What I learnt when I cried in church

I hesitate to share this. It’s personal. It’s ‘deep’… and this is in itself is normally an indicator that I shouldn’t post it on the World Wide Web.

what i learnt when I cried in church www.calledtowatch.com #caregiver #struggle #chronicillness #writer #hope #chronic #faith #watching #prayer

We’ve looked at why it’s okay to cry in public and also how to respond. Now this is my story…

My story of public grief (and what it taught me about God and chronic illness)

I believe it’s important.

This experience was one of the times I have seen God teaching me ‘in the moment’. It was a valuable lesson – and so I share it, not for sympathy or scandal, but so you might also see the God I saw that day.

My sister’s chronic illness diagnosis

In 2015 my younger sister was suddenly diagnosed with a non-malignant but life-affecting and must-be-immediately-removed brain tumour.

One moment she had un-explainable symptoms, and the next she had an MRI which showed a big growth in the centre of her brain.

One day I was convincing my parents that nothing could possibly be the matter with her, and the next the doctors are reading out a terrifying list of all that is the matter. Not to mention all which probably will be as a result of brain surgery.

The ‘best’ outcome was horrendous.

The ‘worst’? Unthinkable.

Not many people knew. Our church community had been notified via email.

The surgery was scheduled with alarming speed. I only had a few days to come to terms with the idea, and spent most of that worrying about my sister and family coming to terms with it.

Cue: much prayer, little talk and very little sleep.

Going ‘public’ after the diagnosis

Then Sunday came around.

My sister’s operation was booked for the next day. She didn’t want to go to church. Didn’t want the questions. Didn’t want to talk about it at all. She was tired.

Timidly, I said I thought it might be good to go.

She declined.

Inwardly, I wasn’t very timid at all. I couldn’t help but think: if it were me, I would go to church. She’s being cowardly.

Who knows what will happen after the operation? This might be her last chance for her to see her friends, and to hear God’s word before we all fall into the Unknown.

Outside of my sorrow, my God exists – Tweet!

Giving into grief at church

I’m forever thankful I didn’t mention any of that out loud.

I went self-righteously off to church that morning, satisfied I (at least) was doing the hard thing. I was going to church – even though I too dreaded the questions, the hugs, the encouragements – but I was strong, I was brave, I was going.

I made it through the first song and Bible reading. I thought of other things.

I steeled my lips.

I dug my fingers into the palms of my hands and tried to focus on the pain in my flesh rather than the pain in my heart.

I took deep breaths, I took shallow breaths. I resolutely ignored a sudden and inexplicable urge to burst into tears.

And then we stood for the second song. It was something about glory and heaven and death and hope.

I began to cry.

Silently at first. A few drops. I snatched a tissue. Stood and mouthed the words, because I knew if I tried to sing I would really cry. But the tears kept coming. I could no longer turn my mind elsewhere.

My sister is sick. She could die.
This is awful.
What are we going to do?
My poor, poor parents.
I’m terrified. Everything is falling apart.

Running away from my public grief

I could no longer contain myself. I, who had been determined to be brave if it killed me. I, who was sure I was the stronger one.

I, who was none of these things, turned and ran out of church.

I ran through the foyer and out the front door, down the street, off the main road and into the bush. I scrambled onto a rock and stared out over the tree-filled valley, and cried.

I cried because life was awful.

I cried because I was a coward.

I cried because all I wanted was my sister to be healthy.

I cried because I couldn’t take her place.

Learning from my grief

Soon my tears began to change. I lay back and looked up at the sky and decided it would be nice if it could fall on me.

I talked to God. I watched some ants.

I realised I was an idiot.

I, who had been trying to convince my sister not to run away from fear but to go to church, had run away myself. I had been given some of my own medicine.

It was humbling.

It also made me laugh. Look how my God works. It seems a bit odd now that I could laugh at such a thing, at such a time, but I did.

God ripped my pride to shreds so that I was able, not only to sympathise, but also empathise, with my sister’s fear.

And so I stood up and dried my eyes. I went back to church. I stayed for the service, and I stayed to talk with some people afterwards. I tried not to worry that I was still leaking tears. I accepted hugs. I attempted to answer questions.

Then I went home and apologised to my sister.

Grieving in public can be helpful

I’m not going to lie and say that day was easy. But it was helpful. God knew what I needed. It set the standard for the many days to come.

It taught me humility – a lesson which I still need over and over again – and it taught me that tears are just tears.

A reminder of my limitations as a human, of my weakness, of my need for a Saviour – but also just a physical hindrance which happens, and can be wiped away and discarded.

Outside of my tears and my sorrow, exists my God – and that is what truly matters.

// Have you ever cried in public? Looking back, do you view it as something embarrassing, or something God was able to use? Join the conversation in the comments below or here!

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Author: Emily J. M.

