(Artwork: “Jesus Wept” by Brian-Micheloe-Doss)
I think I cry more easily than I used to.
I am not certain of why that is.
Perhaps the accumulation of years has deepened my emotional bandwidth. Or perhaps my experiences of grief and loss have ushered me into the kind of sorrow that never quite leaves, so that the act of crying feels more like a companion than a stranger.
Whatever the reason, my tears flow more easily now than they did when I was in my twenties and thirties. A few months ago, while looking at photos from an old family album, I began to cry. It was spontaneous and unexpected—an honest emotional response to treasured memories and ongoing grief. It felt authentic, even prayerful. It also felt healthy.
About a week after that experience, an acquaintance told me that he did not feel like going to church these days. When I asked why, his response caught me completely off guard.
I am embarrassed by my own emotion…I lost my mom, my dad, and my brother over the last year-and-a-half. Tears come out of nowhere these days. Music makes me cry. Prayer makes me cry. Stories make me cry. Communion makes me cry…I’m afraid that I would just sit there in a church service and wipe away tears. I think it’s off-putting to people. Who wants a weeping mess to be sitting beside them in a pew?
The conversation left me both heartbroken and enlightened. It made me wonder how many people, like this man, see the church, not as a safe and appropriate place for the messiness of human emotion, but as a sanitized environment in which emotions are carefully guarded, images are managed, and the rhythms of tidy politeness are protected. In sanctuaries where a tearful Savior is regularly worshiped and where the brokenness of the human pilgrimage is regularly named, could it be that a portion of the church’s people are so utterly intimidated by the emotional intensity of wordless weeping that they are unintentionally creating barriers against those who feel unpresentable in the rawness of their grief and pain?
In a recent article entitled “Crying In Worship” (which appeared in the June 20 issue of “The Christian Century”), Heidi Haverkamp offers these insights:
Most of us have something to cry about, no matter what time of year it is. So I find myself wishing that people cried in church more often. Why not? We welcome people to wear jeans, to bring their children, to receive communion, to fill out a visitor’s card—why not also welcome people to cry? Most of us could stand to be reminded that we are not alone in carrying grief, worry, and struggle. If we can’t cry in church, what’s the point?
If tears are not the enemy, then why do some in the church act as if they are? I can only speculate. Perhaps the shedding of tears frustrates the all-too-common “fix it” mentality, since tears are normally devoted to pain that cannot be quickly fixed. Perhaps tears are too often interpreted as an expression of weakness instead of a courageous practice of vulnerability. Or perhaps tears are seen as being inappropriately intimate and honest—an unsettling and unwelcome reminder of the nearness of brokenness.
If such thinking has any grounding in the church, and it might, then the church’s people would do well to spend regular time engaging with these Biblical convictions:
- We follow a Jesus who openly wept over a beloved friend and a beloved city, meaning that Jesus believed that tears were the only appropriate response to some circumstances
- Christocentric community demands nothing less than a willingness to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), so that followers of Jesus might allow their hearts to connect in the intimacy and profundity of authentic emotion
- Tears, at their deepest, are prayers without words—the inarticulate cries of a soul that joins creation in “groaning for redemption” (Romans 8:22)
If this is truth, then weeping is not an an obstacle to relationship but rather an invitation to stand upon the sacred ground of relational vulnerability. Weeping is not a reason to stay away from church but rather a sacred opportunity to allow the divine tears of a tender-hearted God to commingle with those of the worshiper.
As Heidi Haverkamp puts it in the article I referenced earlier, “I wonder if this could be a blessing for others…to sit and cry in church when we need to, to be God’s people all together, with all the joys and sorrows, smiles and tears, of human life, before the One who loves us so much.”
Perhaps a Christ-follower will become most authentically human only when he or she stewards emotions, not with a spirit of shame or withdrawal, but with the kind of vulnerability that gives to weeping the space it needs to gasp and to breathe. Perhaps the church will be at its most sacramental only when it believes that the cup of salvation holds a grace that is substantial enough to accommodate the tears of the broken.
14 thoughts on “Worship Through Weeping”
I recently watched a movie titled “The Phenom,” it was about a major league pitching ace who had lost the plate, With reluctance he turned to a sports psychologist, who helped him identify a father issue. The father was an alcoholic tyrant who had squandered his own Major League opportunity. The plot came down to one errant directive: Never show emotion on the pitcher’s mound.
