On the pilgrim way: The value of shedding tears
I have been shedding rather a lot of tears in the past month. I have always been prone to tears of both joy and sorrow. I wept a lot when our eldest started school – for the loss of his babyhood forever. I wept for joy when one of our daughters, working abroad, unexpectedly arrived home for Christmas. According to the psalmist, God is collecting my tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8).
I have been shedding tears over my husband, Kees, his marked physical decline; every activity takes him much longer than before and is clearly an effort. My tears were partly of loss, which I felt every time I remembered our long country walks and exploring the secret streets of London, which, like our son’s babyhood, are presumably gone forever. And partly my tears were of fear and anxiety: Where is all this leading? Will we have to move house – after 48 years? How long have we got? There were also tears of sadness for him: No more nipping to the shops for something we’ve forgotten. I hope God has a large bottle!
Then, something changed. I suddenly realised that Kees did not share my griefs and my fears. Kees does not think of his situation as sad or even frightening; he finds it sometimes frustrating, and, having to bow out of some activities, a bit disappointing, but life continues to be interesting, fulfilling, busy and good. This was, for me, what is popularly called a “lightbulb moment” – there was another way of looking at our situation.
The first effect was that I began, once more, to really enjoy our everyday life: Sitting over lunch in the garden talking about our books, the news, the family, and watching the birds on the feeder; the daily slow walk to the shops ending up in our favourite café; planning our next holiday. And then, at last, the world beyond us came back into focus and I started thinking about Charles, an inspiring figure in our church, who died in June, aged 95.
The facts of Charles’ life might tempt a stranger to think “poor Charles”: His wife was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis for the last 15 years of her life and Charles retired early to care for her; his only son lived at a distance and he had no grandchildren; he lived alone for the last 30 years of his life and, during the last six months of his life, his short term memory had failed. But Charles would not have recognised that picture of his life. Charles loved life, insisted on the benefits of old age, and to the end said: “I’m a lucky old Charlie.” There were 300 people at his funeral.
For the moment, God has put the top on my bottle of tears; but the promise, in Revelation, that God will wipe away all tears from our eyes is not for this life.
Sheila Maxey is book reviews editor for Reform
This is an extract from the September 2015 edition of Reform.