Listening to Tears

Tears have always made me uncomfortable. Especially my own.  Signs of weakness or weirdness depending upon the situation.  Brush them away.  Hold them back.  I’ve hated the feeling of not being in control–of my heart, mind, or emotions.  And these sneaky, salty drops escaping from my eyes are tell-tale giveaways.  They won’t be stopped.  This used to frustrate me.  Or make me laugh at myself (not in the nice way).  But I’m learning to see my tears in a new light.

Last month when I met with my spiritual director, she asked me a question that brought tears to my eyes.

“What are those tears about?” she asked.

“I have no idea.”

I don’t remember the question. But I remember noting that maybe I should be paying attention to tears.

The next day, I opened up Frederick Buechner’s book of daily meditations that I’ve borrowed from the library. The entry for the day was titled “Tears”.  He had my attention.

He writes:

“You never know what may cause them. . . . But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.

They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go to next.”[i]

Just in case I wasn’t getting the message, a few days later I read a chapter in Shauna Niequist’s book Bread and Wine in which she talks of tears and marathons.  She says:  “I have also long held the belief that one’s tears are a guide, that when something makes you cry, it means something.  If we pay attention to our tears, they’ll show us something about ourselves.”[ii]  Watching every-day people cross marathon finish lines makes her cry.  Marathons make me cry too!  Just watching people run and the crowd cheering them on makes me cry every time.  Shauna’s tears prompted her to run a marathon.  As she described the process, her training, and her race, I found myself weeping.  Maybe I was weeping because I really don’t want to run a marathon or maybe I don’t think I can or maybe I should just make it a point to go and watch those holy spectacles.  I haven’t figured out what that’s about yet.  But I did get the message that I should be paying attention to my tears.

Tears have been important for me this month. Leading me to some new places. I’ve noticed tears springing up on all sorts of occasions.  Prayers of tears for the persecuted.  Prayers of tears for the orphans whom no one will touch for fear of contracting Ebola.  Can you even imagine?

Tears popping into my eyes at our school’s family folk-dance night. I’m not quite sure what that was about either. I was probably the only person in the gym that night with tears streaming down my face.  But I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a room with so many smiles before.  And joy.  And the beauty of tired parents, shedding the tired just for a moment, and joining hands with their children to swing, skip, and  do-si-do steps passed down for generations to music that was danced to ages ago and will be danced to for generations to come.  I think we were caught in the middle of something holy that night.  And fun. And simply beautiful.

Then last week, there were tears of frustration when the Questions burst their way forward again, upsetting the peace that I had made with them.

And just a few days ago, there were breakthrough tears of grace and healing that I need to sit with and treasure for a while. Noticing grace in my past, grace in my now, and trusting grace to move me forward.

I never imagined that tears could be so important. Gifts, if we would accept them as such.  Signs that our hearts are connected to More than just our cardiovascular systems.

[i] Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life, p. 236-37.

[ii] Shauna Niequist, Bread & Wine, p. 74.

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