Advent Devotions: The balm of tears

December 7, 2015
Advent 2015. Design by Doug Puller/Bread for the World.

By Dori Kay Hjalmarson       

Jeremiah 8:18-22

The first few sentences out of a burn patient's mouth include the word pain, every time. I have observed this over the past three months as a chaplain resident on a burn-treatment ward. Often the treatment for burns is as painful as the burn itself, I'm told, because as the nerve endings heal, they start to feel more, and the pain often comes in waves with each debridement, each graft, each dressing change. The pain is a symptom of healing.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting with a boy, a teenager, who had been burned in a cooking fire. He had been in the hospital more than a month. I had visited this boy several times, and watched his progress, met many of his family members, prayed with him, laughed with him, dabbed his tears, held his hand as he fell asleep or awoke from anesthesia.

On this day, the boy had received a visit from family and visited his first burn survivors' support group. His skin was looking great -- raw and pinkly fresh but real live skin. And he had heard he was going to be discharged soon. As he studied a wallet-size school portrait, taken a few weeks before his burn, next to a mobile phone selfie of his newly healed body, he was weeping. He will never look the same.

Where is the balm for this pain? The pain of knowing your young life has changed in an instant, and you have unwillingly joined a club of "survivors" and you are not saved from the pain. The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. Where is the balm?

What I have learned in my few weeks on the burn ward is that the balm is inside us, part of our bodies. With skin grafts and skilled surgeons and nurses, our bodies have the miraculous power to regenerate themselves. After passing through the fire, our bodies never are restored to what they were. But they are healed, and the balm is our tears. We weep, we cry out, we know that God hears us and weeps with us, grieves with us. We know this because other people weep with us, pastors, and fellow humans grieve with us. The pain is a symptom of healing. And our balm is in the tears.

Dori Kay Hjalmarson earned a Master of Divinity in 2015 from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. 

After passing through the fire, our bodies never are restored to what they were. But they are healed, and the balm is our tears.

Tools
from our Resource Library

For Education

  • Election Resources

    One of the best times to raise the issues of hunger and poverty is during election campaigns. Engage candidates in your state/district on hunger and poverty using our elections resources.
  • Racially Equitable Responses to Hunger During COVID-19 and Beyond

    By Marlysa D. Gamblin and Kathleen King

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as when a person or household does not have regular, reliable access to the foods needed for good health. Black, Indigenous, and Other People of Color (BIPOC) have historically had higher...

  • Fact Sheet: COVID-19 Global Pandemic, Better Nutrition Protects Lives

    With the coronavirus now spreading in low-resource contexts and new waves of infection expected in the coming year, better nutrition for vulnerable people is more important than ever.

For Faith

  • Finding Hope, Ending Hunger on Both Sides of the Border: A Bilingual Latino Devotional

    Devotional writers challenge us to feel the Spirit of God within us and to hear God’s urgent call to demand justice so all can put food on the table.
  • The Bible on Health as a Hunger Issue

    “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in faith.” These words from Colossians 2:6 remind us of the faith that is active in love for our neighbors.

    The Bible on...

  • Unity Declaration on Racism and Poverty

    A diverse body of Christian leaders calls on the churches and Congress to focus on the integral connection.

    Dear Members of Congress,

    As the president and Congress are preparing their plans for this year, almost 100 church leaders—from all the families of U.S. Christianity—are...

For Advocacy

Faith

African at Heart

November 22, 2019

Insight

From the Blog