Lent 5: A Season of Tears

Psalm 126*The 5th Sunday of Lent – for Sunday, March 13, 2016

“Let those who plant with tears reap the harvest with joyful shouts . . . (Psalm 126:5)

tears.4The writer of Psalm 126*, as if breathless with enthusiasm, wrote,

Let those who plant with tears reap the harvest with joyful shouts . . .

However the journey of Lent refuses to ignore the tears. The sobbing. Wet, red, mottled cheeks averted in shame. A head buried in hands. Eyes like burst dams.

Frederick Buechner cautioned, “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.”

When did you last cry?


No, really . . . why?

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Last year we welcomed a new puppy into our lives. Long before Kynzi’s first birthday, she faced surgery. A small percentage of golden retrievers have some form of elbow dysplasia, an inherited defect in bone formation. After multiple appointments with various vets, we drove three hours north to an exam room at the University of California Davis. My wife and I are fortunate to be near Davis, one of the top teaching hospitals for veterinary medicine. In a dull room with yellowed linoleum, surrounded by vets in white lab coats, it became obvious Kynzi required surgery.

I wept in front of those nice strangers, my wife (who has seen a lot of my tears), and our dog. Kynzi licked the salty water streaking my cheeks, probably considering it a highlight of the trip.

Why tears?

Responsibility. Vulnerability.

In the UC Davis Vet School waiting room with Kynzi . . .
In the UC Davis Vet School waiting room with Kynzi.

Why do we love these creatures so much? Why do we—ha, why do I—volunteer for shedding of hair and shoveling poop and yelping No! a thousand times to stay off the furniture and a wagging tail knocking objects from bookshelves (or sometimes eating the books)? Companionship is one answer. Sometimes all I can explain is feeling like a better “me” when with my dog. And the dog, the sweet, innocent, randomly devilish dog Kynzi, is our responsibility. She has a problem with the potential to cripple her for life.

I share these thoughts months after that November day in Davis. Kynzi had surgery in December. Eight weeks of recovery, of keeping her from “running, jumping, or playing,” followed the procedure.

We survived. Will she have a better quality of life? We hope so . . .

Tears have, and probably will continue to, accompany our doggone journey.

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I cried in my hospice office a few days ago. It wasn’t gushing tears or the awful gasps for breath that make us feel out of control. Instead, it was just moist eyes and a few sniffles. Unbidden, my teary reaction happened following an intense conversation with a grieving “client.”

Here, of course, I tread cautiously. I scan protected medical charts before making calls. Every word exchanged on the phone (or in person) is private. So I’m not revealing much about the “chat,” except to say this person was overwhelmed with physical, spiritual, and emotional pain. Nothing in the charts—terse narratives from social workers and nurses—had prepared me for the pain. But how could any hospice colleague, with their precise words written before the death of this client’s beloved, anticipate responses after the last breath?

I listened. I think I offered honest and comforting words. However, there wasn’t much to say that mattered. His (or her) former life had become a puzzle scattered across the soul, with the most essential piece missing.

The call ended.

I wept, alone in my office.

Why tears?

The death of someone I didn’t know unleashes memories of my parents and grandparents. Hearing about a stranger’s anguished loss can also trigger recollections of mentors and friends, like lovely and always-loving Ray and Dorothy Hart, gone for literal decades. Every new death becomes fingernails scraping the blackboard of old deaths.

As the hospice call concluded, I also felt that most common of human responses: helplessness.

What could I do? What reassurance could I offer? Any platitude would be like dispensing an aspirin for a bullet wound.

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The psalmist brashly declared God’s stunning love would lead those who “plant with tears” to eventually “reap the harvest with joyful shouts.” I believe that! I believe in the promise of the once and future Easter! I believe God’s love overcomes death’s grip.

And yet my tears fall.

This is Lent. Every day can be is Lenten, full of inevitable weeping and feeling as distant as the breadth of the Milky Way from Easter’s promises.

I claim faith, but am so often vulnerable.

I proclaim love, but often feel helpless.

Will there be shouts of joy? I believe!

Today, though, tears.

Oh God, I refuse to weep. I don’t want to show how weak I am. I’d rather not feel out of control. I should be strong for others. I need to . . . oh my Lord, let me see—even when I can barely see through my tears—that Your cleansing and healing and hopefulness comes in many forms. And so, I weep . . . Amen.

*For Lent 2016, my weekly reflections will be inspired by snippets from the Lectionary’s designated Psalm. During Jesus’ time, and long before, these words have influenced the faithful, the hopeful, the wondering, and the wandering believers in God. They are treasures read in many languages, and with many interpretations. So, for this season, may my meager thoughts join in this ancient tradition . . .

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  1. Your Lenten reflections this year, based on the Book of Psalms, are wonderful – thought provoking – revealing – and honest soul searching! Love you.

  2. Dear Larry, I am accompanying a dying man and his wife. This reflection spoke deeply. Thank you for your vulnerability. An aspirin for a bullet wound…
    Such poignant shapes.

    1. You are welcome, Marc. Sigh. I am confident your presence with the “dying man and his wife” will be a blessing to/for them. Never easy, for the person, the caregiver, and the one who provides support. Take care . . .

  3. “like swimming in water seventy thousand fathoms deep”. Old Soren had the right of it. Your admixture of the mundane which should be merely tiresome becomes something else altogether when you reveal the abyss beneath all that vulnerability and helplessness. And now you are down to it on Lent V. It is like the man said. “Heir stand icc. Ich kann nicht andere”
    Less luster than some of your work, but more gold, I think

    1. Thanks, Mickey!

      Not as much luster as I could muster, eh? But your responses are “gold” to me. Thanks!!!

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