Do you ever weep with your church members when they're hurting?" Connie Reese asks her pastor husband as they prepare for bed.
Her husband's eyes widen with interest.
"Sure I do, honey. Sometimes there's nothing else you can do. What makes you ask?"
"Oh, I don't know," Connie whispers as she fingers a button on her pajama top. "Today when we went to the hospital to see that young couple who'd just lost their only son, I wanted to cry with them. I think it would have helped them and me. But I was afraid. I didn't want them to think I was too emotional."
Tears. Somehow we've gotten the idea that they're a luxury that a minister and his wife shouldn't have. But, if we're honest, many of us wish we could cry more. Tears seem to possess a kind of magic. When our pain--physical or emotional--grows too intense, we long for the comfort of tears. When we don't know what else to do, we cry. And then, as cool water refreshes a panting marathon runner, our tears refresh and strengthen us.
We don't often think of it, but tears have held a sort of mystical power throughout history.
Imagine yourself weeping at a dear friend's funeral. Suddenly the funeral director approaches you and begins collecting your tears in a vase. Most of us would probably consider his behavior a bit rude, and we might even tell the man to get lost. But in the psalmist's day mourners' tears were actually collected in vases, which were then placed in the tomb with the deceased.
If you had been accused of witchcraft during the time when witches were burned at the stake, tears could have been your savior. Since it was believed that witches could not weep, anyone who cried was automatically vindicated.
"The gift of tears is ... the best gift of God to suffering man," said John Keble. And scientific research is beginning to demonstrate the truth in his words. Dr. William H. Frey II, of St. Paul Ramsey Medical Center, believes that our tears release some of the waste products that our bodies produce because of stress. Without these waste products we are better able to cope with our problems and we may even be less susceptible to certain physical and psychological diseases.
Weeping may not only benefit us physically and emotionally; it may draw us closer to those we're crying for.
Susan is a brand-new minister's wife, and she wants very much to be a caring one. She is frustrated, however, because she feels she cries too easily in emotional situations. Then one day her husband comes home with some words that relieve her anxiety.
"I was visiting Mrs. Truluck in the hospital today, honey, and she couldn't praise you enough. She said you're the first person who has ever wept with her. It made her feel really important and cared for. Funny, several of the women church members have told me how close they've grown to you in such a short time."
Like Susan, we often see our tears as intruders. But in reality our God-given tears are our friends. In fact, if you think back, you can probably remember black times when, except for the Holy Spirit, tears were your only earthly comforter. I know I can.
Tears are unique. They ask nothing of us except to be expressed, yet they offer us peace, renewal, and a better sense of who we are.
Can Christians cry?
What does the Bible say about crying? Can Christians weep to reduce emotional stress and share their concern for others?
A glance through any concordance at words such as weep, cry, or tears confirms that the Scriptures acknowledge our need to weep. In fact, they offer encouragement to us when we feel a need to cry. Psalm 126:5 says, "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy" (TLB). Psalm 30:5 declares, "Weeping may last the night but in the morning comes rejoicing" (TLB). And Luke 6:21 exclaims, "What happiness there is for you who weep, for the time will come when you shall laugh with joy!" (TLB).
And when you think of it, many of the most devoted biblical personalities wept openly--among them Joseph, Hannah, Paul, Peter, Mary Magdalene, Ezra, and Hezekiah. Evidently, they had come to realize the truth of the words "He washed my eyes with tears that I might see."
I have tended to think of the apostle Paul as an unemotional stoic. But surprisingly enough, the Scriptures picture a more human figure. Acts 20:31 indicates that he often wept for new Christians. "I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears" (RSV). Then the next chapter reveals that Paul was also greatly moved by their tears. "Why all this weeping?" he exclaims. "You are breaking my heart!" (Acts 21:13, TLB).
And remember when Joseph's brothers made their unexpected entrance into his home in Egypt? The Bible says that Joseph "turned away from them and wept." (Gen. 42:24, NASB). And his reunion with his younger brother, Benjamin, was even more emotional: Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, "Joseph hurried out" and looked for a place to weep. "He entered his chamber and wept there" (Gen. 43:30, NASB). Joseph's tears were so fierce he had to wash his face and regain control of himself before he could rejoin his brothers.
Isn't it interesting that the Scriptures included these intimate details from the lives of these great characters? We get a refreshing glimpse of them--a chance to see them as their families, or at least their neighbors, may have seen them.
But the Scriptures' most striking example of crying can be found in Christ. Our Saviour was not hesitant to weep in public or private.
Hebrews 5:7 tells us that in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus didn't cry just a few solitary tears, but He prayed with "tears and agony of soul" (TLB). He sobbed. A holy God, clothed as man, was not hesitant to weep. But Christ was no wimp! In fact, the aura of His tears can best be expressed in the words of Marie Manchini, "You weep, and You are the Master!"
Nor did Christ condemn honest weeping in others. In several places Scripture notes that Christ was deeply moved by the tears of those He loved. For instance, when Jesus visited the tomb of His friend Lazarus, He was "deeply moved in spirit" (John 11:33, NASB) by the tears of Mary, Martha, and their friends. A little later we find Him weeping right along with them.
And remember the young woman who sneaked in the back door and began washing Christ's feet with her tears? Most of us would be embarrassed to have something like that happen to us. We might be tempted to shove the woman under the table and hope nobody noticed her extravagant display of emotion. But Christ was different. He realized that her tears were an expression of devotion.
I believe He understands and appreciates our sincere tears in the same way. When we cry to release our stress, He doesn't condemn us. He also cried; He doesn't minimize the importance of tears.
But though the Scriptures acknowledge our need to cry, they seem to hint that this was not God's original plan.
If you could take a time machine back to the Garden of Eden and look around, would you find any reason to weep? Probably not. Life was perfect there. The most stressful activity you would probably have had to perform would have been choosing between growing green beans or strawberries in your garden. After the Fall, God may have modified His plan by giving us the ability to weep so that we might be better able to cope with our humanity. This might explain why humans are the only creatures who weep.
If the nerve that controls reflex tearing (tears we experience when we slice an onion or eat spicy foods) is severed or deadened, reflex tearing ceases but emotional weeping is not affected. Why this is so hasn't been discovered. The fact that doctors can't give a physiological explanation for our tears of emotion may be because God gave them to us as a gift after the Fall.
Revelation 21:4 and Isaiah 65:19 offer added weight to the idea that man may not have shed emotional tears before the Fall. In the world we hope for, the new world, we will again have no cause to weep. The same tender touch that placed tears within us will then remove them forever.
Meticulous scientists will continue to conduct experiments, analyze results, and develop hypotheses about weeping. They will uncover intriguing facts about it. But perhaps there is a part of our weeping that will remain clothed in mystery until our Saviour's return a part that refuses to be possessed by objective scientists in sterile lab coats.
It is the part of weeping that God designed for His children--including wives of ministers--to simply "get the sad out."
"A Good Cry."FORBES, Nov. 5, 1984.
"Why Do We Weep?"Smithsonian Magazine, June