You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your record?
- Psalm 56:8 (NRSV)
When I was little, I was taught that God tracks your sins. God has a ledger, your name is in that book, and under your name God records the ever-expanding list of your failures.
I learned that God tracks your good deeds, too. And at the end of the day, if your merits outnumber your sins, God keeps loving you. And at the end of your life, if your merits outnumber your sins, you go to heaven.
I was also taught that the odds are stacked against you: God’s sums rarely come out in your favor. Which is why an earnest child grew up with a nagging sense of herself as basically bad, constrained and wary in ways too numerous for even God to count.
I wish they’d told me the truth: that of all the things God tracks, merits and sins are the least. Our aching reach for safety, trust, and place; our many griefs in life and love; our tossings and our tears—these are of more concern. These God carefully collects. Not in a book, but in a bottle.
I wish they’d taught me that God has a bottle, not a book. That it’s for safekeeping, not for summing; reverencing, not reckoning. That God’s own tears are in there, too.
I wish I’d known that God is viscerally kind. It would’ve saved me a struggle. Which is why I’m telling you, in case you struggle, too: Take heart. God doesn’t have a book. God has a bottle.
Who is like you, Mercy on Mercy, Kind beyond Kind? There is no one like you.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.