I Am Tanya Marlow, Armed with Tears

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M_Tanya

My name is Tanya Marlow, and I’m a crier. Nice to meet you. If you tell me your sad story, or even your very happy story, I’ll cry. I’ll feel it with you. I’ll cry at reruns of Gilmore Girls. Don’t even get me started on Call the Midwife.

In the early years of my Christian ministry, I felt ashamed of my strong emotions. Surrounded by men who debated Calvinism versus Arminianism for breakfast, I often felt excluded for caring about how decisions and theological debates would impact people emotionally.

The expectations of this weighed on me: in that context, I was the girl, so I would be The Emotional One, while they competed to be The Intellectual One. In an environment where intellect was prized above all other things, I found this frustrating: I was no intellectual slouch.

I didn’t want to be dismissed so easily, so I tried to hide my emotional side, and jumped into the debates, gloves on.

It didn’t always work, and the times it didn’t, I felt so ashamed to be a Minister Who Had Emotions. It seemed like I was the only one.

Until one day, when I realised that it can be an act of ministry simply to cry, and sometimes it really is prophetic.

We were together in a room, church leaders and my parachurch colleagues, and the atmosphere was stony. I was the youngest, and the only woman, and we had come to try to make peace with one particular church leader, persuading him to support us instead of leaving us. He was hurt. We were hurt. But we were hiding our hurt behind theology.

The others looked a little afraid of him, but I met his eye. I spoke, saying I understood his hurt on behalf of his people. I understood it, because I felt it too, and I hated disunity in the body of Christ.

“What does it do to you?” he asked, his head to one side, eyes narrowed, fixed on me.

I considered the events of the past term, and the conversations I’d had with young women who had wept publicly in coffee shops themselves, while I’d listened and ached for them. I could feel my face crumpling, my cheeks hot, my stomach burning. He saw it, and the others in the room saw it, and I could feel them holding their breath, unsure of what to do with this display of emotion.

“It–upsets me,” I said, taking a deep breath. Everyone in the room could see that was a euphemism of monumental proportions. “But I believe unity is worth fighting for, because the very last prayer that Jesus prayed was for the unity of his messed-up, loser disciples, and that’s my prayer too. Of course it’s hard, of course it’s painful—but Jesus thought it worth fighting for, and that’s why I’m here.”

The church leader stared at me, and he was silent for a while. Then he looked at the others.

“If there is to be reconciliation,” he said, “this is where it starts. With tears.”

He turned back to me.
“Do you preach?” he said.
“When I’m asked.”
“You should preach that.”

________

The woman who anointed Jesus in Luke 7 was perhaps the most subversive woman in the whole Bible. She sobbed her way into a room full of disapproving people. She lay bare her love for Jesus using her body and her femininity, daring to touch Jesus, anointing him with inappropriately luxurious perfume. And Jesus praised this woman whose adoration had started with tears. She was not respectable, and she did not act respectably, but Jesus praised her for her love, and she is remembered throughout history for it.

Reconciliation starts with tears.
Repentance starts with tears.
Worship starts with weeping.
Justice is born out of angry tears.

We need not fear our emotion, our sorrow, our frustration. Sometimes the most dangerous, subversive, revolutionary thing we can do is be authentically ourselves, emotions laid bare. Even if society disapproves of it. Even if a room full of other people don’t know what to do with it.

I am a peace-warrior who weeps at injustice and others’ sorrows. I am Tanya Marlow, armed with tears—and I’m not afraid to use them.

________________

TanyaMarlow

Tanya Marlow was in Christian ministry for a decade and a lecturer in Biblical Theology, until she got sick, and became a writer. A fan of opera-singing and dark chocolate, she has a bad habit of laughing at her own jokes. Author of Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty, she loves writing honestly about suffering and searching for God. She blogs at Thorns and Gold, and can be found on Twitter @Tanya_Marlow or Facebook.

______________

Image credit: sethoscope

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  • AMEN. I too am learning to be okay with my sensitivity. Your post is a wonderful reminder to all weepers. Makes me think of something I once came across on the Internet : “Crying, from the beginning, has always been an indication that you’re alive”.

