Thursday, July 28, 2011

Holding back the tears

Once when Ben was little and I noticed that he was crying, he quickly denied it and informed me that it wasn’t what it looked like. “I’m not crying,” he explained. “Water just keeps coming out of my eyes and I can’t stop it.” Tears have a way of doing that, don’t they? You can only hold them back so long.

I have expended too much time and effort in my life holding back tears. As a pastor, I know there are situations when I might be prone to cry and it’s just not helpful to the people around me. Take officiating at the funeral for someone I love, for instance. When I’m grieving along with everyone else, I know it’s hard to be their pastor, and what they need is a pastor. So, I’ll work myself into a zone in order to get through it. “I am the pastor,” I keep telling myself. When the funeral is over and I take my robe off, that’s when the water starts coming out of my eyes and I can’t stop it.

I suppose I’ve been conditioned through the years to fill the role of pastor because I seldom have the problem of blubbering when I need to have it together for the people I’m serving. But I will admit that as soon as I’ve done what the pastor needs to do, it’s almost like flipping a switch, and the tears suddenly appear. Many times I’ve stepped onto a hospital elevator after leaving the bedside of a parishioner, completely composed, and then, by the time the doors open again and I walk toward the lobby, I’m a liquid mess.

I’ll never forget one time in particular when I started my car in a hospital parking lot after spending time with the family of a teenager in the emergency room. He was in a car accident and didn’t make it. I had been there for the family, steady as a rock. When it was all over and it was time to go home, I turned the ignition in my car and noticed that I couldn’t see what was in front of me. So I flipped on the windshield wipers. But the wipers weren’t doing the job. It took me a while to realize that the moisture blocking my view wasn’t on the windshield.

The times when I lose it around other people are usually the ones that sneak up on me. I don’t see them coming, so I can’t possibly prepare myself by erecting a shield. Those are usually moments that are so full I can’t contain them. They’re too much for me. I want the world to stop so I can take it all in, but the power of the moment is all I can absorb. I place a piece of bread in the hand of a wide-eyed child and announce that this is the body of Christ given for her and the words get stuck in my throat. I sit across the table from my daughter as she tells me stories about her adult life, while all I can think about is the first time I held her as a baby, and suddenly my cheeks are wet. I feel the warmth of a My dear friend Bruce's arms around me after a long absence and as I sigh with gratitude and relief the tears flow with my breath. It’s as if the power of the moment fills me so completely that there’s no longer any space in my body for my tears and they’re pushed out.

I learn a lot about myself in those times when I can’t hold back the tears. And I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s a direct correlation between my tears and my capacity to love. I’m thankful for both.

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