Tears that Heal   11 comments

Tears stream from many different pools of emotion–some come from sadness, some from fear, others come from joy or gratitude.  As a child, storms thrashed my emotions, but my tears were dammed up by the fear of being mocked as a cry-baby.  My eyes were always dry, even as a seventh-grader when I was hit by a car and knocked thirty feet down a ravine, breaking my leg in three places.  I calmly gave my home number to my friend Nathan, telling him to assure my family that I was okay, and then I asked the emergency responders if they wanted me to crawl up the embankment.

Crying as a boy was always contemptuous, with one religious exception: crying for one’s sinfulness was actually praiseworthy.  So every kind of pain, suffering , and loss was funneled into this one acceptable ocean of sorrow.  For the first half of my life, I cried from this bottomless lake of self-contempt–my failures to be courageous enough or careful enough or disciplined enough.  My relationship with God was anchored by the depth of my own shame, expressed in tearful confessions.  I loved God by hating myself.  We had a very intense and very dysfunctional relationship.

When I stumbled into the truth that God accepts me unconditionally, this swamp of shame began to drain away.  In God’s caring and affirming embrace, I slowly found the safety to acknowledge my own deep pain, especially from my religiously abusive self-reproach.  Grace allowed me to recognize other pools of pain as well, the ache that comes from rejection, loss, loneliness, and other common human sources of suffering.  The God that I thought belittled my pain and scolded my self-absorption actually cared that I hurt.  My emerging theology of grace validated this view, but experiencing this care from others in my life let loose this new reservoir of tears, crying as an expression of pain, vulnerably exposing myself to the compassion of others.

The darkness of life often chokes me.  Sometimes I respond to these feelings by distracting myself, I get on the internet or cook dinner.   At other times I take a more healthy approach,  try to resolve my struggle by reading something spiritual or journaling, but this often does not relieve my sense of confusion, fear, or isolation.  I keep flipping through options, trying to find one that will soften the ache.

This morning I shared with Kimberly how badly I felt.  Kimberly reminded me that my first response is to have compassion for where I am and how I am feeling.  That whole concept is foggy in my mind–what does it mean to be self-compassionate?  I’ve been making grabs at it for a year but it slips through my mental fingers.  Somehow her words seemed to fall into place this morning, and the tears that began to trickle down my cheeks were not tears of pain, but tears of self-compassion for my pain.  It is a new lake of emotions I have tapped into, and I am crying again as I type this.  It is not a feeling of agony, but of soothing and care for my struggling soul, self-empathy.

Some years ago I stopped blaming myself for my own pain, but if instead I focus on “fixing” myself, treating my pain like a project, I objectify myself.  Presence is the most important and first gift of compassion, even to myself, and it cannot be bypassed or shortened without harm, like a comforter who tries to “fix” someone whose spouse has died, “You need a dog!  You need to move in with your son!  You need to get out of the house and do something fun!”  What they need is for me to sit and empathize with their suffering, to feel with them, to join them where they are with compassion.  Grieving is an essential part of healing.  And it takes as long as it takes.




Posted August 27, 2019 by janathangrace in Personal

Tagged with , ,

11 responses to “Tears that Heal

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Ahh, the journey out of self-contempt. Your words well express a sorrow that I have akin to what you write. Thank you for your grace in sharing this.

    • “Presence is the most important and first gift of compassion, even to myself, and it cannot be bypassed or shortened without harm”
      – this! This is a beautiful phrasing…so succinct and clear. This is foundational to empathy.
      Thank you Janathan for this post.

      • Presence is so important, but we so rarely think of offering it to ourselves. I so easily discount my pain instead of listening gently to it. I’m glad you found the post a gift.

    • It is always such an encouragement to hear others share an experience we ourselves have had, providing companionship in the journey. Thanks for commenting.

  2. I am so deeply touched with your courage and determination as you struggle through the wilderness of pain and confusion to discover and share the points of light you find welling up inside your soul. I wish you blessings on your journey. You are precious to me. I also find myself weeping when I encounter God’s love in my life and also in the lives of others….. like you…. I share your tears of relief and wonder in feeling loved.

  3. I’ve just recently been introduced to the concept of self compassion through the writing of Brene Brown. I’m curious about your opinion on her writings…

    • Naturally I like anyone who focuses on the problem of shame! I think she has some really good stuff and I generally agree with her. She seems to make the resolution of shame more straightforward and accessible than I have experienced or seen in those who struggle with it seriously as though she is speaking to those who have more inner or outer resources than I think many folks have, so that feels a bit disheartening, but given that caveat, I think her basics are solid.
      p.s. of course Jesus beat her to the punch on self-compassion when he said, “Love your neighbors AS you love yourself” (not instead of loving yourself or more than you love yourself, because loving ourselves (the fullness of believing God’s love for us) precedes loving others–we can only give the grace we have received.

  4. Yeah, I had a similar reaction growing up to the whole shame of crying – especially as a guy… and then, having grown up in a similar missionary context, like you, it was easy to feel guilty for any kind of focus on self-compassion / self-love as equating to selfishness/self-absorption… i.e., just pray it / declare it / believe it away: God sees you as xxxx, why do you still have any negative feelings about yourself?? Come on… get over it!!!

    Except that’s not how it works, is it?

    Thanks… good stuff.


    • I am always encouraged to hear someone who can relate to my experience. Yes, the expectation of quick resolution is a deeply troubling (and I believe unbiblical) aspect of some theologies, It results in a form of denial that undermines personal and relational growth. Thanks for commenting, Keith.

  5. Thanks for your vulnerability.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: