“Chairs with broken legs.”
“Spoons that have fallen behind the stove and are never seen again.”
“Books that cannot be read because some of the pages have been torn out.” 
In Arnold Lobel’s Owl at Home, Owl settles into a chair to make tear-water tea. With the kettle on his knees, he names as many sad things as he can, letting his tears roll down and collect until there are enough to put on the stove. Leftover mashed potatoes, pencil ends, forgotten songs: nothing is too forlorn or too ordinary to kindle his tears. When he is finished, Owl heats the kettle and thoroughly enjoys a cup of tea that is — well, whatever else it may be — as renewably sourced as one can get.
Last October, a few hours after a doctor told me that the hearing loss I’d been noticing was likely part of a progressive condition, a friend wrapped me in a hug. “I am so sorry. How are you feeling about it?”
Because the question came from a woman who has known me through long years and with whom I’ve traded life stories and emergency childcare and intercessory prayer, I wanted to give an honest answer.
“I’ll give myself time to grieve it,” I said finally. “And I’ll be okay.”
In the days that followed, I did grieve it. I boarded an airplane with my family and listened to its white noise, oddly muffled on one side, without distracting myself. During a long drive, my husband and I talked about sundry topics between podcasts from my playlist — podcasts that, I later realized, all dealt with limitations and losses in some form. At a concert I turned my head slightly from side to side, feeling the absence of lower-frequency notes to my right.
My hearing slowly came back to normal after I finished the pack of steroids I’d been prescribed, which was in line with the intermittent episodes the doctor had told me to expect, and I found myself thinking less about my hearing as the weeks marched on.
But that particular fortnight reminded me that the process of lament — and the healing it often precedes — has to include the act of naming sorrows. There are myriad theological and psychological reasons to be specific about our pain, I know, but perhaps the simplest explanation for me is this: if I want to transfer my burdens to Christ, I have to pick each of them up, one by one. Standing before the Lord who has known me for long years, I must give an honest answer about how I am, and what I am carrying.
I’ve discovered I am profoundly bad at this sort of naming. Once past a challenging season, I have a tendency to minimize the pain that it held; in the middle of one, possibly to avoid any chance of lapsing into an embittered litany, I hesitate to bring up the troubles that jolt my soul or body.
But the deeper I go into this endeavor of dragging things out into the open to be named, nothing startles me more than the ongoing revelation that I am not the one best qualified to name my pain.
“[The LORD] does not forget the cry of the afflicted” (Ps. 9:12, ESV), King David writes, noting on a separate occasion that He “is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18, ESV). In the early days of Israel’s history, God Himself says, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people… I know their sufferings” (Ex. 3:7, ESV). When He came in the flesh, Jesus knew the specific circumstances of the widow who put two copper coins in the offering box. “She out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:44, ESV). He had compassion on a crowd who came to hear Him because He knew they needed food: “if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away” (Mark 8:3, ESV).
Even with this record of attention, I’ve been tempted to believe that God only holds on to the most dire details of our sacrifices or losses. A widow in extreme poverty? A hunger so severe as to cause fainting? Of course these merit attention. Yet elsewhere He speaks of His awareness on a level that quiets my uncertainty: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7, ESV). “In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Ps. 139:16, ESV). And lest there be any doubt about the acknowledgment of our heavier days in that book, David writes elsewhere: “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (Ps. 56:7-8, ESV).
The thought that God is keeping track of my sorrows — more extensively than I — moves me deeply. If this is true, then it seems that even if we named all the griefs we could remember, He could further name, on our behalf, those that we forgot. Like a certain small boy who once looked up to see tears standing in a great Lion’s eyes , we come to a God whose compassion is etched upon His face as He looks at us. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4); better than anyone else, even ourselves, He knows the weight of the things we carry. He will not drop a single one.
And what, in the end, will He do with them, with these sorrows stored up in His bottle? Has our Redeemer any interest in making tear-water tea?
As Tish Harrison Warren looks into the promises of God regarding the new creation, she highlights a detail I have often pondered:
The end of the Bible turns to the end of time, and John describes a breathtaking moment when God will wipe every tear from his people’s eyes (Revelation 21:4). When we finally see God face to face we will be made whole, and there will be no more death or crying or pain. All things will be set right. But — wait — not until we have one last, long cry. . . .
The image of God wiping away our tears could of course be a metaphor — a statement that all things will, at last, be well. But what if it’s not strictly poetic language? What if, in the face of our Maker, we get one last chance to honor all the losses this life has brought? What if we can stand before God someday and hear our life stories, told for the first time accurately and in their entirety, with all the twists and turns and meaning we couldn’t follow when we lived through them? What if the story includes all the darkness of suffering, all the wounds we’ve received and given to others, all the horror of capital-D death, and we get to weep one last time with God himself? What if before we begin to live in a world where all things are made new, we weep with the One who alone is able to permanently wipe away our tears? 
Based on the character of God as described throughout Scripture, such a moment seems possible indeed. Even apart from the metaphor of wiping tears and honoring their existence in bottles, the placement of the promise that “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 21:4, ESV) — right where the description of the new creation could easily skip straight into the relief of everlasting joy — is itself a statement that He is mindful of the wounds and losses we now sustain. I do not have to hide them; I do not have to fight to call attention to them, because He holds them even now.
Somehow this fact bestows a truer comfort and a richer nuance to the rest of His words. It has been helping me loosen my grip on Today. The events of this week and this year are in His book already; He sees the hours ahead and still says what He says to me about rolling my cares onto Him, seeking His Kingdom first, and letting Him be concerned about the rest. Knowing the wholeness that awaits me makes the naming of my losses not an exercise in self-pity but a meeting place where I’ve begun to say, “Will you carry this too, Lord Jesus?” 
These freely spilled and surrendered tears, stored up for the day when a scarred and faithful hand will wipe them away for the very last time.
 Arnold Lobel, Owl at Home (New York: HarperTrophy, 1975), 32-33.
 “Up till then [Digory] had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.” (C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew, in The Chronicles of Narnia (New York: HarperCollins, 2001))
 Tish Harrison Warren, Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2021), 52.
 Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen Books, 2006), 206.
Featured image is courtesy of Lancia E. Smith and is used with her kind permission for Cultivating.
Amy Baik Lee writes from a desk looking out on a cottage garden, usually surrounded by children’s drawings, teacups, and stacks of patient books. She is a former scholar of medieval and Renaissance literature at the University of Virginia, a sometime author of devotional short stories, and a current member artist of the Anselm Society. Ever seeking to “press on to [her] true country and to help others to do the same” (C.S. Lewis), she posts essays and stories about Homeward longing at Amy Baik Lee.
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