Tears in a Bottle

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“You have taken account of my wanderings. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”   Psalm 56:8

I was in college when I read that beautiful verse for the first time; underlined it blue, typed it out hunt-and-peck style on a red IBM Selectric and pinned it to my dorm room corkboard.  It hung there for months.  Even though I couldn’t see meaning past the poetry, every re-read was captivating.  Beautiful imagery has always been a soul-magnet for me. I think it is for most of us.  Maybe that’s why Scripture is so chock full of parables and metaphors and scripted stories and lovely word pictures like Psalm 56:8.

Still, I wondered what that beautiful verse actually meant? Was it just imagery?  Pretty metaphors only meant as poetry?  I had no answer, so I tucked the mysteriously lovely verse away, considering it to be just that.

Oh, but over the years, the Lord has revealed new dimensions to the poetry of Psalm 56:8–dimensions with hidden depth so beautiful it has made the mere imagery, pale in comparison.

First I discovered the story behind the verse.  It seems David wrote those words during his fugitive years, specifically while hiding in a cave called Adullam.  He found the hiding place after a short-lived asylum, turned ugly, in Gath (Goliath’s hometown). Why in God’s name did he seek protection there? Maybe because his own people offered him little options.  He was desperate, alone, and according to 1 Sam. 21:12, terrified.  So he made a miraculously escape to, Adullam, meaning Refuge, and hunkered in all alone; no allies, none but God.

Oh yeah….been there before, baby.  I bet you have too.

Funny thing though, Adullam, is located beside the battlefield where David defeated Goliath. What demoralizing irony to have a vivid reminder of the victorious miraculous while hiding terrified, abandoned; defeated!

orange and brown cave

Hmm….pretty sure I’ve also been there …. You too?

Yeah, kinda crazy how ministry life can swing in a million directions and catapult us on a desperate search to hide in an Adullam of our own.

Let your mind drift back in time for a moment.  Can you picture David in that cave?  Sitting in a dirt corner of dark dampness with memories dancing between miracle moments and dead-end despair?  Yet even there, in a hovel of unanswered questions, somehow his aching doubts were swept away by divine inspiration: “You have taken account of all my wanderings. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”

Just to know HE KNOWS is the solace Adullam-dwellers long for.  It’s the warm blanket that drives dark cold alone-ness away and speaks, “Peace be still.  Have no fear.  Your Savior knows.”

Its when life makes no sense, when past victory taunts outside a dark hiding place of humiliating fear, that we discover we’ve wandered into a sacred place. The kind of place where Jesus waits to meet us.  Not to make it all go away, but to pull us close so we can hear the Spirit’s unspoken whisper, “I’ve been taking account of your path, your wanderings matter.  I’ve recorded every single one in My Book. I KNOW.”

The split-second we know our Lord knows is when– without a single change in circumstance– we know everything’s O-K.  Unexplainable peace rushes in.  Anxiety is hushed like the calmed sea.  For here—here in the dark cold, we know, HE knows!

And that is enough…. Hallelujah!

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 But what about those tears?…. My tears …that He puts in…. His bottle?  What does that mean?

Ten years ago I found myself on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, eyes intent on a pair of ancient glasses held up by our Jewish Guide.  It was a simple frame with a place for two tiny bottles to attach to the center.  She explained that in ancient times, women would collect their tears in these tiny bottles then empty them into a larger bottle which was stored in a dark cool place.  As the years passed, their large bottles would fill with the tears of their lives–tears of joy and of sorrow.  At any point in time, they could pull out that bottle of tears and say, “Here is my life”.

Tears are the undeniable proof of the emotion they express.  They are truer than words; they validate the depth of our days.

This picture of an Old Testament woman’s hidden bottle of tears brings a flash-forward to a New Testament woman who just may have carried her bottle of tears right out in plain sight.  You know her, she’s that unnamed, unguarded woman of ill-repute.  The one who loved much.  Despite her shame, despite the ridicule of those reclining around the table, she pushed in and elbowed through, knelt behind Jesus and buried her face at His feet, sobbing.  She kissed His dirty feet and washed them with her tears.

I wonder, did she combine those tears with collected tears from her bottle?  Did she pour out the precious evidence of her very life—symbolically emptying herself for the humblest of service, washing dirty feet?  Ah, but they were Jesus’ feet, and she didn’t stop there.  She dried His feet with her hair.  How deeply personal!  In ancient times, a woman’s hair was her glory—yet she did not hesitate to coat her hair with dirt from His feet.

Then she went one final step, she anointed His feet with precious costly ointment from her alabaster flax. Yes, she loved much! Her actions said, “Here’s my life and my resources, Jesus, they’re all Yours now–spent and poured out.  Not for a valued place of service at Your side, but to offer You the lowest service of all; to wash Your dirty feet.”  Forgiven much.  She loved much!

How much do I love Him?

My devotion, or lack, does not affect His.  He does not waver as He traces my wandering path and collects all my tears.  But how much is He worth to me? Enough to pour out my very life and resources without condition; if only for the chance to wash His dirty feet?

[SONG]

The twists and turns of our lives–both joys and sorrows find their best expression in tears.  Our Lord collects all those tears.  His fingerprints make our wanderings sacred.


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