Lachrymose Intolerant

I think I’m lachrymose intolerant! (lachrymose: adj. Weeping or inclined to weep; tearful. Latin lacrim?sus, from lacrima, tear)

Every day I see pictures of hungry or sick children, or view some mountain of human tragedy and not one tear falls. I have compassion, really I do, but it just surprises me that I never cry about much.

Of course, I’ve learned over the years that people grieve differently. Some cry hard and long and some don’t cry at all even though they are in profound grief. Everyone does grief work in their own way. I learned this personally when my mother passed away. I was in profound grief, but I just couldn’t cry. People were weeping at the funeral and I know that they must have wondered what was wrong with me.

In my experience, it seems that we are rather schizophrenic about grief and tears. In my twenty years in the Methodist Church, whenever there was a funeral, we would hold a wake at a funeral home so that people could come by and pay their respects to the deceased and to offer comfort to the spouse and family. It seemed to me that no one was comfortable with grief. Rarely did anyone wail out loud as they do in some countries. It seemed to me that the funeral home did all it could to shield the family from the congregation so that no one could see them grieving. Even worse, during the wake, people would file by the widow/widower and say some of the stupidest things you would ever hear. Here are a few examples: “Oh, he looks so good.” “I know you’re glad he’s gone.” “Time will heal all wounds.” “He’s gone to a better place.”

Why did they say such things? Of course, they genuinely cared for the grieving person and so they hoped to say something that would ease their grief. On the other hand, witnessing profound grief also made them feel uncomfortable. Truthfully, you can’t talk someone out of grief. The best thing to do is just be present and handle your own discomfort with grief. Even Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus.

Despite all of this, spiritually speaking, I am lachrymose intolerant. Apparently, in our Orthodox journey, we should strive to reach a state where tears flow easily. St John Climacus refers to tears often in his The Ladder of Divine Ascent; here are a few quotes:

  • “The Fathers have declared the singing of psalms to be a weapon, prayer to be a wall, and honest tears to be a bath.” [Step 4: On Obedience (p. 93)]
  • “The tears that come after baptism are greater than baptism itself, though it may seem rash to say so. Baptism washes off those evils that were previously within is, whereas the sins committed after baptism are washed away by tears. The baptism received by us as children we have all defiled, but we cleanse it anew with our tears.”  [Step 7: On Mourning (p. 137)]
  • “Regarding our tears, as in everything else about us, the good and just Judge will certainly make allowances for our natural attributes. I have seen small teardrops shed like drops of blood, and I have seen floods of tears poured out with no trouble at all. So I judge toilers by their struggles, rather than their tears; and I suspect that God does too.” [Step 7: On Mourning (p. 138)]

[The Ladder of Divine Ascent (Classics of Western Spirituality), tr. Luibheid and Russell, 1982, Paulist Press]

Well, St. John seems balanced about it. Tears aren’t an absolute guarantee of struggle, but so far my repentance has been tearless. I’m sorry for my sins, but not sorry enough to actually change myself. I’ve never sorry enough to cry about it. In the past, my sorrow has more about being caught and having to be accountable, or I am sorry that I have to suffer for the stupidity of my actions. But am I actually sorry about the sin itself? Not really. Am I ever sorry enough to cry about it? Never! Spiritually, my heart is pretty hard. Spiritually, I am lachrymose intolerant.

Here’s a funny thing though. Despite my usual lack of tears, just let me watch some silly movie and when the music wells up at the big climax, I’m crying into my popcorn. What’s up with that anyway? When I was a young boy, I remember watching “Old Yeller”. When the kid took the gun and shot Old Yeller, I was a ball of tears. I think I even cried walking home. This certainly wasn’t about any profound personal or spiritual struggle.

Isn’t it odd that I will cry for a movie dog, but not one tear for myself,  for real human tragedy, and not one for my Lord?

(for those who are lactose intolerant, please forgive this shameless play on words)

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