I wish I had a dollar every time someone told me, “I almost came to church last Sunday, but didn’t because…I would have cried.” Some were regular worshipers, but their aversion to tears in church broke their sturdy habit. Not only did they not get the support they needed when they needed it, a few drifted away forever.
I wish I had a dollar for every time I answered them with, “It’s OK to cry here. What else is church for? If you can’t be sad in church, what does it all add up to?” Some believed me and gave themselves permission to sit in the pews with tears streaming down their faces. Hymns are particularly rough when we are on an emotional razor’s edge. Others couldn’t do it. I never completely grasped why.
Was it because they didn’t want to be seen crying? Or because they believed their crying bothered others? Or because for them crying is bad or weak? Or because crying set them apart in their sadness as needy or attention-seeking?
I suspect some were unwilling to cry because we would just as soon skip grief.
More effective than trying to persuade people to feel otherwise, I’ve learned, is my willingness to model what I believe: unless we are willing to bring hearts of joy as well as hearts of sorrow into our sacred space of worship, we are holding back the most important parts of ourselves from God, and cheating ourselves.
I haven’t done so recently, but sometimes I become emotional. I don’t want to be a blithering idiot as someone willing to cry in church, but I do want to be honest about deep feeling, just as I want to be honest about everything I can in this role.
I briefly cried and recovered doing memorials for my step-father and mother this past spring and summer…Confirmation always gets to me, a new generation of faith. I barely get through singing, “I was there to hear your borning cry.” New here in ‘12, I saw my Cape Cod realtor who helped me so much after my divorce, sitting in the back of the church. I still don’t understand why that made me weep.
Does it matter whether we can explain all this? Not really. When you think about it, if you trust God and this community, church is just about the perfect place to cry–safer than crying alone in your car; less lonely than crying in the shower. Tissues here are never very hard to find. Neither is it a big deal to slip out of the pews to the rest room. If you need a listening ear after worship, I’m here for you.
We like to say, whoever you are, and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here. I believe sadness is not an exception. In hyper-individualistic America, we need reminders that we’re not alone as we carry grief and sorrow, worry and anxiety, fear and struggle. If we cannot cry in church, what’s the point of following a Savior whose Cross is front and center? Jesus said we will know the truth, and it will set us free. This is about the truth of our hearts before God.