Crying evolved as a signal. A misty and salty droplet speaking of dust, sadness, or joy. Tears lubricate, cleanse and release. Some tears travel to the nose, protecting it and providing hydration. Other tears are filled with stress hormones, stimulating our endorphins when they leave the eyes. When sociologists study people groups, often it is the vulnerable aspects of a culture group that slowly disappear, as evolution favors durability. But tears are valuable for survival, and so, crying remains for communication between humans. What keeps us from accepting our tears, instead of apologizing for them?
I never liked crying. Except once, when I was little and I amused myself by crying in a mirror. All the scrunching movements of my face and the wailing noises from my throat entertained me until my mom came rushing to see what was wrong. Anger and yelling are more my jam. They are easily accessible and more acceptable socially than tears and sadness. This past fall, I took a sabbatical from pastoring. I had a large mission of all that I was going to accomplish, but mostly spent the time walking or biking in the woods, and crying. I cried in the woods, in my online therapy sessions, while folding laundry, in the middle of conversations. I cried. Sometimes I felt relief, but most of the time I was angry at myself for crying, chiding myself with phrases like, “Good grief! Get over it,” or “why are you such a baby!”
As someone who prides herself on duty and dignity, this was unacceptable and completely unavoidable. Grief had tapped me deep and those tears needed release. How could this annoying activity of crying be avoided? I didn’t know. I’d bike harder, or hike faster. Still tears. As your pastor, I’d love to tell you that I had some Moses moment, where God appeared in the trail dust all flowy and glorious reminding me of my valuable mission on earth. But, truthfully, I was running away from God. Deep down, I held some belief that God was uncompassionate to my tears. I believed that my sin and sorrow were keeping me from a Divine connection because I had earned this grief of my own accord. God was there in the dirt if only to confront me with empathy, and restore a broken belief system. God didn’t turn my tears into joy. God didn’t turn my mourning into dancing. My tears fell and compassion grew slow. My tears ran and I learned to sit with them. I stopped apologizing for my vulnerability and turned my face to Kindness.
I had to unlearn that God was spiteful. I had to unlearn that my tears were manipulative. I had to pound the dirt with my feet and my tears, mile after mile, unlearning. For achiever types, I think we end up pounding out more mileage before we finally get the message. Perhaps those who cry learn how to survive.
“It is such a secret place, the land of tears.”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry