officially over.
During the American Civil War women collected the tears they cried as their husbands and sons went off to war. They saved the tears until their men had returned home safely. Sadly many of their loved ones never came back.
Children’s author Arnold Lobel has written a heart warming story about tear collection called Tear Water Tea in his book Owl At Home. When owl remembers the sad things in life he cries and he collects the tears he cries in a kettle. He heats his tear water on the stove, makes tea with it, drinks the tea and is comforted.
We cry millions of tears in a lifetime. We may not remember them all, but that doesn’t mean they lose their significance or importance. They are noted. They count. They are collected and recorded by a compassionate God.