The Day I Allowed Myself To Cry



I called her for an appointment because I thought I needed help dealing with a bad ending to a job I’d just left.

After we lined up our schedules, I drove 45 minutes to meet her, confident that after she heard my story, she’d provide me with neat and tidy next steps and send me on my way. Given our mutual friends, I figured we’d eventually become comrades ourselves, following each other on Facebook and exchanging updates at an annual Memorial Day BBQ.

But she was neither my friend nor my confidant. She was my therapist. And the gift she gave me was permission to cry.

I’m not sure what went haywire in my insides, but for a period of seven years between high school and college, I didn’t cry. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel the need to cry or that I wasn’t emotionally moved by various events in my life—it was that I didn’t let myself physically shed a tear.

I remember cozying together with a bunch of girlfriends to watch the epic love story of Jack and Rose in Titanic. I recall the sound of saddened sobs around me; the tears that burned my own eyes, and the catch, the gulp, the tightening in my throat that yearned for emotional release. But clenching crumpled tissue between my fists, I refused to let tears stream down my face.

Major events continued to happen around me, with my tears seemingly oblivious: I watched with devastation the horrid events of 9/11, shaking my head in disbelief.

I stared at the television screen, horrified at the number of school shootings, including one on my university’s campus mere days before my own college graduation.

I held the frail hands of my dying grandmother, humming sacred tunes to a barely-there skeleton.

I clung to dear, best friends after an intense summer of campy, kindred friendships—mascara running down their faces, while I prayed the dab of a tissue might do the trick, might make them think I too could gulp a tearful farewell.

I hung up the phone one last time with an ex, saying a final good-bye to a boy I’d thought was The One for a couple of months there.

But through all of these events I refused to shed a tear, because I had somehow come to believe my tears were a sign of weakness. I’d thought that being my strongest, most jubilant, most Christ-filled self meant not succumbing to emotional fragility.

As the years went on, I ceased to let my tears run free. A simultaneous pride and misunderstanding in Nehemiah’s words to the people—The joy of the Lord is your strength—became my guiding light.

But really, I was just running from the pain.  

Really, I was just too scared to give myself permission to cry and to feel, to let down my guard and taste the salt that springs from within.

So when I finally showed up at my therapist’s office that day, and after I kept going back there week after week after week, eventually we had The Conversation. And in the gentlest but most direct of manners, she gave me permission to cry.

It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay, she whispered.

For tears are good and tears, my friend, are holy.

So let yourself cry.

Let yourself feel.  

Let yourself breathe.  

Truthfully, but for the It’s okay part of her sentence, I don’t remember her words verbatim–because as she spoke truth over me, perfect, salty tears silently streamed down my face.

She ushered me into a greater understanding and connection with my insides—heart to soul, mind to body, spirit to strength.

Because when we grant each other and ourselves the ability to let go, to feel the weight of the pain, to embrace the Sad and the Scary and the To-Be-Feared, we give the Spirit permission to enter in. By unclenching tightened fists we make room for Jesus, for the man who wept over his friend’s dead body, for he who was no stranger to tears. We make way for the weeping prophet, for the one who sees and hears and holds our tears, for the one who has fed his people with the bread of tears.

And that, I’d say, is one permission I want to be granted, over and over again.


Image credit: N02