I have long held that tears are sacred. They're not bad or shameful or weak. No, they are an expression of our emotion. Tears can be traced to almost any feeling, including fear, joy, shame, or relief— just to name a few.
If you sat down with my husband he’d probably chuckle and tell you about the many tears I’ve cried over movies, ads, bedtime stories, shows, sports, and books. But he’d also tell you I can handle a lot of emotion and I’ve come to be oddly grateful for it.
Of course, I self identify as a deep feeler and not everyone experiences emotion in the same way, with the same intensity. Which is absolutely okay.
What can be concerning though, is when we have such a strong inner critic that we don’t allow ourselves to express emotions at all, or only safe ones--like anger.
Most people would tell you they feel better after they’ve cried. Science backs this up. When we're stressed or anxious or scared our body produces a hormone called cortisol (source). High levels of cortisol are connected to many health issues. Cortisol essentially acts as a toxin if we have too much of it. If our body doesn’t release the excess, it doesn’t just affect our quality of life (which it does), it can affect our overall health (source). Which brings us back to an easy way to release cortisol: crying.
You see those tears we cry are valuable.
They flush our body and clean our souls in a way that no medication or manufactured band-aid can. It seems to be no coincidence that our bodies are designed this way.
So with all this knowledge about tears, I am always moved when I read this particular Bible verse:
“Jesus wept.” (John 11:35 NIV)
The context of this verse is in the book of John chapter 11, in which Jesus hears his good friend Lazarus is sick. But instead of leaving to help Lazarus immediately, Jesus waits. By the time Jesus comes to Judea, Lazarus has already been dead and in the tomb for four days. Four!
Unsurprisingly, both Mary and Martha (Lazarus’ sisters) are sad Jesus didn’t come sooner, saying "Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died" (v. 21, 32b).
But then, when Jesus sees Mary and the other Jews grieving, he is moved, and he weeps with her (v. 33).
I find this so beautiful. Jesus was/is God and he knew he would soon raise Lazarus from the dead (v. 44). But—don’t miss this—he chose to grieve with his friends anyway.
What does this teach us?
I think there are many things, but I want to emphasize that Jesus thought tears mattered too. He didn’t skip that part, even while he knew a resurrection would soon take place. What a wise savior, to honor and model love for Mary and Martha by joining them in their place of loss.
Yes, Lazarus would live again, but he wasn't living in that moment. It seems for some moments we must grieve even while holding onto hope.
May we all be encouraged to know the value of our seasons, experiences, and emotions. I hope you don’t cheapen or invalidate your story by trying to rush past the painful parts. Tomorrow may very well bring a resurrection, but today our tears may be necessary to heal our body and soul.