The Spiritual Benefits of Surrendering to Tears
Even Jesus cried.
“Tears are the soul speaking,” says Linda Douty, a United Methodist spiritual director and author who shares they were taught in spiritual direction school to “always follow the tears.”
Pay attention, she says, to what makes you cry.
Although society encourages us to hide our weeping, we may discover that our tears are the most authentic indicators of who we are. And when we cry, we enter a space where we might best commune with our Creator.
God created our body to give us clues as to who we are in our spirit, Douty teaches.
“Think of how you smile when something delights you. The body reacts before you can even describe it,” she points out.
“If we get tears in our eyes when we hear a beautiful symphony, there’s a message there that something in us is responding to that music. If we are really trying to grow spiritually, we would fan that flame,” she explains. “Somewhere inside of me there was a response that was unintentional. What we’re after is knowledge of that real, interior landscape.
The Shame of Crying
Modern culture tells us to be brave, be strong.
“To cry suggests vulnerability and we are taught to hide our vulnerability,” explains Ron Bell, senior pastor of Camphor Memorial United Methodist Church and author of “The Four Promises: A Journey of Healing Past and Present.” “We are not taught the importance of grief or sadness. Grief is an extension of love, it’s the love after the loss. And yet we aren’t taught to embrace that.”
Christians, especially, may be guilty of hiding our sorrow.
“In the church, we see sadness or disappointment or grief as a sign that God failed, that God didn’t meet the mark,” Bell explains. “So we throw scripture after scripture after scripture at the situation and the reality is that we’re just disappointed.
“God made you with all of these emotions,” Bell emphasizes. “Why wouldn’t you hand them to God? God wants to walk with us through all the emotions, not just the good ones.”
The Distance From the Head to the Heart
The failure to be honest about how we feel interferes with having an authentic faith.
“We see God as a task master that needs to be pleased and obeyed. That is head stuff. The distance from the head to the heart is a long one and painful one,” Douty says, adding that we often tell ourselves, “’If I were really a good Christian, I would be more accepting and trusting and above this.’
“We go for information instead of transformation. We’ll take another class, read another book, go talk to someone who is smarter than we are,” Douty points out. “We don’t go inside ourselves and believe we have an inner compass that God put there.
“God wants our authenticity, not our good behavior,” she says. “I think part of our transformation is a realization to who we really are rather than some copy or clone of someone else.”
To Cry Is to Heal
The human body produces three types of tears: basal, reflex and emotional. Basal tears keep our eyes lubricated, reflex tears are a reaction to irritants, such as onion chopping or smoke, and emotional tears are associated with emotions ranging from extreme happiness to stress, anger, pain and sadness. Unlike basal and reflex tears, emotional tears can be held back and stopped.
It’s the emotional tears that also release endorphins, chemicals that help ease both physical and emotional pain.
“Physiologically, when we don’t cry, we are inhibiting our bodies from the process of being healed,” Bell says. “In many ways, we are dishonoring the way God made us by not letting us do the very thing God made us to do. When I’m stuffing down my emotions in this temple that God gave me, how can I function fully in my faith?
“On the spiritual side,” Bell says, “when I refuse to cry, what I’m saying is that there is a piece of me that doesn’t trust God with this.
“If you’re crying, let the tears come,” Bell says. “Stop wiping away your tears.”
Crystal Caviness works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact her by email or at 615-742-5138.
This article originally appeared on UMC.org and is reposted here with permission of United Methodist Communications.