Society has drilled into our heads that "real men" don't show emotions. Is that really what the Creator intended?
Real men don't cry? That's a lie! When I was a boy growing into manhood, I heard this phrase about real men quite often. It was considered a sign of weakness if a man wept. I can remember swallowing hard and blinking back the tears to make sure nobody could see that I felt emotion so strongly. To this day, I try not to show how I really feel. I suspect all men have similar thoughts.
I have learned that some of the most courageous and brave men have also shed tears. If real men don't cry, then we could not classify Jesus Christ (the hardworking carpenter who went on to experience terrible torture without flinching) as a "real man" because He wept on occasion (John:11:35). As a matter of fact, the Bible records many instances of men weeping. Courageous warriors like King David and strong followers of Jesus like Peter and Paul wept. We read of men like Job, who withstood all that Satan could throw at him, shedding tears at times. Great leaders like Joseph are recorded to have wept on occasions that were deep emotional experiences for them. With such a cloud of witnesses it is clear that to say "real men don't cry" is a lie.
We can read in the Bible of whole nations that were weeping. It is true that different cultures view things differently. Some groups of people are more emotional than others. Our culture taught that men do not cry, and so we struggle mightily to hide what we feel or at least hide the tears. I would say that every man who is normal has shed tears some time or another. It could be at the death of a loved one, the sympathy one feels towards a friend or at the calamity one sees in the world.
Then there are the tears of joy brought by unexpected examples of kindness, by relief from doubt, by discovering incredible truths. One man said, "I think I shed more tears of joy than grief. Maybe it is because I grit my teeth at grief and disappointment or, just maybe, it is because I see more examples in the Church which point to God's way to life and bring tears to my eyes."
We all have emotions and though we hold them in check, those emotions sometimes boil over. If we are not weeping outwardly, then we are inwardly. To deny this is to deny ourselves.
With the recent horrors unleashed by terrorist attacks, the whole world was witness to the tears in the eyes of the president of the United States. We also saw the tears in the eyes of Queen Elizabeth. Those are rare sights because these auspicious heads of state are not expected to show their emotions overtly. Yet I do not think anyone could honestly interpret these tears of compassion and genuine emotion as a weakness.
I do not think that anyone applauds uncontrolled or frequent wailing and weeping. That is a horse of a different color. Control of the self is a sign of maturity and character. This sort of control allows for the showing and expression of emotion that is healthy and positive. There are people who have very little control, and these people have a negative impact on others. We say some people can shed "crocodile tears." This is another area that gives a bad name to tears of any kind.
Ecclesiastes:3:4 tells us that there is a time to weep. We have been created with this capacity as God designed controlled tears to be therapeutic.
Job:2:12 tells of the friends of Job who came and saw his terrible circumstances. These friends were so shaken that they just sat down with Job for seven days and seven nights--and they wept. Their concern for Job was a great help (though later their words and advice turned out to be faulty). Instances in which close friends are suffering give us the opportunity to support and be of help. Sharing sorrow--even without words--is a great help.
Tears are also therapeutic for the person--for yourself. Luke:22:62 records the expression of Peter's anguish at his own weakness in denying Christ three times. Peter was a strong man. He was overwhelmed by his actions and probably did not understand himself at that moment. Peter wept and no doubt repented. This is a healthy reaction to our own weaknesses. Putting a cap on all of our emotions can be harmful as it forces those emotions to be absorbed in other ways. Our health is affected eventually. Parents shed many tears over their children. I have known people who have had to bury a child and who have not recovered from the trauma of that event decades later. This emotional loss is so great that it brings pain and anguish of the most excruciating sort. Tears do help to relieve the inner pain we feel. It seems they are actually part of the healing system God has installed. David felt deep anguish over the death of his son Absalom (2 Samuel:18:33). All parents who have lost a child can identify with this emotion.
Acts:20:37-38 tells of the congregation in Ephesus that wept at Paul's departure. This event was the departure of a dear man and mentor whom they would not see again. It is healthy to mourn the loss of a loved one. Tears are part of that mourning process. In the expression of love and compassion, there is a time for a few tears.
Revelation:5:4 carries the story of John who "wept much" because of sad circumstances that he could not alter. Hopelessness and despair about events in the world or society can lead to the tears. History has recorded an almost endless array of human suffering and depravity that touch us all. Today, the real fear of the annihilation of whole cities grips our minds. Destruction on a scale never known to mankind is now not only possible, but probable. There is much in our world that drives the emotions.
I have focused on men, but I do not intend in any way to ignore women who also are healed through tears. Women sometimes feel emotions even more strongly than men. They generally have not attached the same stigma to them. But this has been changing in recent years, and women can feel pressure not to show emotion in business and government situations. But still, not many people were unmoved by the tears in the eyes of Queen Elizabeth.
Wiping away every tear
Our Creator knows the emotions that bring the tears. He knows that part of the control of our emotions comes through the release of tears. Weeping expresses our feelings and releases some of the anguish. In Revelation:21:4 God promises to wipe away every tear from their eyes. He knows we humans have plenty of reason for tears now. He says that there will come a time when there will be no more death, sorrow nor crying. The causes of emotions that bring tears will be removed.
Until that time comes, we will continue to experience times of great sorrow and grief. We are to strive to control our emotions, but not to squelch them entirely. Tears are an outlet that promotes healing. They are a form of expression and communication.
When men shed tears, they are saying things that cannot be said with words. These tears express love, compassion and understanding. They do not express weakness and in fact pave the way to a resolve that shows great strength. We did not ask to be made the way we are, and that is why we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm:139:14). God made us! We have been given gifts of expression and one of these is tears. When used properly and under control, this form of expression is healthy and good.
Let us men not be ashamed that we have emotions. If you are of the mind that "real men don't cry" and can bottle up your emotions in public--then weep behind closed doors. This outlet has been designed for our good.
I always carry a hanky!