Throughout life’s journey we all shed tears, but we never cry alone.
I’m actually not one for tears. Well at least, I pretend I’m not. Like when watching Toy Story 3 and Andy gives his toys to Bonnie. My viewing companion asks, “Papa, is that a tear in your eye?” and I try not to answer in case my voice cracks. Or when the Titanic goes down, followed by Jack slipping under the water, even though we know he could have fitted on a lifeboat. I may have turned my head a little and wiped my cheek, hoping that no one was looking. Avengers: Infinity War was harder. With the loss of Spiderman, I lost it.
Movies aren’t the only cause of crying. I’ve conducted lots of weddings where people are shedding tears. Parents are emotional about their little girl moving on, or crying over how much it is costing! Young people are happy for their friend, but hoping or despairing about their own ‘happily ever after’. My kids are all married now and I went through the tears stage with them each. Their beauty. The changing of relationships. The extra space at home. Then there is the arrival of grandchildren, and the wonder of new life that stirs up another set of emotions, hopes, cares and tears.
I’ve also conducted funerals. Sometimes we find ourselves ‘rationalising’ death — they lived a long life, or they’ve been sick a long time. Although sad, it somehow makes sense. Then there are those occasions where no answer is sufficient. No words are adequate. Tears are the only appropriate response.
Tears are just a drop of liquid. Similar to human saliva, but functionally designed to lubricate, nourish and protect our eyes. Naturally formed to wash away irritants such as dirt, dust or smoke. You can even buy artificial tears in a bottle if your body doesn’t produce enough.
But then there are emotional tears. The tears that are shed in times of joy or sadness. Our crying in movies and at ceremonies. When our tears flow as we experience emotional or physical pain. Biologist Charles Darwin described weeping as ‘purposeless’, yet I find that our emotional tears often reflect the journey of life. Those moments of excitement, victory, joy, struggle, challenge, loss, relationship highs and lows and our coming together and moving apart can all bring tears.
I’m still learning the purpose of tears through the journey of life — both my own life and through shared experiences with others. I’m gaining deeper understanding regarding the value and power of tears to express emotions when there are no words and to come alongside others in their pain. Even at times for the celebration and ecstatic joy of achievements and relationships, tears of happiness have flowed.
If our tears could talk I’m sure they would tell the story of our life. Or maybe our tears poured out onto a canvas would flow and paint a picture. Darwin may not have given much value to our tears, but I know another who does.
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” (Psalm 56, verse 8, New Living Translation).
God pays close attention to our tears. He doesn’t just watch them fall. He doesn’t pass a tissue with the hope we might stop. He honours them by gently collecting each one, paying attention to what we are experiencing in life. God cares when we cry.
It helps me to know that in my life journey I never cry alone. My tears aren’t wasted or purposeless. God pays attention to each one. But next time I watch Toy Story 3, I’m keeping it all together!
Dean Clarke is a Salvation Army officer (minister) in South Australia.