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Message in a Bottle

by Allison Martin

Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?

Psalm 56:8

Last week, I taught my preteen Sunday school girls about God’s provision for Israel in the wilderness. I illustrated the manna with little muffins, and the girls all nodded in understanding. But when I mentioned the flocks of quail that God sent for meat, expressions changed. I think that miracle was lost on them. They were all, for lack of a better phrase, grossed out. One girl voiced what all the others seemed to be thinking: “So, you mean that they, like, ate those?”

Obviously, the men and women who lived out the familiar Bible stories lived in a world vastly different than our own. Much of their culture is foreign to us, and many of their customs are unfamiliar. Some of the situations that they present to us are difficult for our first world minds to grasp. But amid all the changes of the years stands one striking similarity- they cried. It is a bridge of understanding between our world and theirs that has not eroded over time.


Though the details are not given, I find it hard to believe that Eve’s path out of the Garden was not splattered with drops of regret. Tears stain almost every story in the Bible, whether we’re specifically told about them or not. The first account of a woman’s tears are those of a single mother whose life seems unfair to say the least (Genesis 21:16). From there, we see… A grieving father (Genesis 37:35). Two young women faced with a heart rending decision (Ruth 1:14). A woman whose greatest desire eludes her (1 Samuel 1:10). Warriors who have lost everything (1 Samuel 30:4). I could continue, but I trust you understand. We may not be able to fully relate to their circumstances, but we can relate to their tears. 

So though we don’t have much in common with royalty running for his life, we can empathize with a broken man who feels like he’s caving beneath the pressures of life. And we’re familiar with the ache you hear in David’s words- “Be merciful unto me, O God: for man would swallow me up; he fighting daily oppresseth me. Mine enemies would daily swallow me up: for they be many that fight against me, O thou most High.” (Psalm 56:1-2)

What’s wrong with David? Is he upset because his calling seems so far away? Or is it because he’s far from home and everything that is familiar? Does he feel like he’s fighting a losing battle, or is he tired of being mistreated and misunderstood? Probably all of the above. 

Our times of brokenness and the tears that they bring are complicated. Few things are more frustrating that being asked why you’re crying and not really being able to give an answer, am I right?

Because usually what breaks the dam isn’t the real problem at all. It’s the everyday struggles that have compounded on each other.

That nagging sense of failure. A growing to do list that seems to never get done. Comparing ourselves with others and feeling that we have fallen short. The ache of loss or loneliness. And the weight of it all at once makes it hard to put a label on what we’re really feeling. Navigating through a raging sea of emotion can be a scary thing. The unfamiliar territory makes us uncomfortable. And most troubling of all, we wonder, “If I don’t even know what exactly I’m feeling, how can I find help for it?”

If that’s where this morning finds you, I’ve got good news for you. In the midst of his chaos, David discovered what you might need to know today:

God sees your tears, and He knows their story.

Listen in as David preaches to himself: “Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?” (Psalm 56:8)

I love David’s confidence - You know my story, and You see my tears. If I could expand on his thought -

“You have found me in all of my hiding places, and every buried hurt is obvious to you. My tears mean something to You, because You know everything that’s gone on behind the scenes. My every thought is written out before You.”

He concludes his powerful statement with a rhetorical question, because the answer is so obvious- Has God been paying attention when I hurt? Of course He does! Is His understanding as far above mine as heaven is from earth? Of course it is! So can I trust that He knows what’s going on in my heart even when I really don’t? Of course I can! 

We’ve all heard that God knows us better than we know ourselves. But can I prove that to you this morning?

Smithsonian Magazine published an article in November of 2013, dealing with a relatively new field of study: human tears. This article dealt with Rose-Lynn Fisher’s project, “Topography of Tears”. During Fisher’s years of study, she discovered some remarkable information. Our tears are biologically different based on why we are crying. Under a microscope, tears shed from laughing too hard look completely different than those that result from emotional pain. Among those studied were tears of longing, tears of endings, tears of remembrance, and one photo of a dried tear simply called, “Overwhelmed”. Amazingly, they look nothing alike. The hormones and chemicals within a human tear change based on varying emotions and the degrees to which they are felt. When those tears are dried and studied, they contain different geometric shapes and patterns so intricate that only God could categorize them. And rest assured, He does.

“Topography of Tears” was a secular study, and was probably never intended to testify the greatness of God. But it does. I am both amazed and comforted by this truth: Before we ever shed a tear, God had already defined all the different categories they would fall into. God Himself orchestrated those chemicals and hormones, and He reads them like a book. If you find yourself wandering through a wilderness of your emotions, be encouraged today: He understands what you’re feeling better than you do.

If your words can’t describe what’s really going on inside, God can handle the tears.

Go to Him today with all of your frustrations and questions and things that just don’t make sense. You don’t have to explain yourself, or put a label on everything you’re feeling. Let the tears come and trust that God knows the story behind them. 

God is a good record keeper, and not one moment of your life has escaped His attention. God has seen every tear, and don’t worry- He got the message. 

I’ll leave you today with what Rev. Danny Taylor told us as freshmen in Bible School, in hopes that it will carry you through as it has carried me - “God may not have kept any of my sermons, but He’s kept every one of my tears.”

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