The other day at work, one of my friends began to tear up at the end of his presentation as he thanked his mother for her encouragement and role in helping him to become the person that he is today. He later apologized for his emotional moment. My friend apologized because most men view tears, and the public display of emotion, as a sign of weakness. When I polled my friends with the question as to whether it is a sign of strength or weakness to cry, the most common answer was that it depends. I think most people would agree that it is appropriate to shed tears at the loss of a loved one or when your children achieve a significant milestone in their life. On the other hand, tears that are shed when we don’t get our own way or to manipulate others are not so appropriate.
Have you ever wondered what is actually going on when we cry? Our tears are more than water. They are full of salt, proteins, mucus and oils that are produced by the lacrimal gland in the upper, outer region of the eye. There are actually three types of tears. The first type of tears are called basal tears. Healthy men and women produce up to 10 ounces of basal tears every day to keep our eyes lubricated. The second type of tears are called reflex tears. These tears are produced when sensory nerves in our eyes detect toxins in things like smoke or onions. The third, more interesting tears, are called emotional tears. These tears are produced when hormones are released in response to the brain’s perception of emotion. Emotional tears contain several chemicals, such as prolactin (which controls breast milk production), adrenocorticotropic hormones (associated with high stress levels), and leucine-enkephalin (reduces pain and improves mood). Some scientists believe that crying is good for you because it is the body’s way of ridding itself of stress-related toxins. Most psychologists believe that holding in emotional tears in check can even be dangerous because it can lead to hypertension and a higher risk of heart disease.(1)
Babies come out of the womb learning how to communicate their wishes through tears. One of the first things that we learn is that crying leads to food, attention, and clean diapers. Research shows that boys and girls cry equally until puberty when testosterone and estrogen levels increase. After puberty, women cry four times as much as men until old age when our hormone levels drop back down.
God made tears and He was not afraid to shed them. When Jesus’ good friend Lazarus died, Jesus went to Bethany to mourn with Lazarus’ family and to reveal His glory. I did a little research into the Jewish mourning process, which I think that you may find interesting.
There are several stages to Jewish mourning practices for the dead. In Jewish tradition, when somebody learns that a close relative has died it is customary to tear your clothes over your heart which is referred to as keriyah (lit. “tearing”). The first day or two after a loved one dies is called the aninut period. During this period, the family should not be bothered by visitors so that they can prepare for the burial and can mourn privately. The second period of mourning is called shiva, because this period lasts for seven days from the time of the burial. It is during this time that the extended family gathers together in the deceased’s home and condolence calls are permitted. The third period of mourning is called shloshim because it lasts thirty days. During this time the mourners don’t “attend parties or celebrations, do not shave or cut their hair, and do not listen to music.” (2) The final period of morning is avelut, which is only observed for the death of a parent. This period of mourning lasts for twelve months after the burial.
Now back to Jesus and Lazarus. It’s interesting to me that according to John 11:17-44, Jesus purposely waited four days until He decided to go to visit Lazarus’ family after his death. It’s also interesting to me that He did not go directly to Lazarus’ house. He waited outside Bethany until Mary and Martha came out to visit Him. Jesus allowed Mary and Martha to grieve for their brother during the aninut and then came to them during the seven day shiva. The Bible says that Martha went to Jesus first. When Martha returned home and told Mary that Jesus had arrived, and was outside of Bethany, Mary got up immediately and went out to him along with the Jews who were mourning with the family at their home. The Bible says that Mary fell at Jesus’ feet when she reached Him.
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him? He asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” – John 11:33-37
Have you ever wondered why Jesus wept when He knew that He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead? I think that it is significant that the Jewish mourners associated Jesus’ tears with love. Sometimes love cries. Tears of love come from the heart. I have written previously about the love bursts that I have for my children.(3) Most of those love bursts are accompanied with a few tears. Sometimes tears are the only appropriate way to communicate what our hearts are feeling. I don’t know about you, but it comforts me to know that God knows the love language of tears too.