Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

(Statue of St. John mourning the death of Christ, Sépulcre Arc-en-Barrois, St. Martin Church, Haute-Marne, France, 1672, from Wikimedia Commons)

Isaiah 25:8:

Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.

This one verse from the Daily Office reading from Dec. 30 is worth a post of its own.

Now, this is Christmas, right? So what's up with a post about "tears?"

After I had read and posted my previous post, I could not totally let go of the reading. This verse kept jumping out. What stuck out in my brain was this:

We're being told here that God will wipe the tears away from our faces. We're NOT being told, "Don't cry." We're not being told that life with the Almighty God is so perfect there will be no cause for tears.

Then another thought slammed into my head like a brick:

The lack of tears in situations that ought to produce them--whether it's tears of sorrow or tears of joy--in any normal person is also a type of separation from God. It's a lack of willingness to turn our wills over to God and trust that God truly does have a Cosmic Kleenex quality, and can wipe them away and clear our eyes.

One of the things that has really hit home for me in the recent discussion about the bullying of children in this country is that time and time again, those who grew up and got past the bullying often tell a story about themselves that go like this:

"I used to go home and cry myself to sleep every night. Then one night, I just stopped crying."

I've heard that line used by abused spouses, and every sort of recovering "adult something or another."

It reminded me how many people trade certain emotions for emotional numbness as a survival skill. It wasn't wrong to do it. At the time whatever was happening in their lives was going on, oftentimes it was the numbness that allowed them to grow beyond themselves. But there's always Newton's Law, you know. For every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction. The reaction to having to use emotional numbness to survive is an inability to feel those emotions again without pain--and it's hard for that person to decide whether to choose to close off from it or try to accept to feel it again, even though it's painful.

I thought of my post from a while back where I recalled the times in my life I had "stopped singing." I think for a lot of folks, there are places where we stopped crying, too.

Truthfully, I have a very uneasy relationship with tears, myself. We get so many messages in life that say, "Don't cry." Children learn early on whether tears are positive or negative currency in family relationships. Boys and girls get very different messages about tears in some families. Some cultures are more emotionally labile while others are more stoic. Those of us who had relatives who survived the Depression often heard some variant of "Crying never solved anything. It doesn't put food on the table, so what's the point?" growing up.

Sometimes, in some families, the messages get mixed. Children who were told in various ways, "Don't cry," sometimes grow up to become adults who then end up somehow being in trouble for not crying as adults. On one hand, they are expected to be the "strong" one, the "tough" one, but then get blasted in different family and extended family interactions for being the "cold" one and the "hard" one. There are so many lose-lose situations that revolve around "not crying."

Society sends mixed messages, too. It's suddenly now chic for male Republican politicians and conservative talk show hosts to cry publicly; but it's never been cool for female Democratic politicians and liberal pundits to cry.

The reverse can also be true. People who learn for various reasons that "crying gets results" in their circle, can learn to manipulate with tears. They can create barriers that keep others from broaching the hard topics--after all, who wants to bring up something that will make the other person cry?

There's also an uneasy dynamic between people who cry at the drop of a hat and the stoic. The stoic tends to feel resentful of the person who cries easily--that somehow the crier is allowed to "be weak" when the stoic person feels he or she cannot be "weak." The person who cries easily feels the stoic is unsympathetic, hard-hearted, or cold.

Honestly, one of my life lessons has been three simple words--"Tears just are."

Think about the things our faces do, that most of the time, we display freely. We smile. We frown. We wink. We roll our eyes. Only in the most socially awkward or pathological instances do we withhold the bulk of human facial expressions. Yet we often struggle against crying, or against crying in front of some people, like it's not a normal human response to fear or despair or joy or relief.

But there's the key word--response. The fact of the matter is, where there are tears or when we are standing at the brink of tears, the tears themselves are not the central focus. There's something behind the tears that is screaming to be heard.

Tears are just one response to an intense feeling. That's all they are. Just as screaming a four letter word is a response to hitting your thumb with a hammer, or jumping backwards is a response to being startled. The lack of them is not a blue ribbon testimony to one's iron will, nor is the presence of them proof of one's love or grief.

In my own case, I've come to the conclusion that when I feel like crying, and hold tears back or swallow them, it's a statement that I am unwilling in that moment to give up control--and in my own case, refusing to relinquish control is a common way I self-separate from God's love. I am saying in my dry-eyed state that I can't even trust God to wipe my face!

The first time I thought about it in that fashion, I stopped and asked myself, "Do I trust God to have enough kindness and good sense to wipe my face if I needed it?" My answer to myself was, "Well, duh, yeah."

That thought changed my attitude. Mind you, I didn't turn into the grand champion of blubbering--I still have issues totally "crying things out to the end"--but being able to think of it in terms of having a loving God who is perfectly capable of wiping my face with his hand, or his sleeve, or his shirt tail became a gift. It allowed me to at least entertain the possibility of being able to cry and not have the world come apart at the seams.

All of our emotions are a gift of creation--they are part of our humanity. We probably only get to enjoy them in the form we have them in the time we have been allotted on Earth. I've decided it would be a shame to squander such a gift.


This is an eye opening perspective. I appreciate your frankness.

Great post, Kirk. There were years on end when I never cried because I was just too numb. It DID feel like God was absent then.

I can remember when the dam broke. I thought I would never stop weeping...

Now the tears come easily--both sad and happy ones. I am often surprised by what makes me cry. Music is usually the biggest culprit...but prayer can do it too.

Thanks, both of you.

Doxy: Those are the two places where I get affected, too. And in the last year I've had a couple of times it happened in the Gospel procession and once at the rail, and was pretty surprised by that, too!



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I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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