As we anticipate Random Acts of Kindness Day (February 17) and as we practice Purposeful Acts of Kindness (as Bob Bruinsma encouraged us to do in the last issue), we would do well to heed kindness mascot Mister Rogers’ advice: “There are three ways to ultimate success. The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.” In each moment of potential kindness, however, we must ask ourselves: What does kindness look like in this situation?
When it comes to tissues, I have mixed feelings about whether or not offering one to someone who is crying is a kind thing to do. On the one hand, of course tissues are kind. They are helpful absorbers of running mascara and the inevitable snot of an ugly cry.
On the other hand, the gesture of handing someone a tissue can be (sent or received as) a subconscious nonverbal encouragement to stop crying.
During a grieving period in my life, crying didn’t come as naturally or quickly or fully as I wanted it to, and so when I actually was able to cry, I wanted to cry. For me, the tears often came most fully in the presence of another person. And when the tears started, I absolutely did not want the person to go searching through their purse or pockets for their stash of tissues. I mean, if they did hand me one, I didn’t bite the hand that offered it. But those tissues had a way of stopping my longed-for tears, in much the same way that my dog’s race-across-the-house-to-my-side reaction to my pre-sneeze sniffing stops my longed-for sneeze. (I know. That’s a weird parallel. But for me, both tissues and my dog’s concerned face are flow-interrupters.)
I have resolved this in my pastoral ministry by having a box of tissues available so that those who cry in my presence can grab a tissue themselves. But only if they want it.
Mister Rogers would be in my corner on this one, I think. “People have said, ‘Don’t cry’ to other people for years and years,” he said, “and all it has ever meant is ‘I’m too uncomfortable when you show your feelings. Don’t cry.’ I’d rather have them say, ‘Go ahead and cry. I’m here to be with you.’”
Too deep for words
Tears are human. And precious. The psalmist prays that God would record his tears on a scroll and keep them in a wineskin (Ps. 56:8). And Jesus himself wept at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus, even though he was fixing to undo the cause of his own tears (John 11:35).
Jesus and Mister Rogers are on the same page in the gospel of John. But in another resurrection story – the raising of the widow’s son – Jesus says to the grieving mother, “Don’t cry” (Luke 7:13).
Don’t cry? Really, Jesus? Did you hand her a tissue?
I wrestled with this command when I was preparing a sermon on this text. How could Jesus give himself permission to cry at the tomb of his friend, but withhold that permission when speaking to another mourner?
Well, for one thing, Jesus is Jesus, and he can say and do what he wants. Mister Rogers takes his cues from Jesus, and not the other way around!
Furthermore, different situations, as similar as they seem, call for different responses. I trust Jesus to know what to say and when to say it (or not say it).
Finally, let’s say Jesus is completely contradicting himself. I hope I hold expansive enough understandings of both his humanity and his divinity to leave room for inconsistencies like this.
And yet, I like to wonder how Jesus said these words, “Don’t cry.” There is a way to say these words dismissively, with a clear deficit in emotional intelligence and a lack of empathetic capacity. But Luke tells us that Jesus had compassion on the woman (in Greek: esplagchnisthe – his bowels yearned). In my sermon, I imagined that when Jesus said, “Don’t cry,” to this grieving mother, he said it with tears in his own eyes.
A woman from my congregation died last March. When I first met her, and she told me her life story, she included the detail that she hadn’t been able to cry in decades. She would ask doctors to make sure she had tear ducts. They assured her that she did. She just couldn’t cry. I spent a lot of time with this saint, and it was true. I never saw her cry. It wasn’t as if she had nothing to cry about. Her life held sorrows too deep for words. It wasn’t as if she didn’t want to cry. She very much did.
And so, even though I know that Revelation 21:8 says there will be no tears in the age to come – that the Lord himself will wipe away all tears from our eyes and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain – I have a hope that when this woman saw her Saviour face to face, her tear ducts were opened like little floodgates. . .
and it was simultaneously a time to weep
and a time to laugh
and a time to leave her tissues in her purse.
And there may have even been tears in her Saviour’s eyes, too.
A different version of this article appeared online at the Reformed Journal’s The Twelveblog.
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