    “Reconciliation starts with tears.
    Repentance starts with tears.
    Worship starts with weeping.
    Justice is born out of angry tears.”

    Yes, yes, yes.

    So appreciate your words here today.

    • Yay! Thanks for saying ‘me too’. And I love that quote you found- so often I think that our tears speak of the reality of life, it really is an indication we are alive.

  • Bev Murrill

    ‘…armed with tears and not afraid to use them…’… Jesus wept, and He was the most manly of men, the most deeply spiritual of leaders, the most powerful of lovers… how awesome that you are gifted as He was, to be a peace warrior!

    Awesome article!

    • Thanks so much for being my cheerleader, Bev! I really appreciate you taking the time to comment. xx

  • Donna-Jean Brown

    “men who debated Calvinism vs Arminianism for breakfast” LOL! Oh how I know what you mean, Tanya! Although it’s hard not to feel embarrassed and weak when we’re the only one crying, it is definitely a gift we offer to others, as you did in your story of conflict. I’m glad you’ve won a new perspective. Margaret Atwood wrote, “The facts of this world, seen clearly, are seen though tears.” And Margery Kempe, one of our medieval Christian foremothers, was known for her weeping. How gracious of our God to ensure that scripture included a story where Jesus was in tears! Thank you for writing this.

    • DJ

      P.S. Atwood quote cont’d, “…why tell me then there is something wrong with my eyes?”

    • Ha! I’m glad you know where I’m coming from. And that Margaret Atwood quote is amazing. I have goosebumps. Love it.

  • Oh my goodness, I LOVE this! We’re made with emotions. Of course they aren’t bad and can be holy ground. Thank-you for sharing.

    • Thanks so much, Heather! Emotions can definitely be holy ground – that’s got me thinking about all kinds of times that Jesus showed emotion in the Bible. Love it.

  • Amen, lovely prophet!

    • Thank you Margaret – it is always nice to be called a prophet. I’m so grateful you’re a kindred spirit.

  • Nicole A. Joshua

    Wow Tanya. Thank you. This is such a powerful message. I also never thought about the tears of the woman in Luke 7 – what a beautiful perspective. This post has helped me begin to be less ashamed of my tears 🙂

    • This means such a lot to me, especially as I absolutely loved your Dangerous Women post. Thanks so much for these words.

  • I love this. It means so much to me when someone can sit with me and empathize. I couldn’t care less about who has perfect theology at those times. I’ve been ministered to by people with all sorts of beliefs I disagree with, but I felt God through them just the same because they felt with me.

    • There should definitely be a name for this kind of ministry, because I totally agree – it is so valuable. I was going to say, ‘sitting with’ and then thought ‘coming alongside’ – and then thought, that’s what the Holy Spirit is called, ‘the Paraclete- the one who comes alongside’. So maybe we could call it Holy Spiriting??
      Fab, as always, to see your face. X

  • Kim Waggoner

    I’ve just recently noticed that even though I am a classic Feeler, I’ve surrounded myself with people who fall on the far side of the Thinking end of the spectrum. I think I’ve internalized a message that emotions are weak and volatile and bought into the lie that pit the Intellectual One against the Emotional One (if you want to be smart, you can’t be emotional). I’ve felt ashamed of my feeling orientation. But the same impulse that makes me cry when my feelings are hurt, moves me to tears at a sunset or a poem or a friend’s pain. This sensitivity is a gift meant to bless. I have spent the last few weeks practicing being unashamed of my tears and the depth of my feelings. Thank you for writing this, Tanya. You made me feel brave.

    • I know these are only a few words, but I really feel the weight of your journey you’ve outlined here. I can definitely relate to that internalised message that emotions are weak and wrong. (Where does it come from, I wonder?) And YES – sensitivity as a gift to bless. Yesterday I was reading through the gospels and reminded that jesus weeps over Jerusalem just after the triumphal entry. Now that’s what I call prophetic weeping! 🙂

  • I feel this way so often. Especially when the room is filled with other writers who are trained in theology. While the only theology I learned was as a Catholic school girl drop out who doubted God but craved Jesus. So thank you. For your heart. And for being enough.

