By Kate Riney
“Jesus Wept.” -John 11:35
Being of a curious nature, I'm always studying things, people mainly. Perhaps that's why I watch so much reality television -or- maybe I just have a problem with procrastination. Regardless, I've repeatedly noticed something through both interactions I witness on the tube and in direct encounters, that bothers me. When people cry in front of others, they usually apologize.
Now my little scientific brain begins to think in terms of a research study: my hypothesis is that if it is a woman crying, the likelihood of her apologizing will be greater than the baseline or average; if it is a woman crying and her counterpart is a male, the likelihood will be even greater. Why should this matter? So women say “I'm sorry” when they tear up, isn't it just like saying, “Excuse me” when you burp or yawn? Unfortunately, I don't think the two are comparable given that unlike a purely physical, and sometimes uncontrollable bodily function, crying is an undeniably emotional response that at least in some cases, seems controllable.
I'm afraid that people, especially women (myself included), see crying as a weakness and respond in embarrassment when tears overcome their resolve. But why should we be ashamed of how God made us? After all, our bodies are 50-65% water; the Creator formed us to be emotional, physical, and spiritual beings; and Jesus himself wept. And if Jesus is both human and divine, doesn't that mean that God cries too?
The problem with apologizing for crying is that subconsciously, we are telling ourselves that we ought not to cry. That somehow, it is the wrong thing to do and that we inconvenience or alienate others with our tears. I would argue that just the opposite is true.
Crying is a much more healthy way to respond to anger or frustration than violence or verbal assault. Crying is a much quicker release of stress than hitting the gym or watching all the Downton Abbey, Sherlock, New Girl, and Walking Dead. Crying is much more mature than throwing things, stomping our feet, or flailing on the floor when we feel out of control. Crying is a natural way to wade into the waters of chaos that call us to swim and not stick our heads in the sand. Crying is an invitation to others to participate in our feelings and a part of life that can't be shared through words.
Crying has the power to heal us over time, but it also has the power to bond us to one another in a way that no tribal ritual, frat pledge, or road trip can. But it only has that power if we let it and choose to celebrate vulnerability instead of shaming it. If we try to hide, bury, or ignore our emotions in favor of presenting ourselves as rational and composed facades, we'll alienate others and turn in on ourselves when the pressure is too much to handle alone.
John 11 tells a story of Jesus' close friend Lazarus and his death. Of course those of us who know the text well remember that Jesus raises Lazarus to life and still more of you are already jumping to the theological implications of the text, the foreshadowing and the eschatology… But I just want to focus in on verse 35. Upon being told of his friend's death (and being blamed for it), “Jesus began to weep.”
Wait– wasn't Jesus alerted to Lazarus' condition and beckoned to come earlier, and didn't Jesus purposefully wait two days to come see Lazarus, and didn't Jesus know already that Lazarus would die and be resurrected? He knows the story ends happily, so why then did Jesus cry? It seems pretty irrational to me, I can't even imagine what he was feeling, much well figure out why it urged him to cry in front of all those people. But the text doesn't say he apologized for being late or for crying. It doesn't imply that he was embarrassed or ashamed, rather, the text says that the people exclaimed “See how he loved him!” Jesus' tears provoked a communal response, wherein they were able to see Jesus' sublingual being and enter into the chaos waters with him.
Undoubtedly, Lazarus' friends and sisters were already crying and mourning ritually, but Jesus' response drew people closer and made them participants, not just in the ritual, but in the emotional narrative. Perhaps it was awkward to see Jesus cry, maybe Mary and Martha didn't know how to comfort him in their anger and grief, but that didn't stop him from weeping for his friend in front of the whole town. It was personal, it was emotional, and he let it show.
When I went through a period of grief in my own life, this text was one of the most comforting to me. We do not have to fear humiliation for being “irrational” or emotionally exposed, because even God is a crier. Instead of hiding our tears or apologizing, we should let them be a bonding instrument, inviting others to share what we think is exclusively ours, and accepting their comfort in our time of need.
My God is a crying God. Is yours?