I’d just gotten in a fight with a friend who wouldn’t be my friend for much longer. She had said some cruel things: echoes of all the worst things I’m afraid I am, and am trying my hardest not to be. I was feeling unglued. I called my friend Terry and began to tearfully stammer out to her what had happened.
Her warm voice came through the phone. “Wait. Stop talking. I want you to cry hard.”
So, I did. I cried the kind of cry that makes a lot of noise and produces a snot mustache. Neither the timing nor location was ideal: five minutes before school pickup and on the curb outside my daughter’s school, hiding behind my parked car. But after a minute of ugly cry, though I was still hurting, I was calmer, and able to tell Terry more fully about the conversation. She gave me words of comfort, and some solid advice on what to do next.
I love that Terry didn’t say, “Wait. Calm down.” Or, “Wait. Take a deep breath.” Or even, “Wait. I can’t understand you when you’re hysterical.” Instead, her instruction to me was, “Cry hard.”
It made me feel so very safe, and very loved. Terry came into my life in a time when I was very much in need of a mentor and friend, because one of my long-term friendships was falling apart. Terry gave me the courage to grieve – rather than minimize -- the loss of the relationship, and also the loss of identity that went with it.
In less emotional moments Terry and I have talked about the amazing, healing power of tears. Science has shown that there are several types of tears. Psychic tears, those triggered by emotion, contain a neurotransmitter that acts as a natural painkiller when the body is under stress. Other types of tears, like those triggered by allergies and onions, don’t have it. God made specific tears to actually ease our pain.
Over the last few years, I’ve come to treasure the friends in my life who let me – even encourage me – to cry. Among them is Jesus, the dearest friend of my soul. Jesus himself wept when his friend Lazarus died, despite the fact that Jesus was going to resurrect him from the dead moments later (John 11). The implication in the text is that Jesus didn’t just cry over Lazarus’s death, but the existence of death itself. Jesus modeled for us that expressing emotion is a healthy part of being human, and that it is in fact extremely rational to grieve loss.
Through his Spirit and the scriptures, Jesus invites me to grieve deaths of many kinds: the death of dreams, the death of relationships, loss of identity, the end of a life stage. “Blessed are those who mourn,” he says, “for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4 NIV)
Because I volunteer in my church’s “Care and Recovery” ministry, I’ve studied grieving to help myself and others. One source I’ve gone to, the book How People Grow by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, says this: “Grief is the toughest pain we have to deal with. It is not the worst human experience, because it leads to resolution, but it is the most difficult for us to enter into voluntarily, which is the only way to get into it. The rest of our human experience just happens ‘to’ us. Hurt, injury, anxiety, alienation and failure all break through, and we suffer. Grief does not ‘break through.’ It is something we enter into.”
So, if it’s true both that grief is one of the processes by which God heals our hearts, and one we can only do willingly, then consider the great encouragement it is to tell a friend, “Go ahead. Cry hard.” In the immediate moment, their body uses the act of crying as a mechanism to heal pain; and in the larger picture, we’ve created a loving space for them to bravely face sadness and be healed. “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit,” says Isaiah 34:18. (NIV) Moving toward those who are brokenhearted and “mourning with those who mourn” is to be like our loving God. (Romans 12:15, NIV)
Last spring, my 11-year-old daughter spent six weeks in a full leg cast, after three months of undiagnosed pain in her knee. Her injury kept her from playing on her all-star soccer team for a whole season, and to be unable to perform in her hip-hop recital she worked for all school year. As mamas do, I’ve tried to help her focus on gratitude, and all the other talents she can express and enjoy while immobilized.
But there has came a point in almost every day when she was worn out from physical pain, inconvenience, and the reality of what she’s lost in this season of her young life. I saw her eyes fill with tears, and I saw her try to hold them back.
“Go ahead and cry hard. It will make you feel better,” I would tell her. She did, and then she felt better. Even more significantly, she felt, as I always pray that she will, that she was safe and loved.