There’s a beautiful story in Luke 7 that introduces us to a woman with a doubtful reputation who came into a setting where Jesus was with Simon the Pharisee and which, quite unexpectedly, causes huge embarrassment to Simon the host. Luke says she stood at Jesus’ feet weeping and began to bath his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Here was such an extravagant expression of feeling, and tenderness of feeling. But what about the tears?
It certainly was uncomfortable for Simon to see a public display of emotion. How would you have felt? Remember in those days women had no status, and here she was. She lost control, overwhelmed with gratitude for once, that she was understood, forgiven, and accepted. Her expression of thanks to Jesus overflowed with many tears. It was beyond words.
Simon the Pharisee was clearly ill at ease, mumbling to himself, Why doesn’t he [Jesus] do something? She is unworthy of my hospitality. But what he didn’t know was this: In his discomfort with this emotional, inferior woman, he casts judgement on her and on Jesus. But she knew Jesus could forgive her, and he said, “Because of your faith, you are now saved. May God give you peace” (Luke 7:50 – CEV).
How do we respond to unchecked displays of tears today? They express sadness, grief, joy and relief. Even at funerals we tend to respect those who are ‘strong’, but they don’t allow their honest grief to flow. We get uncomfortable when people cry. For many of us, to cry is to lose control. It is misunderstood as a sign of weakness. Until a few decades ago, for a man to cry was to be less than a man, to be ‘womanly’, God forbid.
Most of us, especially us guys, are deeply programmed to be ashamed of our tears, and we do everything we can to withhold them. We even feel uncomfortable when others cry. At the garden of Gethsemane, we know Jesus himself openly wept, falling to the ground, allowing his whole body to pour out his fear and distress.
Tears Are Part of the Solution
So can tears be really that bad? No. I heard about a woman at church who ran out before the service had ended. She apologised to the minister:
Oh, I feel such a fool. I’m sorry. Here I am carrying on. I wasn’t like this yesterday. I was OK till the prayer this morning but then I really lost it. I shouldn’t have come to church. When I come here I can’t keep from crying.
People do cry in church, and what’s wrong with that? Tears are not a problem. They are part of the solution. Tears release tension, stress, pain and injury of all kinds. They are a gift from God that helps us to heal. It doesn’t harm anyone to cry, tears help us feel, and then recover from our hurt.
Have you noticed how often tears are triggered by a word of kindness or a feeling of safety? That’s why church is such a common place to cry: friends’ care and God’ s presence are a powerful combination for inducing healing years.
Tears are one way we communicate. Our honest feelings, whether we intend to or not. They draw others to share in what is difficult to bear alone. This is good because it makes us all stronger. All humans cry when they get hurt, whether the pain is physical or emotional. Why would nature and God have created this complex biochemical drama, if weeping weren’t part of the intricate beauty of a human being?
Actually, tears serve to clear excess hormones out of our system. If these hormones don’t flow out, they become toxins, harmful to our system. Tears do a vital cleansing job for our bodies. In fact they may help some people from accumulating stress that contributes to cancer and strokes. Crying leaves us more available to think clearly about our situation and resolve the difficulties. Most of us know about having ‘a good cry’. It leaves us feeling emotionally lighter. It was Shakespeare who wrote, “to weep is to make less the depth of grief”.
And remember the crying will eventually stop anyway. Many who have held back their tears for too long fear that if they begin, they will never be able to stop. But this is not correct. Your tears will run out. Tears are God’s gift for us—washing our wounded souls clear.
For us men there are some myths that need changing:
A man’s man is big, brave and strong. We are raised to be competitive, and value comes on a man’s ability to win, be brave, bigger and stronger. But in reality, true strength has very little to do with the physical. Being a man has to do with so much more.
A man’s man isn’t emotional, and doesn’t express affection. Things have changed in the last 10 to 15 years. But still boys, somewhere along the way, have learned that men suppress emotions and remain calm, cool and collected at all times, even in the midst of a crisis. But the reality is that men are emotional, even if they are not in touch with their emotions. Jesus, as a man, expressed and experienced deep emotions.
And finally, a man’s man is not weak and shouldn’t cry. Men have grown up learning that crying is a demonstration of weakness. They learn to repress emotions of pain and grief. But the truth is that real men have the ability to express pain and grief with appropriate tears. Fathers should help their sons to grow to the place where they can appropriately and securely demonstrate tears in times of pain, grief, and crisis.