Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
What is it about crying that is difficult to explain? You may watch a powerful movie and find yourself welling up inside, and next thing the tears begin to flow. You start to cry or weep. Where did that come from?
Many of us guys are embarrassed to show our tears, as if it reveals weakness, not becoming of a man. Charles Darwin, all those years ago, used to say there is no purpose in crying. And scientists are still divided on the reason we cry—although some people never shed a tear.
Emotional crying remains one of the human body’s more confounding mysteries. Though some other species shed tears reflexively as a result of pain or irritation, humans are the only creatures whose tears can be triggered by their feelings.
Our Emotional Connection With the World
In babies, tears have the obvious and crucial role of soliciting attention and care from adults. But what about in grown-ups? That’s less clear. It’s obvious that strong emotions trigger them, but why? Tears are actually a biological release triggered by a strong emotional experience. They are the body’s way of providing relief.
Crying is our emotional connection with the world. This simple act is often seen as a weakness when it actually demonstrates the strength in us. It allows us to celebrate the positive and helps us to let go of the negative things in our lives.
One professor psychology has said, “Crying signals to yourself and other people that there’s some important problem that is at least temporarily beyond your ability to cope”. And that makes sense to me. A child will cry more easily than adults. As we age we find ways to sort out issues and find solutions. But tears will probably come because we are human—built that way to connect with others on an emotional level.
Most of us dread the shedding of tears—particularly in front of other people. There are many reasons why we hold back. We don’t want to feel weak or vulnerable. We fear rejection. We fear losing control, perhaps even fear that, if we start sobbing, we will never stop. Whether we realise it or not, we probably learned these lessons from word or example in family life. Whether spoken or unspoken, it was against the rules.
The shedding of tears comes so spontaneously and naturally to little children. Then, rather than being guided and directed and nurtured, it comes to be seen as a threat—and that’s unfortunate. Very often, it is a sign of something else—empathy, compassion, vulnerability. It can even be a sign of mercy. We live in a cynical and often spiteful age, when people are often more comfortable being snarky or critical, rather than being genuine.
Our Tears Are in God’s Book
Tears remind us that we are called to share life on a deeper level—one that is authentic and maybe just a little bit soulful. That’s why I like to think of the gift of tears—a gift given to us from a loving God. Over the centuries weeping was a sign of repentance and sorrow. The Bible has plenty of examples: in Psalm 51 King David wept over his sin; the prophet Jeremiah wept day and night in sorrow; Nehemiah wept over the destruction of the wall in Jerusalem.
And today I think there’s plenty of tears—perhaps we don’t see it publicly as it’s not usually encouraged. A national TV reporter wept as she tried to explain the pain and tragedy of those dying with COVID-19 in the US. She was so overwhelmed in grief—but the viewers response was amazing. Many thousands took to social media to thank her for her tears of compassion. It triggers some type of release inside us which is healthy and good.
We are created by God with the ability and urge to cry when our emotions move us. So shedding tears must be an important part of being a human being—a person composed of a body and a soul made in the image and likeness of God. Did you know that God sees your tears and actually keeps a record of them?:
- “I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears” (2 Kings 20:5 – ESV).
- “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry” (Psalm 34:15 – NIV)
- “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 – NLT)
- “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 – ESV)
Heavenly Father, help us have a really good view of this. Not to be ashamed of tears, but to see them as your gift—the gift of tears. Amen