“Your pain holds the key to your purpose.” -Reggie Littlejohn
A few weeks ago, I made the mistake of reading a horrifying news article right before going to bed. In it I learned of hoards of women undergoing forced sterilizations and abortions in China and other parts of Asia. I saw a photo of some of these women lying in a row on the ground following their surgeries. As I lay in bed afterward, I couldn’t sleep. All I could do was weep.
After my father began his training as a mental health counselor, his parenting style began to shift. He began to say things like, “It’s OK to cry,” when I felt sad as a small child. Those words were new to me, but I remember what a relief it was to hear them.
I want my own children to know that I will always be there to listen when they are hurting inside. In her book, The Courage to Grieve, Judy Tatelbaum says, “Tolerating another’s tears is a very meaningful gift.” This is a gift I want to offer, especially to my children. I want them to know that it’s OK to cry, especially for someone else.
After all, God has commanded it. Much of parenting feels like fumbling in the dark, but there are some things about which God has given us specific instructions. “Teach your daughters wailing,” God has said (Jeremiah 9:20).
Why should we teach our daughters how to wail?
First, sometimes wailing is the only way to process the darkness. As the sufferings and evil of humankind echo across our good Earth, the oppressive gloom can be hard to bear.
I remember wailing in agony one night when I was nineteen years old. Never before had I cried with so much volume (it was really loud) or depth of soul. I was in the presence of many people I loved, but they were making choices that absolutely broke my heart. The only thing I could do about it was wail. For at least an hour I wailed.
I want my daughters to know that when they’re overcome by grief and sadness, weeping is perfectly appropriate. And if it breaks their hearts to see the dark side of humanity, then I must be doing something right. As Charles McCoy, an elderly missionary to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and India said: “Lord, break my heart with the things that break the heart of God” (Source).
Second, the tears of women (and men) are powerful prayers. Evangenline Johnson has written:
We can tip the bowls of Heaven. When interceding tears meet with God’s, they have the power to alter society and generations to come, to change governments and deliver people and nations caught in unbelievable situations. This is justice and this is how women fight! (Source)
I want my daughters to know that their tears for their suffering brothers and sisters around the world are not wasted. When they feel they can do nothing, it’s just not true. To weep for another is something, and it is something powerful.
Third, women are creators. It is through travail that we physically create, and it is through travail that we can spiritually create a new world. It is through broken hearts, tear-streaked faces, and resolved wills that we bring about the rebirth of humanity. As a mother in labor wails her way to the joy of new life, we can wail our way to the creation of a better future for our children. I love this call from Gwen Shaw:
God is commanding you older women who still know how to travail and weep for souls, not to lay down this vital life-saving call . . . and these gifts which He has given you, but to teach our spiritual daughters and our neighbours . . . how to travail again, like we used to in the old days (Source).
Fourth, emotional weeping is good for you. In a Psychology Today article, Judith Orloff, MD explains:
After studying the composition of tears, Dr. Frey found that emotional tears shed [stress] hormones and other toxins which accumulate during stress. Additional studies also suggest that crying stimulates the production of endorphins, our body’s natural pain killer and “feel-good” hormones” (Source).
Krista Arias asks: “What if the increasing epidemic of depression, stress and overwhelm is an expression of our lack of grieving?” (Source). Judy Tatelbaum explains, “Whether the impetus to delay grief is conscious and unconscious, delayed grief is simply bottled-up pain that will erupt with its original force at some later time or in some other area of our lives” (The Courage to Grieve, p. 51). I know many adults who cannot grieve openly, who do not even know how to cry. They sometimes speak of having the tears trained out of them in childhood from parents who would not tolerate them. My heart breaks for those stifled childhood cries.
Please listen when your children weep. Though their motivations may seem silly or superficial, there is usually a deeper cause lurking beneath. Pay attention and listen and that deeper reason will usually emerge.
Krista Arias puts it beautifully: “This kind of grieving is not crying over spilt milk, nor is it any other kind of weakness. Rather, it is a Weeping for the World that is accessed through our own personal pain and our empathy with the pain of others. When we really allow ourselves the right to grieve it is transformed into a river of healing leading right to the feet of the Divine” (Source).
We might ask: But there is so much suffering. So many causes to cry over. We can’t possibly weep for them all. How can we choose? I like what Evangeline Johnson says about this dilemma:
A true warrior must confront the battles that are specifically given to them. Rushing to every battle shows bad strategy and weakens the warrior. Do not take everyone’s battles—let God choose them. Inform yourself, pray and find out where injustice is being practiced—then cry out with intercession (Source).
I feel called to weep for the unborn, for the millions of baby girls eliminated through gendercide, for the mothers who have been forcibly deprived of their unborn children or forcibly denied their reproductive powers through sterilization. But you may be called to weep for something else. And that’s OK. I may be weeping for other issues a year or a decade from now. And that’s OK too. Follow your heart. Follow your tears. Don’t hide from the things that make you weep.
So am I saying we should spend all our time a mess of tears? Definitely not. Golda Meir, the fourth Prime Minister of Israel, said, “Those who don’t know how to weep with their whole heart don’t know how to laugh either” (Source). There are moments for laughter and moments for tears. There are moments for dancing and moments for mourning. Fully experiencing profound grief can transform ordinary joy into extraordinary joy.
A few weeks ago, I was lying down with my two oldest daughters before they went to sleep, talking. Somehow our conversation turned to some painful experiences in my past. As we talked together, my 7-year-old daughter began to weep. She threw her arm around me and cried, “I’m so sorry that happened to you!” My daughters give me lots of reasons to feel proud, but moments like this are especially gratifying. Their hearts are learning how to break for someone else! We’re on the right track.
I resolve once again that my children will know how to cry and what to cry for, and when they weep for others, I will rejoice in it.
I am raising wailing women, and their tears will birth something beautiful.