"I hate to cry!"
The angry words rushed out even as unbidden waterworks slipped from her eyes.
She looked away, sniffed and brushed the heel of her hand across her cheek. "It’s such a sign of weakness!"
My young friend, who preferred to be self-sufficient and in total control of her emotions, was having a meltdown.
She had been describing the ache of loneliness she’d felt since her best friend left for an out-of-state college. "There’s no one who understands me," she sniffed. More tears. "Ahhhh!"
I looked her in the eye. "It’s OK to cry," I said. "I cried today in a meeting!"
A slight smile flickered across her tear-slicked face.
"Yeah," I continued. "And it was over something much sillier than this." In reality, it hadn’t been silly. During the meeting, we had discussed something very near to my heart. Things got heated, and a combination of exhaustion from lack of sleep and my emotion for the subject had conspired to keep me from maintaining a professional demeanor.
Why, Lord? I thought in frustration. Why didn’t you give me the strength to keep it together? Instead, I was sure my blubbering had damaged my credibility.
It was OK for my friend to cry, but showing weakness in public was definitely not for me.
The Strong Don’t Cry
From childhood taunts of "crybaby" to hit songs titled "Big Girls Don’t Cry," our society has learned to scorn tears. They are the trademark of over-sensitive women and babyish kids. They betray weakness.
I cry more than I’d like to admit. It’s particularly annoying when it’s over something seemingly insignificant like hurt feelings or a failed task.
We decide that certain situations warrant tears—for example, the birth of a child or a funeral. However, when a speaker chokes up while delivering a message, he will invariably apologize to his audience. Why? Because he is showing weakness in front of them.
Lord Byron wrote: "The busy have no time for tears." In other words, crying is a useless activity that consumes energy that could be used on worthier pursuits.
"No use in crying over spilled milk," mothers chide.
These sentiments reinforce our contempt for tears and those—including ourselves—who shed them. Those who keep an iron command of their emotions exhibit strength, while those who cry are seen as soft.
Something I have always appreciated about my father is his ability to cry. Throughout my childhood, I would see him tear up while witnessing a touching moment, talking about the Lord, or even listening to a song. My father’s sensitive heart reminded me that his emotions were easily touched by God.
Many heroes of the faith were weepy. Jeremiah, known as "the weeping prophet," wrote, "Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people" (Jeremiah 9:1).
David, a mighty warrior and king, comes across as an emotional basket case. "All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears," he writes in Psalms. And later in the book, "My tears have been my food day and night."
Even the Apostle Paul, not afraid to hurt feelings, was a member of the frequent-tissue club. "I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews" (Acts 20:19).
And consider the insight found in the Bible’s shortest verse: "Jesus wept." Jesus cried over the death of His friend Lazarus, even though, being God, He knew fully well Lazarus would live again. The Savior of the world who would endure the agony of the cross shed tears of grief for a friend. He wept over the city of Jerusalem because peace was hidden from her. And it seems He shed tears over His impending death and separation from the Father.
Hope for the Teary
Tears play an integral role in the Christian life. As I considered my friend’s disdain for a good cry, I decided to look into the truth about tears.
Tears are evidence of a heart in tune with God. Often when tears are mentioned in the Bible they accompany repentance, love, or sorrow for the lost. David wrote, "Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed" (Psalm 119:136). David felt such a passion for God’s righteousness that its opposite evoked tears.
Paul tells the Philippians, "For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ" (Philippians 3:18).
Luke reports the circumstances surrounding a prostitute crashing a party at a Pharisee’s house to see Jesus. In a shocking display, the woman wets Jesus’ feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair.
When Simon, the host, questions this unseemly behavior, Jesus rebukes him: "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair…. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much" (Luke 7:44-47). Jesus confirmed that the woman’s tears were evidence of her right heart with God.
Tears impact God. Human tears do not go unnoticed by God. I find the story of Hezekiah fascinating. The Israelite king becomes deathly ill and the prophet Isaiah delivers him some bad news: The Lord says Hezekiah’s death is imminent.
Hezekiah prays. He reminds the Lord of what a good guy he is. On top of that, he weeps bitterly … for himself. Hezekiah isn’t weeping over the sin of the nation; he’s tearfully begging for a few more years.
But God is moved by Hezekiah’s tears. He says: "Go and tell Hezekiah, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life’" (Isaiah 38:5).
Whether shed in grief, frustration, pain, or fear, tears are not scorned by our Heavenly Father. He sees them and responds with compassion.
Tears affect others. Just as my father’s tears made God’s work more real to me as a child ("If Daddy’s crying, this must be something important!"), my tears allow others to see my heart.
American novelist Washington Irving wrote, "There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than 10,000 tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief—and unspeakable love."
When I was suffering with a debilitating illness during college, I broke down in tears during one of my classes. I felt so foolish for not keeping control of my emotions. A few weeks later, a classmate commended me on my example: "Your strength in spite of your pain is evidence of God’s work in your life." My tears did nothing to discredit God’s power. In fact, they revealed more clearly how He was sustaining me.
Those who cry will be comforted. Scripture contains many promises for the teary—the greatest being God’s personal comfort. "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy," Psalm 126:5 says.
One of the most breathtaking verses in Scripture reveals God’s tenderness toward those who cry: "For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Revelation 7:17).
Only through tears can one experience the full measure of God’s comfort. Perhaps that is their main purpose—to expose a soft spot that can be touched by Him. And maybe that is why we prefer not to cry. It’s hard to admit we’re in need of comfort from anyone—even God.
As I reassured my friend, "Tears are part of being human." They are also part of being a Christ-follower. Sometimes big girls (and boys) do cry. And it’s OK.