I was never a crier. I didn’t even cry at my own wedding. I’m not sure what has happened to me in the past few years, but I find myself crying much more often than I used to. I also tend to cry in public places, which is quite a challenge for me (a hilarious challenge, according to my emotion-loving husband who knows my stoic ways too well). I’ve always hated crying in front of people, yet this is slowly becoming a part of my life. At my sister’s wedding last summer, I could barely make it through my toast. In worship last fall, I cried through the service. Is it because I’m now a parent? Am I just getting older? Who knows? What I do know is I have to accept this new part of myself because it’s clearly not going away.
I’ve had trouble integrating this new part of myself with my professional identity. Pastors don’t cry. We’re supposed to be the solid presence, the comforting balm in crisis, and the one to lean on. We have to keep ourselves together. Often this is necessary and true. Yet the more I do this job, the more I realize there’s a time for everything (thank you, Ecclesiastes). I thought it would get easier, and in some ways it has. In other ways it hasn’t. The longer I’m at this church, the closer I get to the people and the more I learn about their lives. I can’t help but be connected to them. Evidently I occasionally display my compassion through public tears.
I was deeply touched by a sermon given by Bishop Mark Hanson last year at our annual St. Paul and Minneapolis Synod theological retreat. He became emotional during it and had to take a moment to collect himself. He explained to us that the topic he was addressing was close to his heart—his own child struggled mightily with it, and he couldn’t help but get choked up when he spoke about it. I still hold this moment in my heart as I grapple with my own public emotions. I thought no less of him as he admitted to feeling his emotions. I felt a connection with him as a true person. If the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA can be authentic with his tears, why can’t I?
I still believe there are times when I need to keep my emotions in check. This is (usually) not hard for me. But the longer I serve the church, the more I realize how important it is for me to be authentic. When I am leading a healing service and am honored to individually lay hands on and pray for people, I can’t keep my tears at bay. I see their tears, their pain, their struggles–not only see, but also feel them. When a boy comes to me at the end of the line and shyly asks for a prayer—a prayer I know well, a prayer I can relate to in my deepest of hearts—and I am able to give him that prayer, well, that’s more than I can handle. When I witness God giving peace and comfort, I think it’s permissible for me to shed a few tears. How can I not be overwhelmed by this God?
“…a time to weep, and a time to laugh…” Ecclesiastes 3:4