Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tears and Fears

Last week, I received a call from a woman on our church’s stewardship committee. She asked if I would give a presentation on the Loaves and Fishes ministry to the congregation. I assumed I would talk about the ministry in general, so my main anxiety initially was that I haven’t spoken in public in a while. Lack of practice makes this harder for me, but it’s church, for Heaven’s sake. Literally. I can handle a little stage fright in that setting.

So I agreed, but then she explained that the presentation should focus on how the ministry touches people.

My first thought was not very spiritual. It was this: “How in the heck will I get through this without crying in front of everyone?”

You see, I’m one of those people. You know: the people who cry at Hallmark commercials. It’s a rare church service that doesn’t see me digging in my purse for Kleenex. Anything can set me off: a hymn, an urgent prayer request, the prayers in my own head, children singing, the sermon, the benediction. Once, the prayer before the offering got me going. Church is a veritable mine field of opportunities for weepy embarrassment.

And now I have to stand up and tell how the Loaves and Fishes ministry touches people, both those who serve in it and those who are served by it.

Good grief. I’m just typing the topic and need a tissue.

I come by my weepiness honestly. My grandmother was a weeper. One day, I walked into her house, yelling hello. No response. Oddly, the door to the living room was closed. That door was never closed. In fact, not long after this, my grandfather took down the door because it just got in everyone’s way. That day, however, the bothersome door was closed. I went to it and listened. Nothing. I knocked and heard a muffled come in.

What I found on the other side of the door alarmed me. My grandmother and cousin Kathy sat on the sofa, hugging one another, sobbing.

“What’s wrong?” I cried.

They couldn’t speak. They just pointed at the television. Little House on the Prairie. It took a few seconds for me to realize it was the episode in which Laura’s dog dies.

I sat down and sobbed with them.

Flash forward half a decade or so. My sister is living in New York City, and both my mother and I are visiting. Lisa scores tickets to Les Miserables, and as Fantine is dying, mom and I blow our noses quietly into our tissues. Lisa leans over to Mom and says, “I can’t take you two anywhere.”

See. It’s not my fault. It’s genetic. And by the way, since Lisa had babies, she cries, too. Or at least tears up. So there.

But I do have it bad. I cry at weddings, even when I don’t know the happy couple and even when I do know them and suspect they will soon be divorced. I cry reading books. The Bridges of Madison County made me lock myself in my office in the English Department at Wichita State. I had to blow my nose in my gym towel because the box of tissues was empty. If someone had knocked, I would not have answered. All those jaded English grad students and professors would have mocked my vulnerability to the manipulative prose of a sentimental novel.

When reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I cried when Dobby died, very quietly because George was sleeping the night before competing in Ironman Lake Placid. But it was no surprise that I cried for the loyal house elf. I’d cried when the owl Hedwig died in Chapter 2, too.

As for the Loaves and Fishes ministry, I pray before taking a meal into a newly bereaved widow or a family facing the death of a child. I pray that I won’t break down in front of them, that I will provide nourishment to their bodies and comfort to their hearts rather than add to their suffering. Mostly, the prayers work and I hold off the tears until I’m safely alone in my car. Once, however, just talking on the phone to a mother whose baby was dying of leukemia, I broke down and she comforted me.

That was so wrong on so many levels I don't even know where to begin. How do you ever make up for adding to someone's burden like that?

In the ordinary course of life, however, I’ve made my peace with tears and take my husband’s mockery as I cry at movies and, occasionally, commercials, with good grace. But gently dabbing tears from my face while sitting in the comfort of my home or in a church pew is one thing. Tearing up while standing in front of the congregation with all eyes on me is quite another.

Oh, Lord. Help me not to make a fool of myself. Amen.


  1. Oh Susan I can certainly empathise with you. I've been there many times - good grief even 101 Dalmatians makes me cry as do many of the Walt Disney films! I've cried my way through many novels. My husband has written a novel and I am (trying) to edit it but one chapter gets me every time!

    I wish you luck and no tears for your talk.

  2. They say that tears are good for the soul. Your soul should be wonderful!!! lol... I will pray that you get through your presentation without tearing up! Keep us posted, and I'm proud of you for saying yes! Would love to be there and hear your words.

