While growing up as an adolescent, I can remember a time when my mother was in the hospital and rehabilitation for 5 months after being diagnosed with an illness that affected her nervous system and temporarily paralyzed her from head to toe. This was a disease that had only been diagnosed in one other person in the United States, and that person eventually gave up on recovery and passed away.
My mother and father had divorced 4 years earlier. My father took a job with the Army National Guard and was residing 155 miles away from my home town, and my mother was now hospitalized in the same town where my father resided. Already affected by the trauma of divorce, now I am approximately 3 hours away from both of my parents with separation anxiety at an all time high because of not knowing if my mother would ever return home or be back to normal, and being bounced from one aunt’s home to the next.
In the midst of all of this, one day after school and preparing for an activity at church, one of my relatives, whom I had a great admiration and respect for, decides that it is necessary to have a conversation with me about the emotional health of my family during this very challenging season. She looks at me sternly and says to me that all of my siblings are going to be sad and cry because of my mom’s condition and the stress of her recovery. She then closes the conversation by saying, “They can cry, but you…you can’t cry.”
Not having a male figure who could counter her statement, I took it as Gospel and trained myself not to cry; not only in that instance, but never. Fast forward 5 years and I am on the front doorstep of my girlfriend’s house at 9:30 PM. Her parents on their way to sleep and we are discussing something sad and emotionally charged. Then all of a sudden…WHAM!!! I start crying. I mean bawling uncontrollably. In my imagination, I am standing outside of myself looking at myself, saying,
“Bruh!!! What the…hey man! Stop it before I pull ya man card!”
My girlfriend is at a loss as she is trying to console me with the expression on her face as to say, “Seriously!?!? My parents window is right next to the doorstep and you are doing this right now?” I am looking at her through tear-drenched eyes, wailing, unable to speak, and shrugging my shoulders like, “I don’t know what the hell is happening right now!”
That was the weirdest, most embarrassing and uncomfortable moment of my life, and I have never shared that story until this very moment.
As an adult I have often visited those doorsteps in my mind, asking God what that moment was all about. A few years ago, I finally put the conversation with the relative and the moment on those front doorsteps together. I had, for 5 years, suppressed any emotion related to grief or sadness, and in one vulnerable instantaneous moment, five years of emotion comes pouring out at the most inopportune time.
I wonder how many men are conditioned to hold in emotions until they break? To any of the men who may be reading this and saying, “I would never break like that.” Maybe not, but you have probably broken in other ways: spending uncontrollably, sexing uncontrollably, eating uncontrollably, fighting uncontrollably, working uncontrollably, flirting uncontrollably, drinking uncontrollably, being uncontrollably lazy and uncontrollably participating in other addictive and destructive behaviors. Many of these things may very well be the outworkings of years of suppressed emotions, all because someone gave us a false sense of masculinity to the extent that we are leaking masked hysteria, because we refuse to cry. This leaking is causing confusion in some and unrest in others within our atmosphere. The strangest part about all of this is that we can’t explain why we keep doing it.
But what does crying have to do with my behavior and interpersonal behavior? The tears of a man cleanses him. Studies show that tears produced from allergies and irritation are more than 90% water, but tears produced from physical and emotional pain has more than 70% toxicity. This implies that the poisons produced in our bodies due to pain a removed through our tears. This could be an explanation for the reason women statistically outlive men. This can also be applied spiritually and soulishly as much as it can be applied physically. Crying is often displayed in scripture as one “pouring out their soul”.
In Psalms 126 the psalmist is reliving one of the most amazing moments in the history of his people; when they were experiencing the most freedom they had ever experienced as a nation. So free that it felt unreal. As he progresses through the Psalm we notice that the psalmist implies that the victory of freedom was produced through the delivery of tears. He exclaims that the more tears are allowed to flow, the more we find joy being produced in our lives. I find it interesting that he compares tears to seed, which could indicate that crying should be a normal response to the pains of life that causes tears to flow in small consistent amounts, rather than occasional floods.
As men we may need to consider whether or not we are producing fruit joy through the seed of our tears, or producing confusion and unrest through through emotions that leak through uncontrollable behaviors. I am not recommending going around crying about every negative thing we encounter, neither would I suggest trying to play catch-up. I would, however suggest adhering to the instruction of Peter and let’s begin honestly pouring ALL of our concerns on God because he is concerned about what concerns us (I Peter 5:7).