I cry easily. A good Hallmark Card commercial can get me going. The year of 9/11, when I read “In Flanders’ Fields” out loud to the kids on Remembrance Day, I had to get my daughter to finish because I was crying. I can cry in frustration, anger, joy. But what about tears related to prayer? If I have tears in prayer, just what are the tears about? These words were a challenge to me:
What is it, this Prayer of Tears? It is being “cut to the heart” over our distance and offense to the goodness of God (Acts 2:37). It is weeping over our sins and the sins of the world. It is entering into the liberating shocks of repentance. It is the intimate and ultimate awareness that sin cuts us off from the fullness of God’s presence. On the morning of October 18, 1740, David Brainerd, that stalwart pioneer missionary to Native Americans, wrote in his journal, “My soul was exceedingly melted, and bitterly mourned over my exceeding sinfulness and vileness. I never before had felt so pungent and a deep sense of the odious nature of sin as at this time. My soul was then unusually carried forth in love to God and had a lively sense of God’s love to me.”Sometimes, I must admit, tears in my prayers have more to do with my circumstances than my heart. I am tempted to be broken up because I’m having trouble handling situations rather than grieving over my sinfulness. I know that calling ourselves "vile" in this day and age flies in the face of the proponents of positive thinking and self-actualization. But our sin is a reality that won’t go away no matter how we try to spin it. If it isn’t popular to remind ourselves of our sin, well, then all I can say is that all too often things that are true are not popular.
What is it about this sorrow and weeping and mourning? It sounds a bit depressing, at least to those of us who have been raised on a religion of good feelings and prosperity. The old writers, however, had a very different view. They saw it as a gift to be sought after, the “charism of tears.” For them the people most to be pitied are those who go through life with dry eyes and cold hearts.
God never despises “a broken and contrite heart,” says the Psalmist (51:17). But the real question for us in the modern world is: how do we experience a contrite heart? a grieving, broken, sorrowing, repentant heart? We begin by asking. I wish that did not sound so trite, for it is the deepest truth we can ever know about our turning toward God. We simply cannot make repentance happen….it is a gift that God loves to bestow on all who ask….Second, we confess. We acknowledge our lack of faith, our distance, our hardheartedness….Third, we receive. Our God who is faithful and just – and also full of mercy – will forgive and will cleanse (I John 1:9)…..Fourth, we obey. It is not enough to ask for a heart soft and broken where there is space for repentance. It is not enough to confess freely and openly our many offenses. Embedded in the word of forgiveness is the call to obedience.