That’s what returned to me as I read the final paragraphs of your post, Eric. Never show emotion in church. Don’t dance, don’t shout, don’t you dare lift a hand to the Lord or shed a tear in his presence. It’s the ideal formula for losing the strike zone.
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Thank you, Tom. I have not seen the film, but I am certainly familiar with the experience of trying to remain stoic on “the mound” (whatever “mound” that might be).
I remember someone asking me in church one Sunday how I was doing. I wasn’t crying but I wasn’t in a good place either. I told the person this and their reply still stings: “You should be happy, you’re in church.”
As a pastor I welcome all emotions in the church and try to tell my people as often as possible that emotions are good and God-given. I am also learning not to apologize for my tears when they come, but show people that’s who I am whether they like it or not.
Thank you for your honesty Eric. I appreciate your ministry in all its forms.
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Thank you, Erica. I appreciate your ministry too, friend, and your gracious willingness to “welcome all emotions.”
Eric Park. your genuiness in issues many people refuse to address is one of the qualities that endears you to me and many others. tears have been more frequently for me in the last 6 months. perhaps more than the last 9 yrs. I was told once I was too emotional. i saw that as a character defect. i look at it differently as ive matured and God is helping me realize I am compassionate, caring, advocating child of God. your precense in my life has helped me with my journey. thankful God has made our paths cross and journey together. maybe not the same way but still a good way. thank you. Helen J.
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Thank you for your kind words, Helen. I am honored to be alongside you in this journey and to shed some tears with you when tears are all we have. I am grateful for you as well, my friend.
We all know your excellence as a communicator but this is sooo good and needed. We come from some ethnic backgrounds that just never allowed tears. I did. As a Catholic with German and Scotch Irish ancestry I met a Christ follower who had tears easily. I was drawn to her and we became friends. This Baptist girl helped me in my journey to know Him and His love more by her tender heart. I have that heart now too and I have gone to churches over the years and cried my heart out. And found healing and freedom. I pray these words of yours and your vulnerability touch many with the wonderful love everyone is desperate for. He Is Great!!
On Wed, Jun 20, 2018, 8:28 AM A Gracious Graffiti wrote:
> Eric Park posted: ” (Artwork: “Jesus Wept” by Brian-Micheloe-Doss) I think > I cry more easily than I used to. I am not certain of why that is. Perhaps > the accumulation of years has deepened my emotional bandwidth. Or perhaps > my experiences of grief and loss have ushered ” >
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Thank you, Kathy, for your sensitive words. Many blessings upon your tender heart.
Could we be quenching the Holy Spirit when we resist the tears. I agree they are prayer. Thanks again.
I have cried frequently in church, it got to the point that I could go nowhere with out my trusty kleenex. I always found it embarrassing, a lack of self control. I never used to cry but the older I get the harder it is to
keep things inside. Thank you for letting those of us who cry that we are not alone.
This is a beautiful piece. I have come to accept my tears as part of who I am.I used to wish that I could control them, but I realized at an early age that tears are healing. The tears come when words fail me, and there seems to be an endless supply these days. But when the weeping ends, a calm sense of peace fills my thankful heart, and I know I am loved, by the only one who matters.
Thank you, Eric, for eloquently expressing what many of us are feeling these days. Shalom.
I am known as someone who can cry “a lot”! Over the years I have felt that tears can reveal many emotions to include happiness, sadness,joyful-ness, crying with some one or because of someone. I remember in one of your sermons you stated that tears can be a form of worship, lamenting. Sometimes it actually takes extra courage to cry in public. God made me this way and I am thankful that I can cry and at times reveal my sensitive nature and vulnerability. I have cried while reading a touching letter to a young child in Haiti from the folks who sponsored him. I have cried at weddings and funerals. I have cried when saying good bye to the kids in Honduras at the Manuelito Project. I have cried when I felt crying was the right thing for me to do. Thank you for the post. I thank God for making me, me!!!
I just now read this and it really resonated with me. While I was a member of Central Highlands I was going through many changes in different areas of my life. I was very emotional and cried at the drop of a pin. Sometimes, a blubbering mess! I was confused about so many of the changes happening in my life and was frustrated because Icoildnt control them or my tears. I thank God for your ministry and for the wonderful friendships formed at Centrsl Highlands. I always felt loved and safe even when feeling tearful and frustrated with my circumstances. Everyone should be so fortunate to have a loving, caring and compassionate pastor and friends at church where they feel safe and secure showing their emotions. After all, Jesus knows how we feel inside and is there for us, accepts us and loves us just as we are! Thanks Pastor Eric. May God continue to bless you each and every day.