She sniffles away the final remains of the last ten minutes of teary talk. Wiping her sleeve across mascara-streaked cheeks, she checks herself.
"I'm sorry" she blubs apologetically. "I'm sorry, I've just been talking all about myself. How are you all?" The last question hangs in the silence of the room, as if she just noticed there were ten other people sitting there quietly, listening to her explain her personal trauma among salted tears.
Sound familiar? You've been sharing what's been going on in your heart with your connect group, and end up crying and immediately apologise for your tears. Or a friend processes something with you and before they know it, tears are flowing.
Are we apologising when we feel we have overshared? Or for the crying that comes with it? Sharing what we are going through over the phone and one-on-one– or perhaps in a life group setting—is normal, it's part of life. Yet often we feel that our outburst of tears makes us look weird and uncomfortable.
Why is it that we apologise for our outburst? Are we apologising for being vulnerable and not being able to internalise the emotions we are processing? Are we worrying that we are becoming needy and draining to other people? Perhaps we don't want to be that person who is always the one to need constant prayer and support. And to be the one who always cries.
According to TIME Magazine's recent article in March, "Charles Darwin once declared emotional tears "purposeless"'. The article continues on; "though some other species shed tears reflexively as a result of pain or irritation, humans are the only creatures whose tears can be triggered by their feelings."*
In the times of The Old Testament, tears were seen as the by-product of when the heart's material weakened and turned into water according to Ad Vingerhoets in his book, Why Only Humans Weep. What does that mean? Perhaps that our tears are just the inevitable when our hearts are hurting, which we don't have control over.
While I found reading snippets about the science of crying for this piece absolutely fascinating, what really interests me is not why we cry, but why we seem to be ashamed of our tears—when crying is actually a natural physical response.
Are we ashamed of our vulnerability, which the tears might suggest that we are in that moment?
I've caught myself feeling embarrassed too. After sharing my process with a close friend, I immediately apologise for crying, as if I've let myself down. I've let my guard down. And it seems to be wired in my DNA: being female, the statistics show that I am 5 times more likely to cry than my male friends according to The Independent.
The same article in TIME continues with author and scientists Ad Vingerhoets, who is quoted as saying, "tears are of extreme relevance for human nature... We cry because we need other people. So Darwin," he says with a laugh, "was totally wrong."
So our public tears are not just a reflection of what's going on in our heart. They are there to show we need other people. Our tears reach out to our community and show them that we trust them and need them. Crying almost becomes self-care, as a cathartic response to our problems, and can trigger a connection to others.
So my totally unscientific personal theory is that when we apologise for our own tears, we actually feel more shame. We focus on our own vulnerability in a negative way than when we actually sit back and own what we feel and what we are going through.
What if we were happy to sit back in a mascara-streaked mess, using the tissue to blow the mass of suddenly-appeared snot (apparently it's an anatomical fact that the tears end up coming out of your nose), rather than trying to make our tear-stained faces less appealing in that moment, sitting up, and apologising for our stuff. For taking other peoples time. For stepping back from that moment of community—between one, or a room of people—to take back our moment where we felt able to share.
I think we need to own our mess. To have a sob. And then not feel bad about it. To just put it out there and not feel like we failed when we cried. To not worry about how needy or emotional or whatever it was we felt when we cried. We didn't fail. We actually established deeper connection, deeper trust and we shared with the people around us.
What if the shortest verse in the Bible was no longer that. Instead, it said, 'Jesus wept and then quickly apologised.' Jesus owned his grief, he didn't hide it. People saw it. Own your grief, and don't waste time apologising for it.
Amanda Robinson is originally from The Lake District in the UK, Amanda worked in Publishing in London and Auckland and is passionate about seeing Christians bring salt and light into the media, arts and creative industries. She's currently spending a six month sabbatical in the mountains of Mammoth Lakes in California, skiing, adventuring and writing.
Amanda Robinson's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/amanda-robinson.html