I recently learned something interesting about the make-up of tears. Each tear has a unique design based on the reason for its existence. Though they are as individual as snowflakes, they have similar components.
Emotive tears resulting from sorrow or joy have a similar chemical structure, and sorrow-based tears contain both toxins that accumulate in the body due to stress, and a naturally occurring pain reliever. That’s why if you feel like crying, it’s best to let it out.
The cathartic relief that comes from a good cry is a result of allowing your body to try to heal itself. The emotional relief rendered by a good cry and the cleansing process of flushing stress hormones out of your body through your tears can be very healing.
Crying subverts the message that bucking up and plowing forward are more desirable outcomes to feeling, sensitivity and reflection. Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes, Professor of Practical Theology and Pastoral Care at Columbia Theological Seminary, says that self-care is subversive, and self-care is resistance. I think the same is true of a good cry.
Tears are quite amazing. Crying is an act of self-care. We do a disservice to others when we expect them not to cry, or when we feminize crying assigning shame to men who cry. Allowing for the free expression of sorrow as well as joy, through tears is a powerful and subversive act of inclusion and welcome; love of self and love of other.
Allowing another’s tears to fall without glib condolences or trite efforts to mollify our own discomforts is to envelop that person with arms of presence, ready to hold grief and gladness. It is to offer ears of welcome, ready to listen to stories of heartache and triumph. Letting someone cry and be their complete vulnerable self is a gift of seeing and being with.
In those times, words are not enough and can actually deter from the healing that tears and crying can offer. It’s a lovely thing to let someone cry. It is to invite them to let go and not hang on, or be strong, or buck up, or telling them it’ll be ok.
Sometimes tears are saying “it’s not ok, and it won’t be for a while.”
It’s more helpful to sit with a person in the not-okayness than to offer trite sayings based in our own discomfort at the reality that our lives could change at any moment. “I can’t imagine what you must be going through.”
When we shine epiphany light; the light of discovery and revelation, onto the sentiment, there it is, laid bare in all its vulnerability and fear: “ I won’t…, I don’t want…, it would break me… to imagine what you must be going through right now.”
Shared humanity invites shared joy and shared sorrow. To carry another’s burdens doesn’t mean do all you can to take their pain away. It means to offer to shoulder some of the pain they can entrust to you, for now; so that for a few moments, maybe the pain can be a little bit lighter.
Tears are a holy gift, a sacred journey, a beautiful and brutal rendering of humanity at its most raw, most vulnerable, most divine-image-bearing.