I never thought I would be grateful for tears, and yet there they were – my eyelids brimming full. They surprised me and caught me off guard. I hadn’t expected to cry – at least not like that.  Yet, deep down I knew that my heart needed to cry. Pain, long buried, was aching to be released. It was finally real, not just a numb recalling of events, and I was grateful to feel connected even if it was painful.

But …what did I do? Did I let them fall? No! Pride barred the door. I choked them back. I was trying desperately to swallow the lump so I could talk; trying hard not to let them fall. The struggle was evident, but it was inconvenient; it was uncomfortable; and most of all – it would be too shameful, weak, and ugly to sob.

I was thankful the tears were there, but I thought I would hold them back – save them for later.  I ached for the release a good heart rain would bring, but I wanted it at my convenience; I wanted to cry in private. Sobs are not pretty, and I did not want to embarrass myself and so I choked them back. But tears can also be gift and when they are not accepted, they may not be available when we want them. Such was the case, when at last I stepped into a hot tub in the privacy of my own home, ready to have a good cry, the tears were not there – just a hollow emptiness once more.

Our tears tell a lot about us. Ken Gire in his book, Reflections on Your Life, calls them the language of the soul and has this to say about tears, “Though more difficult to define, tears are more expressive than words. They are also more difficult to hide behind than words, for what we weep over reveals who we are. Our tears pull back the curtain to reveal the identity of our true self, which is often kept from other people like a self-conscious secret.” I think perhaps the tears that we don’t shed may also reveal the identity of our true self – perhaps they reveal just as much about us as those tears that do tumble from our heart.

In his book, Ken Gire quotes Frederick Buechner who has this to say about tears, “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be rescued, you should go next.” 

However, if we bury them, it may be difficult to tell where they are leading us. We were made to cry; we were made to weep. Created in the image of God we need only look to our creator for example. In fact the shortest verse in the Bible is one which expresses the deepest of emotions, “Jesus wept.” And so we weep, or at least we should. Women in particular are reputed to be emotional, but that is not always the case – at least not for me. I don’t always cry – sometimes the tears just aren’t there. Sometimes the tears are locked away with past pain where I can’t reach it, and I thought it was safer that way – pain locked away deep. However, I am grieved to realize that when I cannot connect to my own pain, I cannot connect to the pain of others.  My heart may feel compassion and I may hurt for them, but I cannot grieve for them.

We think of love as something that we cannot give if we don’t open our hearts to receive it. But I think that if we are stoic in our suffering, if we do not allow our hearts to be broken, they cannot be mended and we have no hope of healing to offer to the hurting. We cannot shield our hearts, cap them and lock them up tight, and then expect to be able to pour them out.  While our tears may reveal our brokenness, I think our unshed tears may reveal our fears. And so, it is not an empty cup that I take to the cross, but the dregs of fear and pride that I pour out so that my cup may be filled with compassion and hope.