The Value of Tears

I’ve been thinking a lot about tears lately. Maybe because I’ve been shedding so many of them. Don’t know if it’s menopause, exhaustion or just too many hours and too many miles traveling alone. Whatever the reason, it’s prompted me to think about the value of tears (no, not the vale of tears…)

Biologically, tears cleanse, prevent infection and clear our vision. That seems like a pretty good metaphor for what they do for us emotionally and spiritually, too.

Yet, we’re often embarrassed by tears. If we do cry, we do so quietly, in private, where no one will see, and where no one will urge, “please don’t cry” (which often has more to do with THEIR discomfort than ours.)

A friend visited me some months ago to talk about a very painful situation she was dealing with. Before we started our conversation, she said apologetically, “I might end up crying – is that okay?” It broke my heart that she felt she needed to have permission to cry.

We even urge our children not to cry. “Big kids don’t cry,” we say. And “don’t cry over spilled milk.” Instead, maybe we should talk with them about the value of crying and encourage them to do so.

At the Warrensburg, MO, Church of the Brethren a few weeks ago, one person’s concerned question about the troubled teenagers I work with through LAVORP opened the floodgates for me – so much so that I was unable to speak for a little while. When I pulled myself together, I apologized to the group. But one woman gently reassured me, “You don’t ever need to apologize for your tears.”

Dr. Lee Smith takes it a step further with the note he puts into every copy of “Grace Goes to Prison” that he gives away: “These stories will make you cry. If you don’t cry, maybe you haven’t read it carefully enough.” Dr. Smith was an eye doctor for over 60 years, so he’d know all about the biological value of tears. But that’s not why he wants us to cry. If we are not moved to tears by violence and injustice, how will we ever move beyond tears to action? In fact, when violence and injustice no longer make us cry, we should be very worried.

One definition of empathy that I heard recently is, “the quivering of one’s heart in response to another’s pain.” Tears seem to me to be a part of that quivering of the heart. Maybe tears are God’s gift to us – to water the fertile ground of compassion in our hearts and help germinate the seeds of change.

After more than 60 formal speaking engagements and literally hundreds of other informal conversations where I’ve shared stories of the incarcerated men and women Marie Hamilton worked with, I am still moved to tears each time I share their stories. And yes, it still feels awkward and a little embarrassing. But I also hope those tears never stop coming.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: What moves you to tears? How might you use those tears to water the fertile ground of compassion in your heart and germinate the seeds of change?

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: grace goes to prison book tour

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