The Weeping Sower

“They who sow in tears shall reap with joyful singing.

He who goes back and forth weeping, carrying his bag of seed, will indeed come again with a shout of joy bringing his sheaves with him.”

Psalm 126:5-6

I was at the end of my tether when this verse caught my eye.

I’ve spent the past week at my parents’ home, helping my bewildered father navigate this hinterland of grief.  In their marriage, he worked daily while my mother handled almost everything else: banking, bills, the thousand small administrative tasks and bits of knowledge that make up a household. 

I am now taking on many of those responsibilities.

Power of attorney, managing accounts, getting names changed, canceling what needs to canceled: I’ve spent the past several days working through phone trees and digging up Byzantine pieces of paper from my mother’s desk.  My dad’s mood has brightened throughout the process: he’s feeling better that we’re getting things done.  Mine has not, as I attempt to keep up with this new list of tasks and responsibilities on top of all the grief.

Last night, in tears in bed, I found the above verse.  I was heartened initially by the first part.  Yes!  Tears to joyful singing.  That’s one of the Scriptural promises I rely on.  But the heart of the passage comes in verse six: “He goes back and forth weeping, carrying his bag of seed…”

The image of weeping while planting strikes me as so strange, and so evocative.

When I think of sowers in a Biblical sense I think of industry and joyful hard work.  I think of workers in fields, humming and thinking of future yields.  Planting is good work and often enjoyable work.  It has always seemed to me a hopeful time, when blights and pests haven’t yet become a reality and the promise of the harvest waits ahead. 

But weeping while planting?

Think of the sower, walking along, pushing seeds into the soil, and tears falling down alongside.  The smell of the earth, yes, and the bright blue of a promising sky, and thumbnail-sized seeds pressed deep into the warm earth—and tears, and a stopped-up nose, and hot sticky cheeks.

The passage calls back, of course, to the exile.  In Jeremiah 29 God instructs the Israelites in Babylon to “build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce” (28).  The point is that the exile will be long, generational.  And as the Israelites wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises, they are to do all the hopeful work of living.

Similarly, Psalm 126 is a long promise Psalm: a promise of the fulfilment of joy.  “When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion,” the writer says, “we were like those who dream.  Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with joyful shouting.” 

But before the celebration comes the sometimes-mournful work of living.

I love the weeping sower.  This mourning worker is the emblem of the Christian life: investing in the future, in hope, while acknowledging the sorrows of the present.  I am the weeping sower.  There’s work that must be done—and not just for my father.  As much as I’d like the world to stop, it continues on, and there is work left for me to do.  God specifically has plans for me, but I might weep for a while as I complete them.  That, too, is a part of the process.

Many, many people ask during times like these: “What can I do?”

The answers vary from moment to moment.  Bring dinner.  Bring tissues.  Please just tell me what I need to complete this form.  Hold my hand.  Give me five minutes of space.  But as time goes by, and I grieve, I think the most resonant thing is simply this:

Acknowledge this.

Grief is strange because it puts you out of step with the world of the living.  Priorities become clear; what matters (and what does not) seems excruciatingly sharp.  The people around you who aren’t grieving go about their normal lives, and the normal life—which was yours only a small while ago—seems impossibly foreign, a country with no clear map for return.  And it’s easy for those who grieve to feel that no one notices.

But Scripture says that God records tears.  That God has experienced tears.  That God is watching.  That God sees and particularly acknowledges grief.  The weeping sower is a reminder of this.  Wedged in this joyful little Psalm is the image of mourning. 

“You have taken account of my wanderings,” notes Psalm 56:8. “Put my tears in Your bottle.  Are they not recorded in Your book?”

I have always wondered about the insistence in Scripture that God pays attention to each individual tear.  It would be enough, wouldn’t it, to say that God notices us crying?  But here we receive the image of God collecting every tear that falls in a bottle, writing down each tear.  Revelation 14 says God will wipe away every tear. 

But now I think I understand.  God is an exacting God.  He takes note of every single grief and pain.  And He will redeem each and every one of them, individually, and transform each and every one into joy.

That is, of course, the promise of the weeping sower.  We have one more glimpse of the worker shoving his hand into a bag of seed, weeping over his labor—and in the final image of the Psalm, he is returning across the field shouting in joy, his arms loaded with sheaves of wheat.  This is redemption in action.

Maybe you’ve wept.  Maybe you’ve sowed.  Maybe you’ve never done both at once.  If you haven’t, you will.  Just remember that God is watching.  The weeping sower reminds us of the unique and bittersweet beauty of the Christian life: that we can work and mourn, that we can cry while we engage in the practice of hope. 


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