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The Meaning of Tears

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | July 26, 2014

“Tears have always been easier to shed than to explain.”
Marty Rubin

Frederick Buechner said, “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are but, more often than not, God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go to next.”

I thought of this quote when I was reading Steven Garber’s “Visions of Vocation; Common Grace for the Common Good” (2014). He described how shaken he was when he received word that a woman whom he knew from his neighborhood was brutally murdered in her apartment. “We gathered together to mourn our friend’s death, and we cried and cried.”

Tears flow freely at times like that. Just yesterday I received an email from a dear friend that his sister died that morning after finding out just one month ago that she had cancer. He and his family could hardly process the reality of cancer. I know this reality will be a burden beyond comprehension. All of us who know them weep for them and with them. 

Just a few weeks ago I received word that the 42-year-old wife of the director of athletic training at the University of Pittsburgh collapsed at work with a brain aneurysm. A week or so later her husband posted on Facebook a picture of four hands on top of each other ... his dear wife’s, his and their two small children. 

Evie and I have never met that young family but that picture made us both exclaim out loud, “Oh my! Oh my!” It was deeply moving. And when we received word of her passing, which came within two weeks of her aneurysm, both of our hearts were filled with deep pain. 

Garber said, “As a father of young children, I saw lots of tears. Each one — Eden, Elliott, David, Jessica and Jonathan — moved from the innocent tears of their early weeks to the stubborn and selfish tears of their early years. And, along the way, with each one I tried to explain that tears were good gifts to us, so that we needed to take care of them, ‘saving them for when we really need to cry someday — so don’t use them all up right now, because someday you will need to cry.’ Even for the littlest ones among us, tears are complex.”

I appreciated the way Garber referenced C. S. Lewis, the Oxford professor, who wrote an apologetic on the nature of suffering in “The Problem of Pain,” and then as he watched his own wife, Joy, die of cancer he wrote “A Grief Observed”. As Garber noted, “They are two different readings on the same human heart, trying to understand what we do with the wounds of the world.” As Steve Maraboli said, “A broken heart bleeds tears.”

Tears also come in times of great joy. Do we not have a hard time holding them back when we attend a wedding of two people in love, or when we stand looking into the face of a precious newborn baby? Unbounded joy is impossible to contain and sometimes it leaks out in tears. Looking back, someone said, “Sometimes memories sneak out of my eyes and roll down my cheeks.”

Let’s admit it; we all cry. But tears can be very complex. As Garber also said, “All day, every day, there are both wounds and wonders at the very heart of life, if we have eyes to see.” And as Buechner said, there are some tears that come to us “unexpected.” We really must pay attention to all tears, especially that kind. 

To Wendy Murray’s question, “What is the weight of a tear?” she answered, “It carries the weight of a lifetime.” 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, Pa. 
Responses can be mailed to president@vfcc.edu 
Official page: Facebook.com/DrDonMeyer
Follow on Twitter: @DrDonMeyer
Archives at www.vfcc.edu/thinkaboutit