My dear friend Karen (1/3 of Three Clever Sisters), recently sent me the following quote by Washington Irving:
There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief…and unspeakable love.
Over the years (including three years of law school, which caused much grief and many tears) Karen and I have discussed crying and its emotional, physical, mental and relational importance. I grew up believing tears were a sign of weakness and hyper-vulnerability. I am not sure exactly why I believed this. Perhaps it is the emotional-rational bifurcation evident in my parents’ approaches to life. My mom is an emotional thinker while my dad is a rational, head-driven, thinker. Perhaps it was the fact that tears showed up at the least opportune times, when I was upset and/or hurt, aka the times I most desired to retain my control and composure. But my power eroded with each waver in my voice and hot tear. So I encased my heart in a steely, “don’t fuck with me” exterior so that I could (at least attempt to) control what was let in and how much was let out.
This bifurcation between emotion and head-driven rationality ruled me for most of my life. It was not until college when I befriended individuals who cried when their hearts were stirred or broken by beauty, by injustice, by pleasure, by pain that I reflected on the sensitivity of my heart (as the seat of my will and being). See, D. Willard’s Renovation of the Heart. I then dated someone whose sensitivity to the currents of his heart enabled him to live and cry with strength, vulnerability and dignity. I would kiss away his tears in hope that as they touched my parched lips my heart’s unrelenting thirst would be quenched.
During the summer before law school, the rusty hinges of my exterior were drowned in tear-based WD-40. For ten weeks I pulled the weight and pain off the backs of high school campers and their college-aged counselors, and heaved them onto my already sagging shoulders. I battled emotionally, legally and spiritually on their behalves so that they might have the space to be wretch from their lives and to experience peace in abundance, even if but for one moment. I attempted to do this on my own. But one week absolutely wrecked me, and I found myself crying into the lap of my good friend Nick. With each tear the questions, pain, and strain were released and the hinges loosened.
Life as a law student in Seattle knocked off the hinges. A break-up, three moves, counseling, and copious amounts of time spent alone and in prayer removed the exterior.
At times I still pretend the steely exterior is there. When this happens I have to pray for sensitivity and the willingness to look down and see my heart beating, which forces me to reckon with my vulnerability. Whatever I may think of myself, I am little more than “bones starved of flesh surround[ing] an aching heart full of love.” See, “Blogtrack” below. A miscalculated move, a glance, a certain remark, a breathtaking sunset, an unreturned call/email can puncture my heart.
I love that Karen sent me the above quote to me today because it encapsulates my experience last night, which, in turn, summed up the last year (couple of years?) of my life. Late last week I realized that Christmas was rapidly approaching and I had neglected to give much, if any, thought to preparing my self, my heart for Christmas. This may be, in part, a response to Thanksgiving. So I decided to attend an Advent service last night at a local Lutheran church. During the first Scripture reading of Isaiah 9:2, 6-7, Micah 5:2-4, two large tears seeped through the cracks of my closed eyes and spilled down my cheeks.
Maybe my tears were triggered by the fact that I have attended church three times since September — I have taken to attending “church of the ipod”, aka listening to sermon podcasts while taking long walks. Maybe it was the poignant reminder that it is only by God’s grace and love in and through Emmanuel (“God with us”) that we are not consumed. Lamentations 3:21-26, 32. Maybe it is both and so much more.
Tears, whether cried in agony or joy, are powerful. They physically connect us to the reality of our minds, emotions and souls, uniting us with our overwhelming grief and unspeakable love.