Monday, June 28, 2010

The Weight of Tears

 "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)

Sometimes, the sadness is so heavy that I feel it as a palpable weight around my neck. I have a physical sensation in my chest, as if my heart were heavy-sodden with a monstrous weight of unshed tears. The heaviness tethers me down to the hard, harsh ground of an earth unredeemed. Then the unbearable chasm between what is and what should be opens wide. I feel myself plummeting down into its nether depths.

With age, layers of loss accumulate like thick barnacles on a shell long tumbled by the tearing tides. Life gets heavier and heavier.

Carrying all that weight is exhausting.

On an hour-long drive the other day, the heaviness made it difficult for me to keep my arms up on the steering wheel.

I put in some old R.E.M., the complex melodies and lyrics a welcome distraction from my own thoughts. I think Michael Stipe is sometimes deliberately obscure, his existential yearnings laced with many layers of meaning.

Negotiating the country curves, I was arrested by this refrain

Not everyone can carry the weight of the world
Not everyone can carry the weight of the world
Combien, combien, combien de temps

Talk about the passion
Talk about the passion

Although the song is ostensibly about hunger and poverty issues, the religious symbolism was striking. It reminded me of something I already know.

We are not meant to carry the weight of the world on our own shoulders.

Or the weight of unshed tears.

We can’t.


(Okay, I know this serendipity thing has happened two Sundays in a row, but I can’t not tell it. I’m really not making it up about God’s timing.)

The service the next day was about freedom. I felt anything but. I felt weighed down like a ton of bricks. Glued to the pew.

In the scorching Georgia summer, we get even more casual at our church. We shed layers of all kinds.

Children gleefully danced in the aisles during the music. The sanctuary buzzed with love and contagious joy. At first I pretended, but gradually I started to feel a bit lighter.

And then we did something different.  To my knowledge, there has never been anything quite like it at this church.

The scripture was the whole of Galatians 5: “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free…” (For some reason, I had just emailed that passage to my daughters three days earlier.) It addresses the internal conflict between man’s spiritual and selfish human nature. It enumerates the manifestations of living only for one’s selfish desires, which lead ultimately to terrible bondage, in contrast to the joyful life of freedom in the spirit that God desires for his children.

As the list of the forms of bondage was read, our pastor brought out a long chain with each one written on a link. It stretched the length of the sanctuary.

Then he encouraged anyone who wanted to participate to come to the front and write down whatever specific struggle kept them from experiencing full spiritual freedom.

In the meantime, they had brought out a large wooden cross, tilted over on its side.

The pastor suggested that you might find someone who could act as a burden-bearer to come up with you. No man (woman) is an island. I found a close friend who has helped me bear many burdens over the years.

She came up with me, and she nailed my heavy weight onto the rugged cross. Then I nailed one for her. And we knelt and prayed.

When we finished praying, we saw that the cross had been lifted up. The sins and struggles and sorrows and burdens of the congregation had been nailed to it. The heavy chain of bondage had been draped around it.

Not everyone can carry the weight of the world.

There is only one who can.

…who did.

Leaving the sanctuary, I felt as light and free as a butterfly emerging into brilliant day.


“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

“He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross
 so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right.
By his wounds
you are healed.” (I Peter 2:24)

Isaiah 53
 1 Who has believed our message?
 To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm?
2 My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot,
like a root in dry ground. 
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
nothing to attract us to him.

3 He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. 
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.
 4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
 And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, 
a punishment for his own sins!

5 But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole. 
He was whipped so we could be healed.

6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
 We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
 Yet the Lord laid on him
the sins of us all.



Several new things coming soon...Melanie, please check back tomorrow, and I'll try to have that link up, along with some other stuff.

Plus...Margery's getting ready to go on a trip. Do ya'll want to come?


Laurel said...

Harumph. Margery's getting ready to go on a trip.

Margery is a trip, lady.

Unknown said...

For a number of reasons, I have been feeling very weighed down lately, probably because I have come to a cross roads where a decision should be made, but it will not be easy. I keep a "Post-It" note on my desk at work that has Psalm 55:22 on it: "Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you." I am always encouraged by it and I hope the next time you feel the weight of the world you will remember this verse. :)

Angela said...

Very moving post.

I have always liked that song by REM, but never thought of it in that way before. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and for giving me a new perspective and well as a timely reminder.

JRT said...


The weight of the world is sometimes to hard to bear. So many sad things happening all around us.

Thanks for reminding me that we don't have to carry it alone.

Ellen said...

Great post.

I'm game for the trip! Where we going?

bon voyage!


Anonymous said...

I am the ultimate lurker, but I followed to this new place and I'm happy I did. I'm willing to go along on this upcoming trip. I really like where we've been so far, much thinking on my back porch in the moonlight follows on the heels of your posts.

...yet another earthquake survivor