While women weep
by Joann Shade, Major –
“I don’t trust women who cry like that.” A young caseworker uttered these words after a lengthy phone conversation with a client who was finding life overwhelming. While I didn’t agree with her conclusion, I understood her reaction. She had chosen to view the tears as manipulative, but even if there was some truth to her perception, the need to manipulate a system only masks the frustration of having to seek assistance from that system, and distracts from addressing the underlying needs.
I have an eight-year-old friend who seemingly can turn her tears on and off at whim, and it is easy to dismiss them as crocodile tears. But her weeping comes from a sensitive heart, and from emotions that sit very close to the surface, often in response to a perceived hurt to another or herself. Women weep with reason—from pain and sorrow, over grief and injustice, and in the face of death and desperation. We must, my young friend, respect the tears of women and listen to the notes of their lament.
Before the reader starts to blow the politically correct whistle, I will state my case. I know that women obviously don’t own all the tears in the world, although they are more likely to spill those they have than are men. It is simply that the tears of women are the focus of this article, echoing the words of Salvation Army founder William Booth in his last public address. He passionately proclaimed, “While women weep…I’ll fight.” Our weeping over the pain of others is not limited to gender, but instead guided by compassion for all.
While women weep…The scientific, rational reason that women weep is that people cry, or experience increased lacrimation, due to strong emotional stress, depression or physical pain. This description corresponds to the biblical narratives that expose the tears of the people of God. Hagar sobbed in a desert of desperation. Joseph wept a number of times, primarily over strained family relationships. The woman kneeling at the feet of Jesus in Simon’s house shed tears of repentance and adoration. Jesus himself cried at the death of his dear friend Lazarus, and as he walked in the valley of the shadow of death known as Gethsemane.
Women of today weep out of the same depth of soul. Sorrow, grief and death are great levelers in life. Poor or rich, elderly or adolescent, pale women or women of deep color, we have no power over physical death, and the emotions that swirl around loss can ravage a woman’s heart. Watching Betty Ford as she buried her husband of so many years reminded me of that truth. All the secret service agents and memories of the years in the White House couldn’t spare her from her grief at losing a beloved husband. For each of us, the tears come, in great sobs or in drops that fall unexpectedly in the midst of a day’s routine, reminding us of the bereft space of loss.
Pain, in all its guises, brings its own tears. With physical pain, the involuntary reaction to the breaking of a bone or the birthing contractions results in tears that are instantaneous with the pain our body senses. Emotional pain, whether stemming from relational disappointments or from the darkness of depression, produces its own kind of weeping that is often unplanned, unwelcomed and unstoppable. The pain of the spirit who is estranged from God brings its own tears from the emptiness of heart, but is covered by tears of repentance that bring the angels to their knees.
Women weep out of their own desperation. I spent months immersed in Hagar’s narrative as part of my seminary study, and her desperation fit like a glove. Yes, for myself, as I faced circumstances that I couldn’t change at that time, but also for so many of the women I knew and loed who have worn the labels of welfare moms, unwed mothers, and worse. I don’t know what to do. I have nowhere to turn. I have been abandoned. I am without hope. The tears pour down, those of self-pity mingling with those of utter helplessness.
World Vision provides us with an additional glimpse as to why women weep. “May my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” When the frazzled mother lashes out at her child in the supermarket, women weep. When a girl-child is sold into sexual slavery, women weep. When our neighbor screams in terror, women weep. When ministry becomes vindictive and shaming, women weep. When mothers of Darfur wail, women weep. When heaven weeps, women weep.
Our mission, as God’s people who have taken up the cloak of William and Catherine Booth, is to respond to the tears of women (and all people) with empathy and action. Booth vowed, in the metaphor of his mission, “While women weep as they do, I’ll fight.” What does our battle look like?
I’ll fight by advocating for justice and mercy.
I’ll fight by exposing injustice in secrets and systems.
I’ll fight by alleviating the pain of a sister or brother.
I’ll fight by affirming the depth of grief of the bereaved.
I’ll fight by bearing the burden of an anguished parent.
I’ll fight by joining the battle against desperation, depression and despair.
I’ll fight by bringing the silent presence of comfort to a hurting friend.
I’ll fight by tasting the salt of another’s tears.
I’ll fight by weeping, blending my tears with another’s.
I’ll fight by offering the tears and the blood of Jesus.
Walter Wangerin, Jr. writes of the Ragman, who exchanges old rags for new:
The Ragman saw a woman sitting on her back porch. She was sobbing into a handkerchief, sighing, and shedding a thousand tears. Her knees and elbows made a sad X. Her shoulders shook. Her heart was breaking.
The Ragman stopped his cart. Quietly, he walked to the woman, stepping round tin cans, dead toys, and Pampers.
“Give me your rag,” he said so gently, “and I’ll give you another.” He slipped the handkerchief from her eyes. She looked up, and he laid across her palm a linen cloth so clean and new that it shined. She blinked from the gift to the giver.
Then, as he began to pull his cart again, the Ragman did a strange thing: he put her stained handkerchief to his own face; and then he began to weep, to sob as grievously as she had done, his shoulders shaking. Yet she was left without a tear (Ragman and Other Cries of Faith, pp 3-4).
Yes, while women weep, I’ll fight. Until the sun begins to shine again, until those who sow with tears are able to reap with songs of joy, and until the mourning is turned into dancing, I’ll fight. And yes, I’ll weep and I’ll fight until that day when there will be no more tears.
Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people,
and he will dwell with them.
They will be his people, and God himself will be
with them and be their God.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death or mourning or
crying or pain,
For the old order of things has passed away
(Revelation 21:3-4, TNIV).