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.
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 Faceb
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