Third Monday of Advent: Planting Tears
When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
Restore our fortunes, LORD,
like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.
A few years ago, I had an extraordinarily hard time at work.
My job had been an experiment; the role was created to fill some organizational needs and make space for me. However, it turned out to be a disaster.
The demands kept piling up, and the goal line got farther and farther away. I felt like I wasn’t succeeding in any aspect of my job, that nothing I could do would be good enough. I didn’t see any way out. I didn’t want to quit—I loved the organization, and I could see that the holes I was plugging were critical. There really wasn’t anyone else available to pick up anything that I dropped. So as more and more balls were tossed to me, I kept juggling. The harder I worked, the emptier I felt.
One weekend, I went to Chicago to meet up with college friends. While I’m normally outgoing and gregarious, I started to feel overwhelmed by other people. Even though I was with some of my favorite people in the world, I retreated to a back room. I was on the verge of tears. I could not hold it together. I didn’t recognize myself. I was afraid I couldn’t hack it as a leader, that I was crumbling under the stress. I spent most of the weekend feeling like a failure.
I had lost myself.
I am not the first person to experience this. The Israelites found themselves in an even darker place at one point in their history. After a season of unfaithfulness, God allowed them to be overpowered by a foreign nation. They suffered devastating losses and ended up being carried into exile, away from their homes, away from the temple, the place where God had dwelt among them. Their world was turned upside down.
In this foreign land, the Israelites wept. They mourned the loss of their former life, and I would imagine that many of them wanted to give up.
But the prophet Jeremiah called them to continue serving the Lord in the faraway land: to build houses, to plant gardens, to eat what they produced. He assured them that the Lord had not forgotten them in the dark place; in fact, the Lord had carried them into exile. God was with them, even on the darkest, most disorienting night. And God brought them through it, eventually bringing them back home.
Let’s be real: sometimes things don’t get better in our timeframes. Many of the people God carried into exile died there. In fact, the writer of Hebrews tells us of many of our mothers and fathers who went to the grave without ever receiving what was promised. They sowed with tears and did not live to see the harvest.
Many people find themselves in that very situation, and you and I may experience it as well. Indeed, if our hope is for this life only, we deserve to be pitied.
But we have a longer planting season in mind.
We are promised that, no matter how dark it gets, no matter how many tears water the seed as it falls into the ground, we can be confident that there will be a harvest. Because Jesus took on flesh, we have hope. We will be resurrected, and what a day that shall be! Not only will we rejoice—we will LAUGH.
Advent is the darkest season of the year. As we approach Christmas, the days get shorter, and the darkness closes in. Each week, we light another candle, to remind us that the Light is coming into the world. Even on the darkest nights, the Light calls us to hope in the Lord’s restoration.
When I’m in the dark place, it’s all I can do to keep my head above water. But the psalmist seems to encourage us to faithfulness, even while we cry. The seeds we sow while weeping will take root. Perhaps even nourished by our tears, they will spring up with new life. And we will come back to harvest the fruit of our faithfulness in the dark place, which has been turned to light.
I stayed in that difficult job for two years.
It was hard. Many days I went out weeping. But the seeds I sowed during that season did bear fruit. The Lord cultivated things in me during that time that prepared me for the next season. This psalm reminds me that the Lord will restore our fortunes. Maybe not today, maybe not even in our lifetimes. But it encourages me to keep going out and sowing my seeds, even on the darkest night. My tears will fall into the ground, and God will bring a harvest.
Sometimes, I can see how God was growing me in that time. When I catch glimpses, they surprise me, and I laugh. And I can say with the psalmist, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”
Katherine Sikma is Director of Formation and Young Adult Ministry at Christ Community Church of the South Hills. She served on CCO staff from 2004 through 2017.