It’s true. I don’t mean to make you jealous, but lately, I have at least one long session of really great crying most days. What I call the “lovely cry,” where my face gets all red and swollen and puffy, my nose runs, I drool, and I make all kinds of noises. I’m so proud of my crying, so proud of myself whenever I manage to accomplish a really good cry, and so relieved. I get a bit worried if a few days go by and I haven’t had a proper cry. I try to remind myself how important it is, and give myself time and space for a healthy crying session.
Again, not to blow my own horn, but it has taken some work—decades of practice and effort—to get good at frequent, healthy crying. Mostly, it takes two things: 1) the courage to feel your feelings, and 2) the strength to reject our culture’s toxic sexism.
I’m sorry I can’t provide you with a well researched summary of how our culture decided that tears are shameful, weak, and feminine. It’s been a damned hard time lately, trying to recover from long-term Covid. I could also go on about my past traumas, deaths I am grieving, and fears from this pandemic and the climate apocalypse, etc. I’m sure you could, too. Plenty to cry about!
But you don’t need a well researched summary. You know as well as I do that our culture trains us to try not to cry from a young age. Our culture tells boys that tears are “sissy,” meaning feminine (weak and bad). Our culture tells girls and women that our tears are “hysterical” meaning a female, irrational, illogical, unjustified, annoying over-reaction. You’ve been swimming in the same misogynist soup I have, and it has trained you, too, to see crying as a sign of weakness, something to hide. “Choke back tears” is a well known expression because it’s a common behavior. Crying is considered at best unprofessional and at worst the sign of mental illness, stigmatized and embarrassing. Imagine – culture teaches us to CHOKE OURSELVES rather than be caught crying.
I was lucky to have a father who was a Methodist pastor and a therapist. My Dad taught me that crying is important, healthy, and sacred. Unlike many Dads, he was very present in the home. He was around a lot, which means we ended up doing a lot more work on our relationship than a lot of people my age ever did with their fathers. We spent so much time together that he had a huge effect on me, in helpful ways and challenging ways. We worked through our difficulties before he passed on, and I am left with memories of a loving Father …who cried a LOT. He cried when we watched on TV as the US bombed Iraq. He cried when he read out Gunga Din as we all had tea in the evening. He cried when he told the story of how his grandfather’s death ended up saving his family’s life. In his final years, he cried whenever I read or sang him anything I had ever written, tears of pride and love and joy. I’m sitting here crying as I remember his tears, feeling grateful for my feminist Dad, who taught me how to cry. Excuse me, I need a few minutes.
OK, I’m back. Notice I didn’t apologize? I’m so glad those memories got some tears flowing. I feel lighter than I did a few minutes ago. That’s probably because emotional tears (not other kinds, such as allergies) flush out stress hormones and other toxins, so my body is chemically more peaceful and healthy now than it was before. Crying for several minutes also activates the parasympathetic nervous system, so my body is more physically relaxed now. But I probably didn’t cry long enough to release oxytocin and endorphins, so I probably don’t feel quite as happy and pain-free as I will later on if I manage a good, long evening cry. But it did restore my emotional balance, the way crying often does when it happens in response to an intense emotion, happy or sad. Scientists are only beginning to understand the many benefits of crying and the dangers of not crying enough— this Harvard study found that people who suppress their emotions have over a 30% increased chance of premature death from all causes, and a 70% increased risk of being diagnosed with cancer.
I’m also grateful for my Methodist faith tradition, which offers me support and encouragement to weep when the Spirit says weep. I love the Psalms of Lament – a full third of the Psalms! – which model the vital importance of expressing our grief, anger, and pain in order to find peace. I love the numerous models in the Bible of boys and men who weep – Jesus, David, Ishmael, Esau, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Benjamin, Saul, Hezekiah, Ezra, Mordecai, Job, Peter, Paul, and more. Lots of women weep, too, and they are not shamed for it or told to stop; they are honored and comforted. And of course, the Divine, often personified by human symbols, is repeatedly described as weeping. Everyone who’s anyone weeps in the Bible!
I’m a little worried about you, to be honest. Are you crying enough? Has our sick, frightened culture infected you with feelings of shame about tears? Your tears are mighty and holy. They have the power to heal and liberate you. They come from the Spirit of Love and Wellness. It’s a damned hard time right now, and I want to be sure you’re getting the support you need. Your body wants to support you by providing you with this beautiful, precious gift of weeping. What will help you learn to accept it? Maybe you can jumpstart the process by watching some touching videos of puppy rescues or children surprised by new puppies?
How much is enough? It has been a lifelong journey to learn to listen to my body’s wisdom. The less I choke back tears, the better I get at hearing my body, the more wellness flows through me. Imagine if all of us let our tears flow, embracing our weeping without shame, whenever our bodies told us to. What cultural choking would finally breathe free? What societal fears would find liberation? What misogynist violence would be reduced? What wellness would spread in our Earth, as the rain falls from heaven watering the soil? Imagine our culture emotionally balanced and flooded with endorphins. Divine, indeed! There is no “ugly crying;” there is only beautiful, powerful, healing, sacred weeping. Let us weep when the Spirit says weep, and embrace the Spirit of Love!
 This video has some sad instances of children being told not to cry or asked why they are crying. In one, a little boy explains to his parents that his older sister is crying because “she loves it so much.” Unto such as these belongs the kin-dom of JustPeace. <3
Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.