    • I’m so glad I’m not the only one! There’s something about being transported into feeling like a child again in those situations, I think. And to be someone who craves Jesus – well, that sounds spiritually rich to me. Thank you so much for stopping by. P.s. I’m also a doubter!!

  • Sara

    “Armed with tears.” I like it! Tears wash away the specks of dirt and stray eyelashes so we can see clearly. They are cleansing. I cannot fully see someone else’s pain (or my own) without them. They don’t always come easily for me, but when they come, they come completely and without apology. And I welcome them. Thanks for sharing this message today.

    • I love these thoughts! There’s such richness here. It reminded me of a quote I read recently by Oscar Romero: “There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried”l thanks so much for commenting.

  • Rebecka

    I love this! Is it strange to say I feel encouraged to cry after reading this? As a fellow crier and somone who often cries when I pray I appreciated this very much and for the first time I feel connected to the woman in Luke 7. Thank you!

    • This makes me very, very happy to read. I pray that God will meet you in the tears. X

  • Helen Murray

    …and me too. Found myself tearing up just reading your story, and imagining those moments as you searched for words to accompany the emotion. Bless you, Tanya, for these truths, and for giving us permission to feel as we’re made to feel. I think God can use it powerfully. x

    • Thanks so much for your encouragement, lovely Helen, and for feeling it with me. And yes – there’s nothing quite so disempowering and disorientating as being in a situation where you’re feeling it, but have no words to accompany or identify the emotion. Thanks for getting this. X

  • Jolene

    This has spoken to me on such a deep level. Thank you for sharing. Rivers of tears are flowing..

    • Oh gosh. I’m glad – hope those tears are ones of healing.

  • May the Thinkers in the Body read and gain understanding.
    Love this: “Sometimes the most dangerous, subversive, revolutionary thing we can do is be authentically ourselves . . ”
    Amen.
    Let it be so.

    • Amen, amen. Thank you so much for stopping by and reading.

  • Megan Gahan

    Tanya, I’m so thrilled we were able to find a spot for you this month (albeit a little last minute!). Thanks for rolling with it! This is such a stunning and vulnerable piece . . .it’s an honor to host it here. Much love!

    • Truly, it’s an honour to be here, particularly this month, with the Dangerous Women series knocking it out of the PARK. I love being part of the conversation.

  • pastordt

    Oh, Tanya. I love this (and you!) so, so much. This was one of the ‘chapters’ in that series I did a year ago (and which is in the process of becoming an ebook — to come . . . ) I absolutely believe tears are a great gift from God, an unlisted charism attributable to the work of the Holy Spirit within. I love your tears. I’m grateful for them. And I will cry with you any day of the week.

    • Ah, Diana – I always love it when we’re on the same track! You are truly a kindred spirit, and I am very grateful for you. And go write that ebook!!!!

  • Tears are the best kind of weaponry. Indeed.

    • It’s so counter-intuitive, but so is the way of the Kingdom.
      I’m so grateful to be part of this conversation, and grateful for the video of you and Kelley that got me thinking these thoughts in the first place. Thanks, lovely lady!

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  • Ashley

    I, too, am both emotional and intellectual. It often feels like I have to be either/or and not both/and. I am encouraged to take hold of my authentic self and use it as a means of showing aspects of God that often get missed in the church.

    • YAY! And you’re right – it is annoying that it’s presented as an ‘either/or’ instead of a ‘both/and’. Definitely worth exploring further. Thanks for commenting!

  • Mark Allman

    Tanya,

    Prayer Warrior; Peace Warrior and Passionate Warrior….. all wrapped together you are.

    I am proud of you for your willingness to be vulnerable. I am moved by people who are courageous enough to let others see them vulnerable; to let others know and see that they are moved by things in life. Insincere emotions turn me off but sincere vulnerability with passion and emotions is always moving.

    I am often moved to tears by things but I don’t let anyone see that often. A lot of times it is stuff you write.

    An authentic passionate person is always armed and dangerous. In a good way. For they can move the world.

    I want us to be people who are passionate about this life God has given us. Passionate enough to be vulnerable to let people see the real us so we can connect with them.

