“If your tears had a voice what would they say?” – Irvin Yalom.
I have a complicated relationship with tears. There are times I wish to cry and cannot, and times I have summoned up all of my power to hold back tears, yet they form, burning, and I wipe them away as soon as possible. There are times my tears come in a trickle and sometimes they burst forth in sobs. Times I wipe them away and times they are deeply comforting to have on my face. There are times when I hide them from others, and also times when I hope that they are seen.
As a therapist, I find tears to be incredibly dynamic and complex. Some tears come from pain, relief, anger, shame, and joy. Sometimes from all at once!
For a while I have been contemplating the significance of tears. Tears are uniquely human experience. Why, out of all creatures, do humans have tears? Do they come from weakness or strength? And in Christian tradition, why will Jesus wipe every tear from our eyes? Will we not need tears when Heaven comes?
Tears give voice for something that can’t be said. They are an expression of emotion from the gut that cannot be verbalized, written, or communicated in another way. Tears are a cry to be known.
Tears are deeply interpersonal. It matters when we have tears alone or in someone’s presence. Tears elicit empathy, connection, and are sometimes a needed release of tension during conflict. When tears are ignored or rejected, a person’s humanity is diminished. Tears are a cry to connect.
Tears allow us to acknowledge pain and suffering, sometimes for ourselves, and sometimes on behalf of others. Weeping because of the suffering in one’s own life can be a first step towards acceptance, understanding, and surviving. Weeping on behalf of others can validate experiences of injustice, oppression, and suffering. Tears are a cry for the way things ought to be.
Tears can usher us into the sacred. There is a reason that tears are present when babies are born and loved ones pass. There is a reason tears are present during spiritually significant moments, or while experiencing beauty and art. These are times that tears are transcendent leading us to see more clearly the mysteries of the Cosmos. Tears are a cry towards the spiritual.
In session, it is rarely, if ever, my goal to move a client to tears. However, when they come I am always struck by the gift my client is offering me. And I often find myself unexpectedly with tears in my eyes, moved by the significance of being trusted with the client's sacred voice.
Here’s my working theory: Tears are a gift, given to us by God to fight death in all its forms. A way to fight the brokenness inherent in our world, relationships, and self.
So why no tears in Heaven? Well perhaps we won’t need them anymore, perhaps we will be fully known, connected, and sacred. Injustice, pain, and separation will all be done away with. And finally, things will be the way they ought to be. In the meantime, let us use our tears to restore our humanity and the humanity of others.
and "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away.”
(John 11:35, Revelations 21:4)
Yalom, I. D. (2010). The gift of therapy. Piatkus.