  3. Hi Susan,
    Understanding and empathising are obviously part of your strength and talent, to deny them would be wrong, they are part of what makes you good at what you do.
    I would like join Lynn in wishing you well in your presentation, I admire your courage and wish you no tears :D xx

  4. Oh Susan, I am continually amazed at how much we have in common--I cry too--at happy endings (I totally avoid books and movies with sad endings), at commercials. Last night I cried a couple of times in Nanny McPhee, which is not generally recognized as a tear-jerker. So I can totally empathize with you. But here's the thing: When you are talking about the impact of this ministry, and you cry--which you will, so have a kleenex handy--it will only make the people listening like you more and value the ministry more. If someone got up and dispassionately spoke about what a great ministry this was, people would forget about it. But you will vividly display for them what it means to share one another's burdens, and they will want to be a part of it, and all their hearts will go out to you. They will not fault you for crying--it will show the value and depth of the ministry. Blessings on you and your words.

  5. omg! i am such a cryer, it is embarrassing! years ago, i walked out of dr. zhivago with my eyes so swollen i could hardly see! and it was my 7th time seeing it! sigh! what does that mean! and yes, it embarrass's my children something fierce! i remind them i have a tender heart! lol! i just can't watch movies! you will do fine, a tender heart is a good thing!

  6. I read your blogs faithfully and haven't commented until today. I cry all the time.....commercials, books, music, the radio, movies..... My husband calls me "his little sap." I'm also a sympathy crier; if you're crying, it must be for a good reason, so I'll join in. But what really got me was you saying you cry in church. I almost don't want to go some Sundays because, without fail, I will cry at something. Most times, it's the music, but there is something about being in our sanctuary that just makes me cry. I try to sneak out without making eye contact because no one else cried, but there I am with my red nose and runny eyes. If only I could prettily leak tears. Sap, indeed!

  7. Oh my word I am a weeper also! My worst moment was when I was at my friend's Grandmother's funeral and I wept so hard. I have never even met the woman! I cried harder than the chief mourners. I wanted a hole to swallow me up but none was available so everyone saw me with big red puffy eyes. But yet God created us this way where we sympathise with others pain and can 'rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep'. (Romans 12:15) Like has already been said if you present your talk with emotion it will display how much you care and are burdened and have a heart for people.

    I will pray for you.


  8. Hi Susan -
    I, too, am a cryer. Drop of a hat, you need to pass me the kleenex box. In situations like you will be in, although I know you will do an awesome job, I find myself saying, "Dear Lord, please help me with my words." It seems to help. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. Let us know how it goes.

  9. I honestly think that the Lord increases a mother's tears. Why? Maybe because that it will bring laughter into the house when the rest of the family is giggling at mom crying while watching Ice Age? (that would be last week....and yes, I have seen it MANY times before! Even The Transformers movie. SERIOUSLY????!!) So that mom can teach her children (boys) that tears are ok while reading a book? (for me, any dog book, Little Women (EVERY STINKIN' TIME!! Oh Beth!!) I don't know His reasoning. But I'm right there with you. Can cry at the site of children singing off key. Read a blog post about another soul who cries and I get choked up.
    Maybe the tears are God's way of reminding us of a gentler time, when we weren't so jaded. Maybe it just takes a mother's wacked hormones to put us back on track for just a few minutes.
    I'm wishing you a NEW box of Kleenx for your presentation. And....take an extra box or two, to begin the trip through the pews. I'm sure others will apprecite it!!

  10. isn't the internet an amazing thing? we have never met each other, but we have found each other. all these women have beautiful insights to share. your heart is huge, susan, and your compassion deep. you will do an excellent job speaking about this ministry because it is such a part of you. thanks so much for sharing so competely with us, whom you have never met, but have found you. what a blessing you are in my life. and i know these others would agree with me.

  11. Psst. Me again. Don't forget that when you cry it means God is there. Just tell 'em all that; they'll understand.

  12. My best friend, Mary Lou, is a weeper and I so value that in her. I wish I could weep as easily. I think it means your soul is open to all the beauty of God and you are able to give yourself to it and be captivated by it. I am usually touched deeply and a little jealous when Mary Lou cries. Best of luck with your presentation. If you cry then it just means even more people will see the value in the ministry.

  13. I am a crier, too. I don't remember the last time I made it through an entire "Reader's Digest" without losing it. They always run those animal stories and I just turn into jelly.

    But if you totally lose it when you are speaking at church it might really get through to people. They will notice you, certainly, and will be that much more likely to really *hear* you.

