It was mama’s mantra when trying to get me to dry the unwarranted tears of a precocious little boy: “Stop that crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!”
Yesterday I finally understood the real meaning of those words.
Three different news stories showed unrestrained weeping based on some seemingly critical precipitating event. Watching it made me realize that modern culture robs the value from so much—even tears.
The first episode of crying occurred just an hour from where I live at the opening of Universal Studio’s new Harry Potter ride, Diagon Alley. Literally people were shedding tears of anticipation after waiting for up to six hours to enjoy this new ride. It was as if the fantasy was actually coming true.
Seriously!? It isn’t real, people!
The second incident involved the fans who watched their beloved Brazilian soccer team go down in unprecedented defeat during the semi-finals of soccer’s World Cup. Not only did this loss spark riots and calls for the president of Brazil to resign, but many fans—young and old—were openly weeping at this terrible twist of fate.
Really!? It’s a game, for crying out loud!
Now I am not a curmudgeon who hates thrill rides or a hooligan who rants against sports. I understand the excitement of a new roller coaster and the frustration of your team’s demise. But honestly…there was nothing to cry about!
Tears are too important to be spent on the artificial and superficial. They were built into us so we could give expression to the inexpressible places in our souls.
Tears are a sacrament—a sacred gift from God.
That brings us to the third story.
It was the touching tale of Raju the elephant from India who after 50 years of abusive captivity was freed in a daring rescue by some wildlife conservationists. As the animal realized it was going to be liberated—no more spiked shackles, no more beatings, no more bondage—tears ran down his huge cheeks. Tears of joy, relief, hope.
Now that elephant had “something to cry about”.
In response to all the waterworks, I heard a familiar question in my heart. It echoed from one of the most important moments of time.
After Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, Mary Magdalene was found at his tomb on Sunday morning early. She was weeping uncontrollably in sorrow when she was startled by the unexpected presence of angelic beings. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” (John 20:11-13)
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” Her grief was not just because she had lost him through his death, but also because she could not mourn him by intimately tending to his broken body. She had something to cry about.
Tears are the silent exclamation of the broken or ecstatic heart.
They are prompted by sadness and loss, but also by gratefulness and joy. They can erupt in moments of anger or fear, but also in times of relief and healing.
Tears are powerful. They communicate what words cannot. They express cavernous depths that might otherwise remain hidden.
Jesus wept when his dear friend Lazarus died as those moments reminded the great Savior that this world was not as he had made it “in the beginning”. (John 11:35)
The faithful old prophet, Jeremiah, wept over the shattered condition of his beloved people and the complete loss of their identity and purpose. “Streams of tears flow from my eyes because my people are destroyed.” (Lamentations 3:48)
The woman whose past was littered with pain and checkered with sin wept in both repentance and relief as she touched the man who had changed everything. “As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” (Luke 7:38)
In each case, there was truly something to cry about.
I have known those moments.
- When mother chased me around with a wooden spoon determined to change my mind and when Alzheimer’s chased her through the shadows of memory determined to steal hers.
- When I watched my bride walk down the aisle with a happy heart set on a new adventure and when I saw her slog through the pain of a broken heart still hoping for a happy ending.
- When I looked in the eyes of my newborn children with unbelievable gratitude and when I looked in those same eyes years later with unbearable grief.
Right now I think of many who are facing such tear-inducing moments.
- The wife who just lost a husband and is left with grieving daughters trying to understand why.
- The employee who had given nearly three decades to his company only to find out he just wasn’t needed anymore.
- The parents who daily wake to watch cancer sap a little more life from their precious child.
- The old father who sits alone each night realizes what he selfishly destroyed in his family and sadly hopes he’ll get back.
There is pain in those tears. But there is also promise.
Your tears are a connection with your Father.
God has been there at each of those moments and has not missed one of those tears. “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” (Psalm 56:8) None of the pain has gone unnoticed. None of the tears fell meaninglessly to the ground. Papa God has kept a record of each one…no matter what the source of the sorrow.
Your tears are an investment in your future.
“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.” (Ps 126:4-6) Each tear pouring from the real issues of life is sowing seeds. From those drops of grief will come new life…nourishing others from the pain born and overcome.
I live in a household of men not afraid of our tears. We are touched easily, moved deeply, and shed tears freely. We are not of the school that big boys don’t cry.
But we take our tears seriously and know when there is really “something to cry about”.