I can’t remember where I was when I first saw that saying – tears are prayers too – but I loved it immediately. I love being Episcopalian for many reasons, and one is because we have such a beautiful Book of Common Prayer just full of prayers that we can offer to God with the knowledge that people everywhere are offering the same prayers. The only problem is that we have such beautiful prayers in written form that sometimes we think the prayers we offer independently aren’t good enough. I have been at countless meals where I have been asked to say grace, and people actually believe me when I joke that they gave us a class on it in seminary (they didn’t!). I’m often told by someone that their grace won’t be “good enough”. I understand that praying publicly makes people nervous, but I always want to insist that any prayer offered to God is good enough!
Anyway, that’s why I like this saying so much. Because it frees us from thinking that our prayers to God have to be well-crafted, thought-out, and cohesive statements or requests. Remembering that tears are prayers too helps me to realize that in our moments of great despair and heartache our tears themselves are an offering to God, and we are loved and cared for completely in those moments – whether we have words to offer or not.
This past weekend I was blessed to be one of the spiritual directors on the Happening weekend here in Rhode Island. For those of you unfamiliar with Happening, it’s a spiritual retreat lead by young people and it provides teenagers an opportunity to explore their faith and relationship with God in the context of a loving community. Happening was an important part of my own spiritual journey growing up, and I am grateful to be part of the experience again as an adult.
One component of the weekend is a healing service, and we invite the teenagers to come forward for the laying on of hands and the anointing of oil. They can ask for healing for something specific if they would like, or they can simply be anointed. This tends to be a significant part of the weekend for the participants, and many of the young people prayed for healing.
At one point in the service a young woman came forward and knelt down before me to pray. I was sitting in a chair, so her head was bent over my lap while I laid my hands on top of her forehead. As I prayed for her healing, her tears fell and landed on my knees. Long after she had returned to her seat I watched the round wet spots on my jeans, almost wishing that they wouldn’t dry because it was if somehow, when I could still see her tears, I was able to physically hold her prayers and her heartache. And what I really wished I could do was take her pain away. I wanted to free her from her burdens. I wanted her to know how fully she is loved.
I offered those prayers as I anointed her, of course. And I can only hope that she did experience healing in those moments of offering her pain to God. But the memory of her tears on my knees has stayed with me.
I can’t seem to get over how much pain we carry. I was reminded of it this weekend when the young people of this Diocese were so beautifully honest about their lives and their burdens, but I have seen that pain over and over in the children, teenagers, and adults that I have been blessed to work with. You need only offer the space for someone to speak about their journey and you will hear about their heartache.
I think that is why camp is so important. It’s why Happening is so important. It’s why church is so important. Because we have to provide space for people to share their lives with one another and with God. We have to allow for open and honest conversation so that we might be healed. We have to crack open the armor that we protect ourselves with every day so that God’s grace can stream through those cracks and make our hearts whole. We’ve gotten so good at swallowing our tears and pretending we’re fine, and we are NOT fine. We are all just a little bit broken. And we’re all in a little bit or a lot of pain. But healing is possible. And our burdens can get lighter if we share them with one another and ask for God’s help and blessing. It might mean we cry a little bit when we start getting honest with one another. But I think a little bit of crying is okay.
After all, tears are prayers too.