In Great Expectations, Charles Dickens tells the life story of Pip. My favorite character is Pip’s faithful brother-in-law, Joe. Joe lovingly rears Pip who is the little brother of Joe’s wife. As an adult, Pip is selfish and ungrateful. He has affection for Joe, but fails miserably at visiting him, spending time with him, and showing him the honor and gratitude that he should.
Once, when Pip briefly realizes his great ingratitude, he cries and then realizes:
Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before—more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle. If I had cried before, I should have had Joe with me then.
Sadly, Pip didn’t learn from his tears, but went on, busy with his own life, in no way mindful enough of the man who had sacrificed so much and loved him so dearly. Pip’s heart had an emotional love for Joe, but it was not a repentant heart that caused him to change his actions.
Still, I appreciate the respect for tears that Charles Dickens wrote about in this passage.
As much as I love children’s literature of long ago, I am sad when I read about a child being shamed for crying, with words like “Look at you! A big boy (or girl) like you crying!” I imagine that we have all experienced children crying about things we think they shouldn’t cry about, but I always want to err on the side of honoring a child’s tears—or an adult’s tears—rather than dismissing them. Pain is real whether it is emotional, spiritual, mental, or physical—and whether the person in pain is four or forty. When we dismiss a person’s pain, we dismiss the person. That is never okay.
I don’t like name calling such as “cry baby.” I think terms like that can color our attitudes about tears and make it easier for us to be callous to the tears of our children and others.
As to our own tears, I am grateful for mine. An older woman once told me that she had not been able to cry in years. She wasn’t grateful for her inability to cry. She knew that it was not good and was sorry that she couldn’t.
The Bible says much about tears. King David writes:
I am weary with my sighing;
Every night I make my bed swim,
I dissolve my couch with my tears.
My eye has wasted away with grief;
It has become old because of all my adversaries.
You have taken account of my wanderings;
Put my tears in Your bottle.
Are they not in Your book?
Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call;
This I know, that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
In the Lord, whose word I praise,
In God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me?
I cherish the idea of God putting my tears in His bottle and writing them in His book. God respects my tears. That is another of the many ways He says, “I love you.”
I read a quote by a famous minister that said basically: It is good to cry for other people, but not good to cry for yourself. I don’t believe the Bible supports that idea. David cried for himself. Even our Savior cried for Himself:
In the days of His flesh,
He offered up both prayers and supplications
with loud crying and tears
to the One able to save Him from death,
and He was heard because of His piety.
God respects our tears. We must respect them, too—our own tears and the tears of others, while we look forward to the day when:
. . . He will wipe away every tear from their eyes;
and there will no longer be any death;
there will no longer be any mourning,
or crying, or pain;
the first things have passed away.