Today is World Kindness Day. As I’ve been preparing to write this final blog before taking a year’s break to focus on my doctoral work, I have been thinking about kindness– about what is kind and what is not kind.
When it comes to tissues, I have mixed feelings about whether or not offering one to someone who is crying is a kind thing to do. On the one hand, of course tissues are kind. They are helpful absorbers of running mascara and the inevitable snot of an ugly cry.
On the other hand, the gesture of handing someone a tissue can be (sent or received as) a subconscious nonverbal encouragement to stop crying.
During a grieving period in my life, crying didn’t come as naturally or quickly or fully as I wanted it to, and so when I actually was able to cry, I wanted to cry. For me, the tears often came most fully in the presence of another person. And when the tears started, I absolutely did not want the person to go searching through their purse or pockets for their stash of tissues. I mean, if they did hand me one, I didn’t bite the hand that offered it. But those tissues had a way of stopping my longed-for tears, in much the same way that my dog’s race-across-the-house-to-my-side reaction to my pre-sneeze sniffing stops my longed-for sneeze. (I know. That’s a weird parallel. But for me, both tissues and my dog’s concerned face are flow-interruptors.)
I have resolved this in my pastoral ministry by having a box of tissues available so that those who cry in my presence can grab a tissue themselves. But only if they want it.
Mister Rogers, a great mascot for World Kindness Day, would be in my corner on this one, I think.
Tears are human. And precious. The psalmist prays that God would record his tears on a scroll and keep them in a wineskin (Psalm 56:8). And Jesus himself wept at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus, even though he was fixing to undo the cause of his own tears (John 11:35).
Jesus and Mister Rogers are on the same page in the gospel of John. But in another resurrection story – the raising of the widow’s son – Jesus says to the grieving mother, “Don’t cry” (Luke 7:13).
Don’t cry? Really, Jesus? Did you hand her a tissue?
I wrestled with this command last week as I prepared a sermon on this text. How could Jesus give himself permission to cry at the tomb of his friend, but withhold that permission when speaking to another mourner?
Well, for one thing, Jesus is Jesus, and he can say and do what he wants. Mister Rogers takes his cues from Jesus, and not the other way around!
Furthermore, different situations, as similar as they seem, call for different responses. I trust Jesus to know what to say and when to say it (or not say it).
Finally, let’s say Jesus is completely contradicting himself. I hope I hold expansive enough understandings of both his humanity and his divinity to leave room for inconsistencies like this.
And yet, I like to wonder how Jesus said these words, “Don’t cry.” There is a way to say these words dismissively, with a clear deficit in emotional intelligence and a lack of empathetic capacity. But Luke tells us that Jesus had compassion on the woman (in Greek: esplagchnisthe – his bowels yearned). In my sermon, I imagined that when Jesus said, “Don’t cry,” to this grieving mother, he said it with tears in his own eyes.
A woman from my congregation died this past March. When I first met her, and she told me her life story, she included the detail that she hadn’t been able to cry in decades. She would ask doctors to make sure she had tear ducts. They assured her that she did. She just couldn’t cry. I spent a lot of time with this saint, and it was true. I never saw her cry. It wasn’t as if she had nothing to cry about. Her life held sorrows too deep for words. It wasn’t as if she didn’t want to cry. She very much did.
And so, even though I know that Revelation 21:8 says there will be no tears in the age to come – that the Lord himself will wipe away all tears from our eyes and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain – I have a hope that when this woman saw her Saviour face to face, her tear ducts were opened like little floodgates…
and it was simultaneously a time to weep
and a time to laugh
and a time to leave her tissues in her purse.
And there may have even been tears in her Saviour’s eyes, too.
I hope to have the opportunity to write again on a regular basis, beginning next fall. Thanks to The Reformed Journal for the opportunity to write for The Twelve, and to all those who have read and commented over the course of my time as a Twelver!.
Banner Photo by Raphiell Alfaridzy on Unsplash
In just this morning’s Daily Office, the first lesson was Nehemiah 7&8, when the people are gathered before the Water Gate, and Ezra reads the Torah, and the people worship, and they cry. Of course they cry, for so many reasons, what they’ve been through, what they’ve lost, and why, and now they have a little again. And then Ezra and Nehemiah tell the people, “Don’t cry, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Go eat the fat and drink sweet wine, etc.” I don’t want to judge Ezra and Nehemiah for telling them not to cry, but I think that Heidi is right for this story too, the people need to have a good cry, and with each other. I used to cry a lot when I was a child, and my parents teased me with the name “teabags.” So I stopped crying for years, I did not let myself, and it became second nature, until in my twenties somebody did something good for me, and it poured out of me for half an hour when you might have expected to me to act all happy. Another story: when my Dutch immigrant grandmother died, whom I loved very much, her funeral was very CRC, and no one was allowed to cry, so none of us did. Three months later, in the Hungarian church that I served, beloved old Csatari Janos died, and Hungarians very much approve of crying (and then dancing at funerals too) and when I conducted the prayer service it once again all gushed out, my grieving for my grandmother that I was now allowed to do. Thus to say, Heidi, right on with this.
