I recently came across these words written by John Piper 21 years ago regarding Psalm 126:5-6. Many a God-lover has paused over these two verses, chewing on the reality they represent.

Piper’s comments are insightful and will hopefully be an encouragement to you.

Psalm 126:5-6:
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy!
He that goes forth weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.

There is nothing sad about sowing seed. It takes no more work than reaping. The days can be beautiful. There can be great hope of harvest. Yet the psalm speaks of “sowing in tears.” It says that someone “goes forth weeping, bearing the seed for sowing.” So why are they weeping?

I think the reason is not that sowing is sad, or that sowing is hard. I think the reason has nothing to do with sowing. Sowing is simply the work that has to be done even when there are things in life that make us cry. The crops won’t wait while we finish our grief or solve all our problems. If we are going to eat next winter we must get out in the field and sow the seed whether we are crying or not.

This psalm teaches the tough truth that there is work to be done whether I am emotionally up for it or not; and it is good for me to do it. Suppose you are in a blue funk and it is time to sow seed. Do you say, “I can’t sow the field this spring, because I am in a blue funk.” If you do that you will not eat in the winter.

But suppose you say, “I am in a blue funk. I cry if the milk runs out at breakfast. I cry if the phone and doorbell ring at the same time. I cry for no reason at all. But the field needs to be sowed. That is the way life is. I do not feel like it, but I will take my bag of seeds and go out in the fields and do my crying while I do my duty. I will sow in tears.”

If you do that, the promise of the psalm is that “you will reap with shouts of joy.” You will “come home with shouts of joy, bringing your sheaves with you.” Not because the tears of sowing produce the joy of reaping, but because the sheer sowing produces the reaping, and you need to remember this even when your tears tempt you to give up sowing.

So here’s the lesson: When there are simple, straightforward jobs to be done, and you are full of sadness, and tears are flowing easily, go ahead and do the jobs with tears. Be realistic. Say to your tears: ‘Tears, I feel you. You make me want to quit life. But there is a field to be sown (dishes to be washed, car to be fixed, sermon to be written). I know you will wet my face several times today, but I have work to do and you will just have to go with me. I intend to take the bag of seeds and sow. If you come along then you will just have to wet the rows.”

Then say, on the basis of God’s word, ‘Tears, I know that you will not stay forever. The very fact that I just do my work (tears and all) will in the end bring a harvest of blessing. So go ahead and flow if you must. But I believe (I do not yet see it or feel it fully)—I believe that the simple work of my sowing will bring sheaves of harvest. And your tears will be turned to joy.”

Learning to sow steadfastly.

    5 replies to "Sowing in Tears"

    • Mike

      From the Eastern Orthodox tradition, my first thought is that the tears are tears of repentance. I would recommend looking at two EO hymns sung during Great Lent. The first us a hymn during the matins service called “Open to me the doors of repentance.” The other is the Canon by St Andrew of Crete.

    • Pete again

      @Mike, you beat me to it! 🙂

      Here are some ancient references to the “Joyful Sorrow”:

      “Blessed are those that mourn” (Jesus Christ)

      “These tears do not bring sorrow; they bring more joy than all the laughter of the world can gain for you.” (St. John Chrysostom)

      “We shall not be accused of not having performed miracles. We will not be accused of having failed to be theologians or contemplatives. But we shall surely have to answer to God for not having wept ceaselessly for our sins” (St. John Climacus).

      “Whoever seeks deliverance from sins will find it in tears and weeping, and whoever wishes to advance in building up virtue will do so through weeping and tears” (St. Anthony).

      ‘First pray for the gift of tears, so that through sorrowing you may tame what is savage in your soul. And having confessed your transgressions to the Lord, you will obtain forgiveness from Him’ (Evagrius of Pontus)

      “Man should not pass through even one single day without repentance and tears. If he has no tears, he should ask God for them with all his strength and with all his soul. There is no other way by which he can remain sinless and pure in heart.” (St. Symeon the Theologian)

    • Bonnie

      Having experienced a traumatic loss, I know how you weep and full fill your responsibilities at the same time.

      “Be realistic. Say to your tears: ‘Tears, I feel you. You make me want to quit life. ” Statements like the above was spoken multiple times a day for months on end.
      There has been healing and wholeness and yes a harvest.
      Thank you for sharing this truth.

    • jenn

      Beautiful words. Having struggled through post-partum depression, I can totally relate to working through the tears, praying that God will bring beauty from ashes. Thank you for the inspiration!

    • Glen Davis » …

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