Being Comfortable With Tears

Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil. ~J.R.R. Tolkien

The kidlets all rushed out to recess, and I started to prep the next lesson. Only a minute later, the door opened, and I turned to find a Sweet Pea in tears. We curled up in the rocking chair, cried together, and the story eventually unfolded: Another student and their teacher had accused my girl of something untrue and threatened her with discipline. She was hurt, confused, and scared, and she ran straight to someplace safe. To someone safe.

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Our class spent a lot of time learning about and practicing compassion, kindness, respect, sympathy, and empathy. We laughed often, but we gave equal attention to beautiful books like Cynthia Rylant’s The Old Woman Who Named Things to help us understand that frustration and sadness are valid emotions — that tears would always be safe among us.

So for my Sweet Pea to freely let down her guard was no small thing. The instigating circumstance was dealt with. More importantly, however, a child took another successful step in engaging with her emotions, giving voice to the unfairness of life, and processing a sound way forward.

Now, understand: It wasn’t about stopping the tears. Far from it. Someone had inflicted a deep wound. Tears had a right and necessary part in my girl’s journey to healing. And they play the same role for us. Unfortunately, for all the research confirming benefits of crying, there’s still stigma, especially for adults. How, though, will children ever learn healthy vulnerability — to offer and receive comfort well and unashamedly — if they never see it modeled?

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I have a clear image from decades ago of Daddy leaning against the living room door frame and crying with us after one of our cats was run over and killed. A few years later when my brother passed away, a widowered neighbor brought us a meal from Kentucky Fried Chicken; he entered our tears the only way he knew how. And twenty years after that when a dear friend visited with her long-prayed-for baby, just weeks after any hope of having my own children evaporated, I rejoiced in their blessing — and immediately buried my head in Mama’s lap after they left, saying, “I just need to cry.” She wept with me, no words necessary.

With humble gratitude, I can list the many people who poured into my soul — throughout my entire life — the truth that tears are good. When I consider these dear men and women, I realize they all walked through pain of some kind. They didn’t choose the hurt, but they chose the healing, the Healer. And they willingly offered their scars as lifelines to others to testify that there can be solace in moments or seasons of tears.

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen. ~Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

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A friend is training to join the hospital’s chaplaincy volunteer team. The soft-spoken facilitating chaplain encourages her trainees to never pass a tissue to someone in tears; doing so can subtly imply they should stop crying. Instead, hand them one only if they reach out. A little overboard? Perhaps. If I have everything runnin’ down my face, please give me a tissue whether I ask or not! I’d prefer you preserve my dignity at the risk of interrupting my emotions.

But the point is valid: Never tell someone to stop crying. The Lord hears our cries, and He sees each tear spilled from heavy, weary hearts. If our sovereign, unchanging, almighty God cares enough to bend low to our sorrow, we, in our shared limitations and frailty, should be more than attentive to another’s brokenness.

May you have wisdom to know who deserves the gift of your tears. May your soul be increasingly aware of the suffering around you, and may you find growing ease in sitting with another as they cry.

Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried than before, — more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle. ~Charles Dickens

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