I grow weary because of my groaning; every night I drench my bed and flood my couch with tears. My eyes are wasted with grief and worn away because of all my enemies. Depart from me, all evildoers, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.
Psalm 6: 6-8, Book of Common Prayer
Years ago, when no one spoke the words “breast cancer” aloud, Betty Rollins wrote First, You Cry, one of the earliest memoirs about the experience of having cancer. Tears are a reasonable reaction to what in many people’s minds is a death sentence. Some people (like me) go numb and cry later, when the shock’s novocaine has worn off. All along the way to renewed health (in one form or another), there are way stations for tears: painful or humiliating treatments, further bad news, or relief.
When my father died of a massive coronary, I was living a thousand miles away. I cried, went home to my family and cried some more, and decided that not crying was the better choice. In my almost 25-year-old mind, not crying provided a witness to how God could comfort us. I went back to my classroom and was fine.
Except I wasn’t. I cried in the shower in the morning when no one could hear me. And many nights, my roommate drove us to the ocean, where I sat on the seawall and cried, my wailing drowned by the sound of surf.
At some point, we’re all cried out. At least for the moment. For me, the beauty of this passage is that in the midst of the drenching and flooding, the wasting and wearing away, we know that God hears us. In another psalm, the writer asks that God put the tears he’s cried into a bottle. I don’t know how that would help, but perhaps it’s meant as a sign that the tears have value, the way that items in a museum exhibit have value. Ah, these are the tears she wept for her father. These are her cancer tears.
There’s no shame in weeping. We need the tears as an emotional release. They soften us, breaking down the illusion of separateness and independence we sometimes try to maintain. We have a right to our tears, and no one can tell us when it’s time to dry our eyes. We will know.