Thrive: Pay Attention to Tears – Pam Durso


For these days of Lent leading up to Easter Sunday on April 20, Christians around the world will participate in the spiritual discipline of “giving up” or perhaps “taking on.” The intent of Lent is not just to give up or take on. The intent is to pay attention. Lent calls us to be attentive to our relationship with God, to our connection with others. Lent also asks us to be attention to our own our bodies and to our souls. In these weeks of March—as we walk through Lent together—the weekly devotions will focus on what Matthew 7-9 has to teach us about paying attention.

Pay Attention to Tears

“While Jesus was speaking to them, a ruler came and knelt in front of him, saying, ‘My daughter has just died. But come and place your hand on her, and she’ll live.’ So Jesus and his disciples got up and went with him. Then a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years came up behind Jesus and touched the hem of his clothes. She thought, ‘If only I touch his robe, I’ll be healed.” —Matthew 9:18-21

Tears, drippy wet tears . . . they all must have had moments, or even days, in which tears streamed down their faces. A paralyzed man lying on a cot. A tax collector sitting at his table alone. A rich man’s daughter dying nearby. A sick woman hoping for healing. Two blind men crying for mercy.

In Matthew’s gospel, the writer packs chapter 9 with stories of pain and suffering, stories of physical hurts, social exclusion, overwhelming grief. I can only imagine the tears cried by the paralyzed man, forced to live on a cot, confined to a life of dependence, or the father whose much-loved young daughter had just died, or the woman, whose body had betrayed her over and over again and whose twelve years of bleeding had left her with little money and almost no hope.

In Beyond Words, Frederick Buechner reminds us, “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.” Tears have much to tell us—about our bodies, our emotions, our needs, our callings, our faith—but they speak to us only if we pay attention.

In 1796, at the age of four, Sarah Grimké fled her Charleston home in tears. Crying as she ran, Sarah made it to the nearby wharf, where she begged a ship captain to take her away, far away from her home. The whipping of one of her family’s slaves caused these tears, and over the next three decades, Sarah cried many times over the treatment she observed. Her tears eventually drove her from the South, and in time, her tears led her to the public stage, where she attacked slavery as one of the first women agents of the American Anti-Slavery Society.

Over the years, Sarah also shed buckets of tears because of the limitations placed on her—as a woman. She cried when she was closed out of ministry roles. She cried when she was ridiculed for speaking to audiences of men and women. But like those we read about in Matthew 9, Sarah’s tears did not hold her back. Instead her tears drove her to ask questions, to seek help, to search for new ways of being and doing. And ultimately, her tears led her to look to Jesus.

Pay attention to tears, for as Buechner also reminds us: “More often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.”


Frederick Buecher, Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith (New York: HarperOne, 2004).

Pamela R. Durso, The Power of Woman: The Life and Writings of Sarah Moore Grimké (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2003). Sue Monk Kidd has a new book that tells the fictionalized story of Sarah’s life, The Invention of Wings.

VBWIM Pam 4Pam Durso is the executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, which is based in Atlanta, Georgia. Her most favorite part of this work is walking alongside and encouraging women called by God to ministry. Pam also enjoys researching, writing, and teaching in the area of Baptist history. She teaches Baptist history as an adjunct professor at McAfee School of Theology, and previously served as associate executive director of the Baptist History and Heritage Society and as professor of church history and Baptist heritage at Campbell University Divinity School in North Carolina. Pam earned two of her degrees from Baylor University: a B.A. in religion and a Ph.D. in church history. She and her husband, Keith, live in Lawrenceville with their teenage son and daughter, Michael and Alex.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Erin Hall says

    Pam, I appreciate this one so much. I have learned to hold back tears but maybe I should pay attention to them. Thanks for your words.