We were getting ready for a funeral service. Eleanor, as she often does, went through the sanctuary, making certain that everything was neat and tidy. In particular, she wanted to be sure that there were boxes of tissue in the pews where the mourners would be sitting. She came into my office, laughing. “I don’t know what kind of church this is, but I found a box of tissue in every single pew. We must cry a lot.”
As I thought about her observation afterwards, I decided I like being pastor of a church that has tissue boxes scattered everywhere. I think it does say something about the kind of church that we are. (And not just one with lots of people who suffer from seasonal allergies!)
I hope that those boxes of tissue indicate that this is a church that allows, welcomes, respects, and hallows tears. We are, after all, a broken people—sinners needing to find the saving grace of Jesus. We are a mourning people—folk who have tasted all manners of grief in life. It might be from the death, suffering, waywardness, or folly of ourselves or a loved one. Our tears might flow because of the cruelties inflicted upon us by people that we expected we could trust, or again as much because of their betrayal as their action. And often we are simply a frightened people, overwhelmed by the events life throws at us, and our tears become wept prayers raised to heaven.
Of course, we often may weep tears of thankfulness and joy as we ponder the unimaginable grace of God that has reached out to us, or reflect upon the amazing blessings that touch our lives through the people who love us. Gladness as well as grief can summon forth the deepest emotional responses of our heart, and all are precious to God. And make necessary the nearby box of tissue.
Perhaps most of all, the boxes of tissue speak of a spirit of openness, honesty, and vulnerability that is cherished within this family of faith. Sadly, some churches would prefer that everyone puts on both their “Sunday-go-to-meeting” clothes and their “Sunday-pretend-everything-is-all-right” faces. Some congregations have not only perfected the charade of having life altogether, but demand conformity to that false portrayal by their members. Few things more disconcerting could happen in such churches on a Sunday morning than to have people cry out their pain, longing, and humanity. It might have been fine for Jesus to have wept at Lazarus’ graveside, but it would be considered unseemly for good Presbyterians (or substitute your denomination of choice) such as us to show such brokenness or weakness.
I thank God that our church is far messier and more human than that, and pray only that we dare to let the Spirit make us even more messy and honest if that is what it takes to have hearts open and yearning for the mercy, strength, comfort, and love of Christ. Because only where tears are hallowed, I believe, can healing truly flow.
Tears simply show we care!