  14. Oh Susan, The gift of tears is many things but never wrong or burdensome. When you cried with the mother whose child has leukemia you allowed her to know that you understood and to reach out of her sorrow and touch yours. Tears are healing, cleansing and just plain good for the soul. Once at a family gathering for the 4th of July and my Dad's birthday, some idiot put on An Affair to Remember, you know the part where Cary Grant realizes Deborah Kerr is paralyzed. My brother-in-law (now EX) didn't get it, so we (4 girls, Dad and Mom) were trying not to sniffle, snort or otherwise let him know we were crying. My older brother walked in and said, "Geez, this can't be the O'Donnells...nobody crying???? Well, the floodgates opened and we sobbed and sobbed and sobbed then got hysterical laughing. What a precious moment...can't look at that movie without reliving it and tearing up, loving my family so for their tenderness. Sometimes when I feel the need for a good cry, I just put that movie on and have a good reason!!!!
    love ya
    patti moffett

  15. I'm a cryer too. For reasons I can't express, I've become a SECRET CRYER. I won't even cry in front of my husband if I can help it. I literally go into my closet and shut the door so I can cry. I never did this when I was younger, but now I can't bear for anyone to see my tears.

  16. This is perfect post for me today. I have been crying on and off all day as we prepare to leave our summer cottage and head home for school. I am sure think I am nuts, but I have been weepy for days. I am glad to know there are others who cry easily out there. Commercials, songs on the radio, books, movies, etc. they all get me. I've always been like this and I expect it will never change. I just know to have the Kleenex handy. Best of luck with your presentation. I agree that tears will show your deep feelings for the ministry.

  17. Are we related, Susan, somehow having been separated by time, space, and the tiny technicality of genetics?

    I, too, am a church weeper. From the moment I walk in and say a silent prayer before worship formally begins, to reading the bulletin and seeing how often the Scripture readings and hymns are exactly related to something I'm seeking an answer for; now that is really weird! Can't tell you how many hymns I've had to stop singing because tears either blur the hymnal or the emotion is too powerful for me to continue. I used to shudder because everyone could see me cry, but now I don't even think about it.

    One year at Christmas I was asked to speak on behalf of the Emergency Needs Ministry, asking for offerings when just about everyone's finances were already spread wide and thin. I spoke of God weeping for the needs of our hungry and homeless, and then I said that when I remember we are made in the image of God, I envision God foraging for food and tremble at the thought.

    Our tears well up from the depths of our souls and as such are among the most honest things we can offer. I wouldn't worry about weeping when speaking of the power of the Loaves and Fishes Ministry. One of the most powerful passages of all Scripture has but two universe shaking words: "Jesus wept." Wow! As far as I'm concerned, what is good enough for The Boss is more than okay for me.

    I wish you the courage to say whatever your heart bids you say about the L&F ministry and not worry if the salt of your heartfelt tears falls upon the congregation. They are well seasoned, you know. And are we not ordained to be the salt of the earth, proxy Bodies of Christ? When we weep for the needs and concerns of His people, we share in His loving mission and our tears are blessed and blessings both. Harbingers of hope even in darkest hours.

  18. For many many years I was always been teased by my mother and sister, weepers, for not crying. I have always had an Achilles heal though, baptisms. I don't know what it is, but perfectly good strangers in a strange church getting baptized, or their baby, and I'm a mess. At my oldest daughter's baptism it was awful, my sister thought I had completely lost it. Since having babies, I have become a tad more weepish, but it is reserved mostly for church. Which is why I don't speak, read, or lead...add anxiety and I'm a mess having panic attacks. I actually began having one once and the pastor had merely asked me to read. As my panicked eyes looked at him and my mouth tried to say, no through the rapid breathing, he patted my shoulder and said it was okay if I said no. Yes, solos, hymns, prayers, announcements --which may secretly be why we never make it for announcements. But if I read I love you for always...I'm gone, I try not to read that one to the kids.

    I hope it goes well for you.

  19. I was really touched by your entry on this day, Susan. It seems these days that about the only time I cry with any predictability is at unpredictable moments, lol!

    But as far as the woman you spoke to on the phone who ended up comforting you -- please don't feel you were adding to her burden in any way. Sometimes, giving someone the opportunity to comfort you is the greatest gift you can give them.

    At a time when this woman was likely feeling helpless and preparing for the most difficult time in her life, you gave her a chance to give, to reach outside of herself, to feel strong and needed, and like there was something good she could do right then.

    Accepting help, love, concern, and support from others is often just as necessary as offering it to others yourself.

    Thanks again for sharing your stories :^) .


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