I have tried for most of my life to be strong. I often linked the presence of tears with weakness. As many of us can probably attest to, growing up we were told to stop crying (or we would be given something to cry about!). As we grow, we are told to be tough or else thought of as a "baby." By the time we reach adolescence and young adulthood, we have learned that this type of emotional signal is either a tool of manipulation, a sign of immaturity, or in extreme and often rare cases, a sign of real pain. At least, this is what I came to believe.
I have spent a long time closing myself off from feeling any emotions strong enough to elicit tears. There have been only a few deeply meaningful moments where these unwanted drops would fall, but most often this was very private. Even then, I felt silly, embarrassed and weak. If anyone was present for this lapse in control, I would apologize profusely and promise myself that it would never happen again. After getting married, more than a decade ago, I was determined not to use emotions as manipulation, and felt betrayed by myself if I ever found my eyes even welling up with moisture, regardless of the circumstances. Even my husband, with whom I am deeply in love, was not allowed into this deep part of my soul. As if this is not bad enough, I have found myself unable to fully engage in worship. I feel the flood levels rise and quickly take measures to lower the water levels. I sing the words, I listen, but it's mostly with my head because I can't trust myself to open that part of me.
This is a place where I am afraid to go; afraid that I cannot control it if I enter. It has made me very cynical of those who openly display through their tear ducts the depth of emotion they feel. I in turn feel that I am somehow being beguiled by their pull at my heart strings. I tend to look at them with distrust and believe them to be weak.
This year has been one of the most emotionally wrenching years I can remember. I had planned to move an ocean away, those plans were changed (both decisions came with a huge amount of emotional tolls), I was able to meet and had to say goodbye to a precious baby nephew, I witnessed my parents' remarriages (to other people), and now another divorce in my family is looming. These are just the really big things, not any of the myriad of other highs or lows. I hesitate to open up this much and in as much detail as this in such a format, but against my better judgement, here I go. Many of these events have pushed me to my controlled limit, and I have succumbed to the flood of emotion, a perfect description.
Floods overtake their surroundings and do damage often irreparable. We can try to rebuild, but it is never the same. I feel like my heart has been flooded and there is no way to rebuild the fortified dams I had in place before. I am still trying to keep some semblance of control with some smaller measures, and I know time will rebuild some, but I think I'll not be the same.
Recently I went to a women's conference with my church small group. I remember very vividly a couple of things that really spoke to me. The first was at the beginning when the worship leader challenged us to completely fall into worship, like you would fall trustingly into a foam pit! And, not only to fall, but to jump in with full abandon! I wanted to, but that just seemed so out of control. Crazy. Irresponsible, even. That image wouldn't leave me alone, however, and in the last time of worship, after hearing our speaker in a conversation with an audience member say something about presenting our tears as an offering to Jesus, the dam broke. I felt it, physically. I know there are some that would doubt this, and I don't mind, but I physically felt the walls around my heart crumble, exposing the path to the deepest part of my soul.
This is all very recent, and years of habitual closing off won't suddenly be changed. I am sure that I will continue to fight feelings that bring tears to my eyes, but I no longer feel that I have to. I have a freedom to offer my tears to Jesus, either in public or private worship. I can enter in to other's heart stories and feel the pain and hurt with them without judgement. I'm still working on not feeling embarrassed when I shed tears, but I imagine that will change over time. Do not misunderstand; I will not be a bumbling mess at all times with no hold on my emotional state, but no longer will I be a statue with a very separate compartment for my emotions either. I can enter this deep place exposed by the flood, because I don't go alone. Jesus is there with me and just like the woman who wiped His feet with her tears and her hair, He will not shame me, but will take what I give an offering of love.