    I count it an honor for someone to be willing to cry in front of me. We should be a treasury for the tears of those we love.

    • I am honoured that I sometimes make you cry! (In a good way!)
      It makesr wonder whether it is even harder for me than women to be emotionally authentic. The messages to me that you should hide your tears are so very strong. I’m glad for the times that it tells us how jesus wept in public.
      Thanks so much for your encouragement and beautiful words, Mark!

  • Celeste Cummins

    Oh my gosh , just read this , which was so meant for me to read , because this is me too. I get annoyed with myself sometimes , for crying at the drop of a hat , because it seems like I cry at everything – I feel everything. I cry at worship songs , with people in their struggles and sorrows , at happy things , news stories , movies for children through to adults , and sometimes just at seemingly nothing (which is usually something). I cannot hold it back , even if I try so so hard! I know that I cry in intercession for people , and for God to move in the things I pray for. Who knew the human body could produce so many tears ?! I don’t feel so bad about it now that I know it’s not just me Lol

    • I love that it’s not just me! And even in this short comment your heart of compassion is made abundantly clear. It’s a blessing, for sure. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  • daydreamerinca .

    Amen! How much do we hinder what God is trying to do when hide from and apologize for who we are? Loved your vulnerability and boldness in the meeting and loved your point about the Luke 7 woman. Thank you for that.

    • That’s such a great and thought-provoking question. We should definitely be asking ourselves this more often, I think. Like Adam and Eve, it is all too easy to hide.

  • Researcher

    Thank you for my next sermon topic – Harry.

    • This is great to hear! I’ve been so struck afresh at the beauty of that account in Luke 7

  • Lisha Epperson

    Until the past year I couldn’t remember the last time I cried. It got to the point where I wanted to, had reasons to, but couldn’t. That’s changed and I’m glad of it. I’m remembering the cleansing, redemptive power of a good cry. And I fully expect the fruit of my tears – reconciliation, repentance, worship….justice. Amen.

    • I always think of crying as being like vomiting, when you have a stomach bug. You don’t want to, you don’t want to- it’s altogether unpleasant, and you just want it to stop – but then afterwards you feel MUCH better.

      It’s really interesting and important to have your comment here too, as a reminder in this space that not all women cry easily, and the not-crying can be a source of shame as much as the other end of the spectrum.

      I’m grateful for you taking the time to share your perspective.

      • Wow. I think that came out super-patronising. I didn’t mean it to! Hope it translates 🙂

  • “It can be an act of ministry simply to cry, and sometimes it really is prophetic.” – Preach, Tanya!!

    • Thank you, Bronwyn! I’m so glad it resonated with you!

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  • I love this. I have often been judged for my tears. Even my first year clinical instructor in nursing school told me I should consider a different career because I cried too easily. I ignored her and I think my ability to feel for patients is one of my greatest strengths as a nurse.

    • I’m so glad you ignored that instructor! As someone who has encountered nurses in hospital, I can tell you that it makes a huge impact, having a nurse who is empathetic. It is truly such a gift. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment.

  • Andrew Marsh

    Praise the Lord, Tanya, for making you the way He did! You are authentic. You are unafraid to tell it how it is. Love it. Love you. Love our Lord. Hallelujah!!!!!!!!!

    • Thanks so much for your words of encouragement!

  • Roslyn

    I’m not a crier…I’m the one operating at 150% most days, who’s got time for tears? I was too busy wiping away others sorrows and mending broken lives!! When did I have time for that?
    That was prior to Nov. 24/14. I had a heart attack then and I now operate at 25% on most days and I have found way more tears these past few months then I have allowed all my 46 years.
    Like you shared Tanya…tears of sorrow, joy, anger and injustice. Then theirs the ones of absolute healing, cleansing and renewal. Those ones leave you with a clearer vision to have a Gods eye view of life, renewed hope and peace that all is well with my soul….even when the body fails me!! It’s more about someone to “Be” than something to “Do”. It’s about finding new meaning apart from what I can accomplish or finding new things to do that define new purpose.
    Thank you Tanya for finding new roads and for the inspiration. God truly works all thing out for good

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