When I answered the phone that evening, I heard my daughter-in-law’s trembling voice: “I just found out that my sister may have only twenty-four hours left to live.”
She immediately caught a flight to California, hoping to be with her oldest sister one last time. The next morning, I received this text message: “I didn’t make it. She passed away.” Her sister’s passing came just five days after the anniversary of her mom’s death, six years earlier. Of course there were tears. Many tears.
“When we turn to God in our tears, times of weeping will also become our times of greatest growth.”
Whether you are enduring the loss of your loved one, facing your parents’ divorce, discovering your husband’s unfaithfulness, abiding your teenager’s hostility, learning about your friend’s betrayal, or experiencing a breakup with the man you thought you’d marry — painful and perplexing circumstances bring forth tears. Naturally, we all desperately wish we could avoid such heartbreak, and we would do anything to prevent this kind of anguish for those we love. But truth be told, we can’t. This is the painful reality of living in a fallen world.
Tears Are Facts of Life
Tears are a fact of life and an expression of the pain we experience. The little book of Ecclesiastes prepares us to interpret our tears. In his famous poem in the third chapter, the author identifies seasons and times marked out for us in this life by our sovereign God, including seasons of sadness: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: . . . a time to weep” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4).
If, for you, it is “a time to weep,” your emotion is not a deficiency of faith: God has appointed your tears, and it is appropriate to cry. While it may seem like you will never be happy again, your crying won’t last forever. Weeping has its time — meaning, it has a beginning and an ending date.
This is not to suggest you will one day be unmoved by what is causing your tears; certain painful experiences will remain with us always. But Ecclesiastes tells us that God also has appointed “a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Or, as the psalmist puts it, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5). Though it may be hard to believe right now, you will laugh again someday.
Granted, in times of grief, it’s hard to see beyond our tears, hard to imagine past the time of pain to a time of mirth. But more is happening in seasons of sadness than we may realize.
What We Know (and Don’t)
In his infinite wisdom, our Heavenly Father is weaving the painful threads of our life into a grand design; he is making something beautiful from our tears: “He has made everything [even times to weep] beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Rarely, though, do we see the beauty God is creating. Our vision is filled with the devastation of our suffering and questions overflow with our tears. Why me, Lord? Why this? How can anything good come from so much pain?
It is part of our DNA to want to know and understand. We recognize that there is a bigger picture, a wider purpose for our suffering, because “[God] has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We want to figure out what God is doing, but we are stopped short when we discover that God also has placed limitations upon our capacity to comprehend: “yet . . . [man] cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). This ability to perceive, and yet not perceive, is a work of God.
“Look to your Savior, who walked this earth, wept over sinful, suffering humanity, and went to the cross.”
In other words, both our desire to make sense of our tears and our inability to make sense of them have been ordained by God. As J.I. Packer writes, God “has hidden from us almost everything that we should like to know about the providential purposes which he is working out . . . in our own lives.” When we accept that we know something, but cannot know all, we will stop striving to figure everything out. Our angst will subside and a sweet peace will pervade our souls. We can simply cry before our Lord and trust him to create something beautiful for his glory.
Bright Spots in Bleak Seasons
To help us endure times of grief, God provides us with gifts each day, and surprising gifts, at that! “Everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil — this is God’s gift to man” (Ecclesiastes 3:13). Ordinarily, we think of food and drink simply as nourishment for our bodies, but they are more than fuel for living. As John Calvin writes, “If we ponder to what end God created food, we shall find that he meant not only to provide for necessity but also for delight and good cheer.”
During a weeping time for me (and for my whole family), a friend sent us chocolate croissants with Samuel Rutherford’s famous quotation written on the card (only slightly reworded): “When I am in the cellar of affliction, I look for the Lord’s choicest [croissants].” Not only were those the best croissants I have ever eaten, they also brought me cheer in the midst of a bleak season.
At this same time, I was helping one of my daughters launch her small business; not something we would have started if we knew what was coming. But each day as we worked from morning until night — setting up a workspace, ordering supplies, framing artwork, fulfilling orders — we realized that God had provided this endeavor as a helpful distraction from our pain. The simple pleasures of food and drink and work really are wonderful gifts from God in times of weeping.
Time to Weep — and Grow
When we turn to God in our tears, times of weeping also become our times of greatest growth. Ecclesiastes tells us that God uses our appointed season of sorrow to teach us to fear him: “God has done it, so that people fear before him” (Ecclesiastes 3:14).
“Though it may be hard to believe right now, you will laugh again someday.”
While it might seem like we have stalled, or even digressed spiritually in the midst of our tears, the opposite is true. God is at work in our lives to bring about growth in godliness. He appoints “a time to weep” in order to reveal himself to us in deeper ways than we have ever known. He is sovereignly leading us through this valley of tears so that we might come to trust and treasure Jesus Christ above all.
So, to my daughter-in-law and to all who are weeping: look to Christ, your Savior, who walked this earth, wept over sinful, suffering humanity, and went to the cross in our place. No matter how long and hard this painful season, may you find comfort as you recall the truth of Ecclesiastes 3: God is creating beauty, providing you with gifts each day, and teaching you to fear him.
And one day soon, “a time to weep” will be no more. For God himself “will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).