I’d thought about what I wanted to say, but I hadn’t anticipated the emotions that would bubble up when I tried to speak. Summer was ending, and even though our family would see most of this group of friends again soon, we wouldn’t see them on an almost daily basis as we had for the last few months. I wanted to tell one friend in particular with whom we’d become close that he was special to our family and would always be welcome in our home. But I suddenly felt sad and overwhelmed. And, then the tears started to come.
“We’ll see each other next weekend,” our friend said reassuringly. I knew what he said was true, but I couldn’t help crying because things were changing just the same. Riley, my sixteen-year-old daughter, persuaded me to join her in the restroom. “I don’t know why I’m crying,” I told her. “I feel so stupid.” I worried that I’d embarrassed her and myself at the same time. “Mom, stop,” she said. But then she refined her words, “I don’t mean stop crying. It’s okay to cry. I mean stop being mad at yourself for being upset.”
As my tears continued to flow, we returned to the group and took some photos before I left the gathering. Riley stayed behind for a little while longer. I cried all the way home. I cried with sadness because I wasn’t sure how the future with these friends would play out, but I also cried with gratitude for the friendships we’d made. Thankfully, Riley allowed me to focus on the root of my emotions instead of the shame and guilt that came from displaying my emotions.
How many times do we apologize for crying? We say, “I’m sorry,” for our inability to control our tears. So, in the midst of sadness, grief, or even joy, we spend at least part of our energy feeling ashamed and trying to stop the tears as well. Our emotions become a tangled mess. I’ve heard experts say we must work through our feelings instead of ignoring or pushing them down. But we can’t focus on dealing with the underlying emotions causing the tears when we’re also feeling guilt at crying in the first place.
I know we don’t want to make others uncomfortable when we cry in front of them. We usually desire to stop our own tears and those of others as quickly as possible. But I think most people want to help and only feel awkward because they don’t know the best way to provide comfort. Perhaps one way to help both the person in tears and the one bearing witness is if we agree that the goal is not necessarily to stop crying. Often, we’ve internalized our culture’s cues that crying signifies weakness. But demonstrations of emotion in and of themselves are not necessarily bad.
In the Psalms, David often expressed his anguish and distress to the Lord. He freely poured out his heart to God and asked for help. David wrote, “I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes. Away from me, all you who do evil, for the Lord has heard my weeping. The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.” Psalm 6:6-9. David is honest about his emotions and his exhaustive tears. Then, he says that the Lord “accepts” his prayer. God welcomes and accepts our prayers and our weeping. Perhaps we should better accept our tears as proof of our humanity, and not a reason for shame. Maybe, we should accept tears as proof of God’s divinity – a God designed way to release our emotions and to show others that we need a listening ear, a comforting embrace, a shoulder to cry on.
I struggled a little bit in the days after my crying episode. I still felt somewhat embarrassed, but Riley remained vigilant in her insistence that my crying was okay. I asked her to text our friend and thank him for his kindness when I was tearful. While he confessed that he didn’t know quite what to do in that moment, his and Riley’s choice to accept my tears without judgment meant so much to me. Instead of trying to make me stop crying, they both looked directly into my eyes and offered words of comfort, so that I could freely express my emotions and my heart.