Funny to me that you say that in the CRC no one is allowed to cry. I have not experienced that. I wept bitterly at my father’s funeral without so much as a sideways glance from my fellow mourners. I’ve cried in the consistory room without so much as a hint of disapproval. It also seems funny to me that you would wait for permission to cry. Are you that concerned about the approval of others that you would allow others to coerce you in that way? Have you ever thought that perhaps they were just waiting for you to burst out in tears even while you held back assuming only their disapproval?
I will say that in my experience in CRC churches and worship, I have not found a lot of expression of emotion. I’ve never judged this as lacking or troublesome. I don’t tend to be overtly open with my emotions either. This dynamic always seemed to fit the second wave of dutch immigrants and their overall demeanor (acknowledging that this is very stereotypical) of which my family was a part of. However, I am responding to your comment, because I had the privilege of speaking for my family at my grandma’s funeral, holding it together for the 10ish minutes I spoke, and then I returned to my seat, broke down and wept as hard as I have ever wept. There were no sideways glances, no shows of disapproval, and no comments after the service during the wonderfully traditional ham on buns funeral “repast.” I suppose that community of emotionally reserved folk can also be gracious and generous with those who are wrestling with their emotions in a public way.
I sort of wish you could have been so gracious and generous with Daniel, who was vulnerable enough to share the trauma that parental prodding can sometimes have.
Hi Rodney. I’m curious what you find ungracious about my comment. I was simply making conversation. What if I said your comment about me was ungracious – would you feel bad? To be sure, I’m aware that many Dutch communities have many stoic individuals, but that observation is a long way from saying that people aren’t allowed to grieve or cry in such communities. Again, not my experience at all.
Again, I’ll reiterate, not my experience either, but it was Daniel’s experience. I guess your questions felt ungracious, because they approached the conversation from a negative view of Daniel’s experience, wondering about his “approval of others” that leads to coercion … stating, “you held back assuming only their disapproval” … I guess asking questions that include these traits in a closed question format (are you … yes or no/have you … yes or no) doesn’t open up conversation. A question that seeks to understand the other’s experience (in my opinion) might look like, “Daniel, what made you feel like you weren’t allowed to grieve with open emotional expression? In what ways has your childhood experience with open emotional expression maybe shaped your experience of some church cultures like the CRC?
I don’t think you intended to be ungracious, but it felt ungracious to me. Alas, maybe I’m too sensitive, too emotional, or too defensive (not you saying that, me wrestling with it).
For the sake of clarity, I wasn’t referring to Daniel’s experience with his parents, but rather his characterization of the CRC in general, though perhaps I did not make that very clear. Daniel indicated that held back from grieving specifically because “her funeral was very CRC, and no one was allowed to cry.” Now, assuming that there was no announcement that no one was allowed to cry, the obvious conclusion is that Daniel supposed to know the judgment in the hearts of others and made his decision not to grieve openly because of that. If he was not making his decision based on what others might feel, then he is free to explain otherwise. That’s just straightforward conversation. Daniel comments profusely here – I give him the benefit of the doubt that he can navigate adult conversations. I actually think that is the most gracious approach. I was seeking to understand, that’s why I asked him questions. Just because I didn’t ask them in the manner that you might have doesn’t make my questions inappropriate. I don’t want you to be a clone of me and conversely it is best if I am not a clone of you.
I understand these verses in the Bible of telling people not to cry, referring not so much to the physical act of tears, but the heart of hopelessness. I love tears, in myself and others, but I do offer tissues when available, not for the tears, but the nose drippings.
Something good to be reminded of. Thank you.
Thanks, Heidi, for your take on tears and tissues in the wake of Kindness Day. I think you may be looking at tears, especially those of others, from a limited perspective, from your own personal point of view. There are so many variables by which some will and some will not cry in hard situations. Personalities, life and world views, and upbringing are all contributing factors. To attempt to push Jesus into your perspective is unfair to Jesus and to the one suffering hardship. But I do like the idea of a Kindness Day or even more, a life of kindness, however that may come to expression. Good luck with your doctoral studies. Thanks for you contributions.
Heidi, thank you for these words and the many other words you’ve shared with us. I will miss your posts. May God richly bless you as you work on your doctorate.
The first time I saw my father cry was at my brother-in-law’s memorial service…and he sobbed over the life of a man who took his own life and was far too young to die. But Bill was a precious and much-loved family member.
The 2nd time he cried was over a book I’d given him on the Korean War memorial in Washington DC. He’d served in Korea but would never speak of his time there.
The 3rd and final cry came the day before he died, when he took my sister’s and my hands and told us how much he loved us and our brother, something he’d never done before. While my sister and I never dreamed he would die the next day, I think he must have known…and for one last time chose to show his vulnerability.
I will miss your essays, but thank you for blessing us with this one.