Several years I wrestled with what ancient Christian writers described as “the gift of tears.” I had read about this gift but often struggled with it when I wept. During that season of life I was on retreat with Norm Shawchuck and a group of other pastors. We were gathered at The Rosemary Heights retreat center in Surrey, British Columbia, just outside Vancouver. While facilitating that retreat, Norm read the story of Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus from Luke 19 . After reading the story, he gave an assignment. We were to finish the story imagining ourselves as Zacchaeus and what it would be like having Jesus visit us in our home. In the next hour I wrote the following:
As Jesus walked west down the hill at Washington Street beyond Koke Mill Road, he suddenly turned right on to Boulder Point Drive. At the first house, number 16, he resolutely turned right again and walked up the drive way. He stood at the dark brown door which was now baked by the hot afternoon sun. Inside the house, Max, my obnoxious dachshund began barking incessantly. As I got up from my desk I wasn’t sure if anyone was at the door or if Max was simply barking at a passer-by. I went to the door and saw the silhouette of a man through the sheer curtain on the window next to the front door. I picked up Max, so his annoying bark would not intimidate my unknown guest. I opened the door with my right hand while holding Max in my left.
To my great surprise it was Jesus. Warm tears began to fill my eyes. I couldn’t believe it! I wanted to bow or to kneel but the moment seemed frozen in time and I sensed my body was frozen in place.
A soft smile emerged on Jesus’ face. In what sounded like a playful tone he said, “You looked surprised to see me.” All I could mutter was, “I had heard you were coming to Springfield but I never dreamed you would come to my house.”
“I wanted to come for some time now but I didn’t think you were ready for this visit until now” he responded.
I thought to myself, “I sure don’t feel ready.” But not wanting to say anything that might offend my unexpected guest, I remained silent. Standing motionless, I found myself starring at his sharp features back lit by the clear blue sky.
My heart pounded and sweat oozed from my forehead. My movements became animated and jerky as I put Max on the floor.
“Would you like something to drink -some coffee, soda, milk or water?” I queried.
Jesus responded, “I’ll have a glass of water. Oh, no ice please.” Then after a pause he playfully added, ” But aren’t you going to ask me inside first?”
“Oh, excuse me Jesus.” I said. “It’s just that I still can’t believe you would come to see me. Wenda is working today; Jenine is on a missions trip and Jason is at a friends house.”
Jesus simply commented, “Yes, I know. Can we sit in the family room and talk?”
“Of course, that sounds like a great idea” I said stumbling over my words and my feet at the same time.
We walked into the family room. Jesus comfortably sat on the burgundy leather couch and I nervously landed on one of the blue lazy boy chairs. After settling into our respective seats I looked around the family room and noticed the magazines and newspapers scattered around the room.
Jesus looked at me tenderly and reminded me, “Don’t worry about how your home looks, I came to talk with you.”
I replied in amazement, “Thank you” and with a flood of emotion I began to weep and then to sob. The deep sobs came from somewhere down in the very center of my being. When I sensed I could finally speak again, I gasped for breath and haltingly queried, “But why do I cry so much?”
“I cry a great deal too.” Jesus continued, “Your tears are simply a reflection of my own. It is what has made you tender and able to minister to the brokenness of my people. Your tears are a gift not only to you but to your family, your friends and those in the church.”
Through the tears I was able to mutter, “But sometimes I get so embarrassed. . .”
“You need not be embarrassed by my gifts, Bill”
Before I could reflect on Jesus’ response, I blurted out, “I’m so sorry. I’m so terribly sorry.”
In a voice that sounded strong, yet very tender and compassionate, Jesus said, “I’ll help you receive my gift of tears.
He continued, “It is your brokenness that is precious to me. I’ve watched you all your life. I’m so pleased that you finally discovered the meaning of your dream when you were just a boy of seven and I was calling you to myself. I called you before you were born; I called to you when you were a child; Bill, I’ve tried to tell you in so many ways. I love you and you are precious to me. . . I’ve come near to you many times. The time you had pneumonia as a child, I ensured that your life would continue. The time you almost drown in Lake Michigan I was with you. . . When you were on the bus in London with that strange man, I protected you; you are my child, Bill and you are so precious to me.”
My weeping again turned into deep sobs as I heard these words. “I’m so sorry that I’ve failed you, Jesus.”
“That’s what my grace is for. I want you to walk in freedom and confidence, Bill. You need not be ashamed anymore.” He said.
With that my sobs continued. Strangely, I felt the warmth, firmness and gentleness of his touch as he placed his hand on my bent frame. “Bill, not only do I give you my tears but my strength and power as well. You will walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. I myself will guide you and walk with you. You won’t always experience my presence in the way you do now but be assured, ‘I will always be with you, I will never leave or forsake you.'”
I looked up, drying the tears from my face with my shirtsleeve. “Do you mean I won’t be afraid anymore?” I asked.
Jesus replied, “I didn’t say that. But you can be assured of my presence, my guidance and my strength. As you serve me remember my work in you is more important than my work through you.”
Surprised, I responded, “So it was you, who gave me that thought, wasn’t it?”
He added, “I’ve given you many thoughts and many ideas, Bill. I’d like you to listen more attentively to my words to you.”
“I’ll try to listen as best I can Jesus. It’s just that sometimes I hear so many other noises that I can’t hear or discern your voice.”
Jesus said, “Trust me. I’ll teach you to recognize my voice, even amidst thousands of other voices. As you continue to follow me my voice will continue to become clearer.”
Uncertain if my reply was a statement or a question, I said, “Perhaps our conversation today will help me to hear you more clearly in the future.”
“Every conversation we have together helps to clarify the sound of my voice, Bill.”
“Yes, I’m sure it does, Jesus.”
“Bill, I’ve enjoyed this time together,” Jesus, said. Then suddenly he disappeared from sight.
I was mystified. I began calling out, “Jesus, Jesus was that really you? Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus.” Looking around me I saw Max at my feet starring up at me.
“But I never gave you that glass of water,” I remarked into the air around me. Then I heard the words, “That’s alright, give it to someone else.” But I wasn’t sure if this response was an audible voice or a thought in my head.