I've been thinking a bit lately about crying. I wonder what sort of a relationship you have with tears?! I'm a big fan of the Christmas film The Holiday, and in that Cameron Diaz's character Amanda tells Jude Law's character Graham that she hasn't cried since her parents split up when she was a child. She tries several times, squeezing up her eyes and willing the tears to come out, but they won't. The moment we know she's really serious about Graham is when she's leaving in a taxi and suddenly realises that tears are running down her cheeks.
Personally, I cry A LOT. I cry at sad films, and sometimes at happy ones too. I often cry when I'm reading books. I cry when I'm watching the news, and even occasionally when I'm watching adverts... I cry when little kids do something cute. I cry when I'm overwhelmed by beauty - looking at a glorious sunset, for instance. I cry when I hear sad news about somebody else. I cry when I'm lost in worship, singing praises to God, and I almost always cry when someone prays for me. Sometimes I've even made myself cry while I'm preaching, sharing the good news of Jesus' love. I also do that really annoying thing, that a number of other women have told me they do too, of crying when I'm angry!
Many of the situations above cause me to well up, rather than to sob as such, although anyone who has sat near to me during the worship time at New Wine knows there are times when, to use the marvellous Liverpool phrase that I very much enjoy, I've 'cried my leg off.'
I cry when I'm upset too, of course. I cry when I'm sad, or lonely, or stressed, or overwhelmed, or frustrated.
The one small flaw in this litany of tears is that I absolutely and completely cannot cry when I'm talking to people. I can be with my dearest, closest friends, or in a prayer group, or with wise spiritual advisers. I can be going through a really tough time, and want to talk about it, and know that the person is willing to listen. I can have been specifically asked how I'm doing, and I can be in the middle of describing the many ways in which I am really not doing well at all. But I cannot cry, because, well, PEOPLE. I only ever cry on my own (New Wine worship times notwithstanding - if my eyes are closed you can't see me, right?!).
(Oh, and another small caveat. A few years ago I did the incomparably superb Arrow Leadership Programme. I cried from the moment we started until the moment we finished. There's some kind of magic there, I can't explain it).
Over the past little while I've been beginning to figure out why it is that the presence of other humans (usually) means I can't cry, and what it's about, and I'm starting to understand it a bit more. I'm really hopeful that, over time, this will change, and I'll be able to be a bit more 'in the moment' with my emotions, so that if I'm telling someone about something really sad, I will be able to cry there and then. (One dear friend often (re)assures me that he's certain he'll be able to make me cry one day...!).
A few months into the first lockdown, someone asked me how I was doing. I said that I was up and down, that it depended on the day, or perhaps even on the hour - I guess that's pretty normal right?! Anyway I then said that I was fairly sure that I'd cried every single day of the lockdown. They looked at me in absolute horror! Maybe they were more on the Cameron Diaz/Amanda end of the tears spectrum! Now, almost a year into this whole pandemic thing, it wouldn't strictly be true to say that I've cried every single day since last March, but there are way more days when I've cried than when I haven't. Like, *way* more.
And so I've been thinking about tears. Specifically I've been thinking about what God thinks about our tears. I've been reflecting on those 2 extraordinary words that John writes in his description of the story of Lazarus. One of Jesus' closest friends has died, and his sisters, also dear friends of Jesus', are devastated. Jesus walks with them to the tomb where Lazarus is laid, and 2 short words tell us so much about the heart of our Lord: "Jesus wept."
What beautiful words those are. That, and the time when he weeps over Jerusalem, are the only recorded instances in the gospels of Jesus crying, but I doubt very much that they are the only times that he cried. Interesting lines in Christmas carols notwithstanding, he definitely would have cried as a baby, and a child, because that's what babies and children do. But I wonder whether he also cried as a man. I wonder (and of course I can do no more than wonder) whether he cried when his cousin John was murdered. Or when his friends betrayed him. I think that perhaps he did. And I'm certain that he sees my tears, and that he understands.
I've also been thinking about that beautiful verse in Psalm 56, written by King David when he had been captured by the Philistines. It's a Psalm full of raw, real emotion, like so many of the Psalms. That's one of the reasons that so many people find such comfort in their words - because they remind us that we can come to God just as we are, with all of our messy emotions, and that he can take it.
Psalm 56:8 tells me that God has literally made a note of all of my tears. (It's worth reading the verse in a few different translations because there are some fascinating and beautiful different ways of saying that). What an extraordinary thought that is! All those moments when I've cried alone, when emotion has burst out of me, and when it's been buried within. God has seen my tears, he has understood my tears, he has even recorded my tears. (It may not surprise you, having read this far, to find that I am crying as I write these words!).
And then, my mind goes to the last book of the Bible, to the stunning vision of the world beyond this world, to the new heavens and the new earth, and I think of that verse which is sometimes read at funerals. John describes his vision of this future city, which God is preparing for his people. And then in Rev. 21:4 we read that "He will wipe every tear from (our) eyes."
One day, I will live forever with the Lord, and there will be no more crying. Who knows, maybe he'll show me the bottles (giant vats...) that he has collected of my tears over the years. Until then, I'll cry on (sometimes), knowing that he sees me.