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A friend, recently and tragically bereaved, wrote me of the tears that came upon her during a chapel service at her daughter’s school:

I sit crying and crying while we sing “Shout to the Lord” and “Here I Am to Worship.” I don’t want to leave because it draws attention to me and I’m there for my daughter, so I sit quietly, trying to get myself under control. I mostly do OK. But it happens more often. I’m in church and I cry, and there is no way to leave without calling attention to myself.

I know what my friend is talking about. When I was going through a particularly difficult time a few years back, I cried too. I didn’t cry at the symphony or while walking in the woods—places I expected and even planned to cry. I didn’t even cry when I stopped to pray, deliberately, in the empty church sanctuary on a weeknight. Instead, I cried my way through Sunday church, week after week. I named my tears “soul tears.” My soul tears embarrassed me.

I considered skipping church. But I was drawn to church. It wasn’t the preacher or the services that drew me. I was drawn by that thin place between earth and heaven—that thin place between God and myself that is mostly out of my reach. And for me, that thin place is in church and in the presence of God’s people.

I’ve asked others who are going through a crisis where their tears unexpectedly overtake them. Many say church. Some are able to identify a song or a prayer or a certain choice of words that triggers their soul tears. Others are not sure what brings on the tears. More than a few have nodded in agreement when I’ve mentioned that the presence of God’s people is part and parcel of that thin place between God and me. Most, like me, are embarrassed by their tears and try to hide them.

Mostly I was successful at hiding my soul tears. But not always. Sometimes a nearby worshiper would notice and look away awkwardly. Or a young child hanging over the back of the bench ahead would peer curiously up at me. That brought me a smile. I wasn’t embarrassed when children noticed.

Occasionally what I most longed for happened. Someone would notice and squeeze my arm, or hold my eye and offer a little smile. After the service that person might give me a hug. Words sometimes helped, but weren’t always necessary. Once a person I didn’t know slipped me a note that said something like, “I don’t know why you’re crying, but I’ve been there.”

It was those occasional contacts that made me feel as if that thin place between God and me had been bridged. I felt as if I had been physically touched and comforted by Jesus himself.

The difficult events of a few years ago are now past. But unexpected soul tears sometimes still surface when I worship. Now when I cry, the kind gestures a few of God’s people made then still linger and encourage me today. I still try to hide my tears, but now I also remember how Jesus touched me with the hands and hugs and eyes of God’s people.

If you cry soul tears in church, I hope someone sees and touches you with the hands and hugs and eyes of Jesus. If you see someone cry, I hope you will reach out and be Jesus to that person.   ¦

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