Make No Apology for Your Tears

By JIM NICHOLS

One of the results of high definition, large televisions and the abundance of sports on the screen is the ability for a viewer to see a player become injured. The pain of the injury is sometimes severe enough that we viewers can see these adult players fighting back or giving into tears. Since each of us has become injured at some time and cried because of it, this seems to be a perfectly natural response, despite the fact that the player (often a male) seems to be resisting the response.

There is another place where tears are natural, and that is during our grieving process. Whereas tears following an injury seem logical, tears accompanying grief sometimes seem irrational. We are often caught by the unjustness and unpredictability of life. We find that not only is life unpredictable, but so too are tears. Why do we weep when we do? Since this is a universal human response, writers have pondered it for centuries. 

I stumbled upon an old wintertime photograph of my mother in the front yard of my childhood house. She was smiling and covered with and deep into snow. I burst into tears and am tearful even now thinking about that time. The grief overwhelmed me with no warning and no time to prepare.

Do these types of words sound familiar? “How does life just go on like yesterday never happened? What’s wrong with people? Don’t they know he’s gone? It feels like the sun should not be shining.”

Some have suggested that grief is unfinished hurt. It can cause us to look for someone to blame. A surgery that did not go well. An inattentive driver. A tool left available to a child. It all emphasizes the unpredictability of life and our inability to control much of anything. We are grasping, however, for at least some explanation.

I am again speaking to myself, but people wiser than I have encouraged each of us not to deny the lessons that grief can teach us. Our human default mode seems to be to attempt to fix, control, or solve our dilemmas. Clearly, this does not usually work for us. We are fooling ourselves to believe that we have the spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical ability to work our way through life without many plans crashing and hopes being dashed.

It may be helpful to note that tears are not limited to physical pain and grief. You and I have personal instances in which our eyes filled with tears over something we were experiencing. Do grandparents cry during the musical concert by the grandchild? Some cry when they see the ocean or mountains for the first time. Graduations and weddings are filled with crying participants and observers. It seems that there is a tight connection between crying and loving someone or something.

Decades ago, a friend said sometimes she needed to go into her room alone, turn the lights down low, and put on a symphony. “What do you do there?” I asked. “Mostly cry,” she replied. Frequently, tears come when we realize we cannot fix or change something.

Many know that the shortest verse in the Bible is “Jesus wept.” Insightful people have wondered the cause of his weeping, but my explanation has a community feel to it. I believe Jesus cried not because Lazarus had died or that he (Jesus) had not been there during the death and burial. It is reasonable to me that Jesus cried because Mary and Martha were crying, and he loved them. His love for his friends caused him to cry. I figure if that is enough reason for Jesus to cry, it is enough reason for me to do so too.

Crying is closely linked to caring for someone. Caring can be trying and nearly overwhelming, but I believe when we care for another person (in whatever way) we learn things about ourselves; that is certainly true for me.

Metaphorically, one might suggest that it is hard to see with tears in your eyes. On the other hand, perhaps what is happening is that tears are cleansing our eyes so we can see more clearly. Frederick Buechner has suggested that we should pay particular attention to our tears, particularly when they are unexpected. 

Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain

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