A Five-Minute Tragedy)
This morning I was sitting in my living room when I heard the sound of collisions in quick succession and the cries of my two-year-old daughter. She had fallen halfway down the staircase, and now she lay in a heap, physically tender and emotionally broken.
As you might expect, for the next several minutes she was inconsolable, wrapped in the arms of her mother, wailing as the tears streamed from her face. There was no real damage to her physically, but the terror of falling and the momentary pain had greatly unnerved her.
And then, all at once, she stopped crying, bounced out of her mother’s arms, and went about her day like nothing had happened!
This, of course, is common in the life of a young child. A moment of pain or of fright brings them crashing down, but after a good cry they’re perfectly fine and will soon forget that anything ever happened. One might be tempted to say that this whole thing is silly, likely they are getting all worked up about something that didn’t matter at all, but really this is a sign that their emotions are operating exactly how they should. Being able to stop and have a cry is the child’s way of quickly and effectively processing the trauma, and then they are able to leave it in the past where it belongs.
Sometimes, however, children don’t cry when they ought to. The tears well up in their eyes, but they blink them back and power forward. The primary reason for not crying is that the child doesn’t feel that it is safe to cry, and this situation might occur more frequently than you’d expect.
Consider the example of a child lost at the supermarket. They may feel terribly scared and alone, but many of them won’t actually cry about it until they are back in the arms of a loved parent, which is the only place that they feel safe enough to let the tears come.
Another example would be when the child is surrounded by antagonists. A child that is being bullied at school will often feel that they have been humiliated enough without showing their aggressors the tears in their eyes as well.
There may also be social pressures not to cry. Young boys will feel like they must become stoic and reserved, like men. Though they may suffer a considerable ordeal, such as being in a dangerous car accident, if they don’t see their father shed any tears about it, they will feel that they shouldn’t either. Girls have their own form of this, too, feeling that they must stuff their feelings down in order to not make a scene. They will feel it is their responsibility to not add drama to an already tense situation, to hold the peace and not rock the boat.
There are many other examples that could be given of times and places that a child’s psyche knows that it ought to cry, but they don’t because it feels unsafe or wrong to them to do so. Thus, they are at odds with their own self, suppressing their nature under a show of control.
The Work of Therapy)
I once had a therapist who would quote that “the wound un-mourned is a wound unhealed.” Most of us don’t realize that when we suppressed our tears as children, we essentially covered up the wound without ever treating it. Just like physical wounds, emotional wounds can get infested. Infection will grow within them, and then that infection will come out in odd, seemingly unrelated placed. Many times, we believe that there isn’t a reason behind the bad things that we do as an adult, but after we revisit and mourn our childhood trauma, we suddenly find the motivation to do the wrong thing has evaporated away. Our emotions are like a prairie dog village, with many seemingly unrelated openings at the top, but a whole network of interconnected tunnels hiding down below.
One of the greatest works of therapy is identifying those unwept, unhealed moments of trauma from our past, going back to them, and crying for them like we should have at the time. With the help of a counselor, one has revealed to them the fact that the scared, hurt child is still very alive and well inside. They find that child, weep with it, and bring it to a place of safety.
Of course, I have seen many men in my recovery groups that feel extremely uncomfortable with getting emotional. We are grown men, and we’re convinced that crying is unbecoming of us. But what we must remember is that it isn’t necessarily us who needs to cry, it’s the young boy inside of us. All we’re doing is letting our body be a vessel for that child to get out what it has kept locked away for so long. In this sort of context and for this sort of purpose, tears could never be more dignified.
And, when we do let ourselves go through the full mourning process, just like my two-year-old daughter we’ll suddenly bounce back up and feel such a lightness and relief. We don’t realize just how much our old hurts were holding us down until we suddenly feel the weight of them sliding off our backs. And all things considered, it is a relatively easy thing to do. I never ceased to be amazed that a hurt, held onto for more than twenty years, can be released in only twenty seconds.
But what about the words of scripture? Do they support returning to the state of a little child? Do they approve of such vulnerable, open-hearted weeping? Come back tomorrow as we take a look at the words of Christ, himself, and the example that he set with his very own life.