The reasons we shed tears, especially during Lent


By Kathy Berken
On Deck

We live in challenging and heartbreaking times. You don’t have to look far to see disturbing news. Turn on the TV or look at your newsfeed online and almost everywhere are news stories and videos about the bloodshed in Israel and Gaza, the war in Ukraine and divisiveness over politics, immigration, the economy, mass shootings, artificial intelligence, climate change and a host of other justice issues.

No wonder Jesus wept. The silence in our hearts breaks into loud laments from the flood of our own tears over many of these concerns. Often, we are overwhelmed with emotional and psychological chaos that we feel helpless to control.

Lent is an appropriate time for tears, suffering, penance and carrying our crosses alongside Jesus on the Via Dolorosa. If Lent is only about bearing pain as a witness to our faith and identifying with the immense suffering everywhere, then we are walking the Way of the Cross with Jesus. But we may also lose sight of the end of that story. Lent is also a time for preparation to celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection. Lent calls us to personal transformation in our interactions with our surrounding community and the world.


The crosses of today are heavy and real and so is the suffering that goes with it. Our tears can act as a catalyst for that preparation, personal transformation and redemption. Our tears can free us to face the profound anguish that we feel either for ourselves or in compassion for others we meet along the way or see in the news.

Our tears can clear the path and also cleanse our spiritual wounds, preparing us for the glory of the Resurrection. But for some of us, our tears overflow, causing us to sink deeper into feelings of helplessness and despair. I believe that when we weep over the world as Jesus wept over Jerusalem, we are in prayer.

Some people feel ashamed to admit that their prayer feels ineffective in helping rid the world of evil. As faithful, practicing Catholics, they ask in desperation why God is not here to help ease the suffering and why they find themselves crying so much over situations they cannot manage. People feel abandoned and lost and their Lenten practices don’t seem to help. What can they do to see through the darkness and get back on track?

Often, all I can do is listen and acknowledge their raw and real emotions because the weight of all that pain is more than I can lift. When they cry, I hand them some tissues and say that I am sorry but honored they can express their feelings so freely. Sometimes just to be heard and not judged eases their pain and evaporates some of their tears.

What helps when you are desperate and feeling alone is first to pay attention to what makes you cry and feel so hurt. Face the whole reality of your life, the negative situations as well as the positive ones. Believe that God is and always has been in all aspects of our lives, not necessarily to rescue but to be present in silence where the Spirit is often felt more intensely.

When you cry, you are asking God to hold you in your pain. When you feel abandoned by God and echo Jesus’ words on the cross, trust that in the farthest reaches of your being, your deepest longing for God is God’s deepest longing for you.

May our tears of sorrow and of joy prepare us to see more clearly the truth about God’s love and the hope of the Resurrection.

  (Kathy Berken is a spiritual director and retreat leader in St. Paul, Minnesota. She lived and worked at L’Arche in Clinton  — The Arch from 1999-2009.)

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