The kind that stings at the back of your throat, burns pinched eyes and sinks into the corner-pocket pit of your stomach. That kind of shame.
It’s what I felt every time I wanted to cry when someone was around – close friend, family member, stranger.
When I fell while running the kickball bases in grade school, when I sat alone in the cafeteria on the first day of sleep-away camp, when my mom couldn’t pick me up from school after chemotherapy had caused sleepless nights, stomach clutched with nausea. All those tears I wanted to cry right there on the spot – denied.
At an early age, I decided that tears meant weakness. That releasing emotions in front of others meant that you didn’t have the willpower to hold it in, to be brave.
Tears meant giving up – a white-flag-waving sign of defeat. One drop from the duct was playing into the enemy’s hand. And with cancer and heartbreak and the loss of earthly securities, I felt that I couldn’t afford to lose a single tear.
There was a period of my life when tears and I were pretty close, a standard follow-up after my nightly prayers. But tears under covers, cries drowned in damp pillows, were tolerable, because they got it out of my system before the dawn of another day, offering up a thousand responses of “I’m great!” when people asked, “How are you?”
Because I was ashamed of giving a real answer – that there were days when I hurt, when I hurt real deep.
After a decade of this misguided education, I was convinced that I was numb. That the tear bank was cashed out and my tears, even for life’s hardest moments, were no longer available.
I wondered if I would be able cry in another’s presence. Was I even capable of it?
But I would be sorely wrong if I thought that I was made without the capacity to be raw with others, that my fragile, tender heart could never be honest with someone, even after years of telling myself that my tears weren’t worth the trouble.
What a lie. What a disgusting lie. I believed it, though. I drank that Kool-Aid once.
But I guess one day I stopped sipping those lies.
In truth, it caught me by surprise.
As I watched a city I call home suffer through her own pain, I reached up to touch my cheek and felt the beautiful flowing down. There were people to my right and to my left. I was cornered, but I didn’t stop. And for the first time, I didn’t want to.
Since, I’ve had the privilege of crying when I see families on a Saturday afternoon bike ride, or the sight of Mt. Hood against an electric-blue autumn sky. I cry from a place of Joy, knowing that I live in a world where a Creator pours out such beauty – family, children, air, sun and snow.
And I’ve realized that whether I cry tears out of Joy or pain, they’re still the same tears, coming from the same place. Each emotion, a present wrapped in a watery bundle. What a gift of cleansing release.
I’m still sawing through the chains I bound myself in – the chains of image and having it all put together and wanting everything to just be fine and normal. But who lives that life? Who lives in normal?
Who doesn’t feel the tingle in their throat and burn in their eyes when they miss someone they love? When they didn’t get the job they’ve wanted since childhood?
Or when they finally find peace, after searching for so long, as they glimpse His glory in the image of a boy covered in the smile of summer vacation chocolate ice cream…
My tears, your tears, are gifts. Every drop a display of the heart the Creator created inside each of us.
Those who plant in tears
will harvest with shouts of joy.
They weep as they go to plant their seed,
but they sing as they return with the harvest.