Hi, I'm Emily. Two of my closest family members struggle with chronic illness, and I watch them. That's hard, and so I write about life as a 'Watcher', what it looks like to support them and find Hope.

17 thoughts on “What I learnt when I cried in church”

  1. Public tears are not ever very fun but I think Church is exactly where God sometimes makes that happen! When we are truly in His presence, especially in worship, it is hard to be anything but open and honest. Those emotions can be powerful! And
    I think they are often the most honest and unexpected when we are spending time with Him because we know He already knows our heart and it is a safe place to release emotion (even if you happen to be in public). I love how you spent time with Him after the tears began and after spending time with Him, He changed your heart and viewpoint. Also love how you bravely went back to the service – God wants us to be mutually encouraged by other believers in fellowship. That takes guts but is what the church is supposed to be like.

    1. I really appreciate such a thoughtful and encouraging comment – thank you 🙂 I agree – if we can ever be open and vulnerable in this world, it ought to be at church. I am blessed to have a caring church family, but I still look forward to the Day when it won’t take guts anymore, but will be a natural part of living in Christ 🙂

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. I think that God was much more honored with your tears than with your (or our) attempts to ‘look right’ and ‘do right’. when we come to Him with our raw and tattered emotions, and give them to Him, it’s then that He can begin to exchange them with his mercy, grace and help in time of need! But it all starts with our honest cries. Bless you and your family. May God hold you close in the palm of His hand.

    1. Thank you so much for your encouragement Karen 🙂 That’s true… if we don’t admit we need comfort, we are denying a need for God! Wise words, thank you.

  3. I have cried in public on many occasions in the past few years. One lady hugged my joyfully during one of my ‘messy’ cries and said “If tears were not meant for sharing, God would have made them fall on the inside”. Ha ha so true! I still hate it though. It would be nice if I had delicate tears falling down my cheeks but instead I feel like my throat is cramping, my nose runs and my chin is doing weird things. I believe there are many good things about crying. As well as being a God given physical release of our emotions (i.e.. don’t bottle them up!) It is also a way we can share without words what we are feeling to the people around us.

    1. Ooh that’s a wonderful quote, I love it! So true… but yes, the physical part of crying is never very fun. Gives me a headache every time, and I can sympathise with your chin! But you are right, it has a purpose, although I have never thought of it as sharing without words. Thank you for your wisdom 🙂

  4. Emily, I LOVED this! It made me laugh when I read about the ants! But chronic illness is no laughing matter, so I understand all your emotions! I live with it, and watched my son suffer with it for four years, a disease with no cure… until Jesus miraculously healed him! You can read about our journey at angelaslittleattic.com by clicking on “suffering.” I’m going to share your post on my ministry page this week at http://www.facebook.com/angelaslittleattic because The Silver Lining is all about finding joy during the storms of life. This was truly a wonderful read! I look forward to reading more of your work. Also, I’ve found that readers respond favorably when you write from that vulnerable place, because everyone is struggling with something on the inside! You go, godly girl! Blessings to you and your precious sister, in Jesus’ name! ?

    1. Angela! Your comment made me so happy – not only that you liked my post, but that you were able to say ‘me too’! We are not alone… we have God and Community. Thank you. Thank you also for your share! I am on my way to check out your facebook page now. And those ants – it’s amazing how God uses even the tiny and seemingly trivial things 🙂 They were actually one of the reasons I ended up having to leave that rock – they were starting to bite!

      1. Emily, I’m so glad to bring a smile to your face! You reminded me so much of myself! I’ll be sharing your post today on my Facebook page. I pray God’s blessings over your writing, in Jesus name! ?

  5. Thank you for sharing this. It shows the world that we can be frail, even as Christians. “Outside of my sorrow, my God exists” Yes, and outside of pain, doubt, fear- my God exists! He is a terrific manager in my life, and in yours. Blessing and prayers dearheart!

  6. I’m still wiping tears off my face as I write. Wow, Emily, you have touched my heart is a very BIG way, especially when you said, “it taught me that tears are just tears. A reminder of my limitations as a human, of my weakness, of my need for a Saviour.” Thank you for the reminder. And thank you for sharing this heart-tugging personal story. It really puts a lot of things in perspective. I even wonder if God is using it to prepare me for the future. God bless you sister. Keep shining for Jesus!

    1. Joe, thank you so much for your encouragement! I’m so excited that God has used this post to challenge and encourage you 🙂 It’s comments like these that remind me that God can and does use mere human words, and the hard work associated with stringing them together is worth it. So we have both been given a reminder 🙂

  7. Oh wow! I really needed to read this today. I was condemning myself for crying in church yet again as I cried 3 months ago and didn’t go back until now. I felt sad and angry with myself that I wasnt strong enough not to cry again this time. I realise that it is ok. Ive been saved along time but dont like the vulnerability thay I feel in my current season of pain. I will go back next week though. I do not want to cry or be angry with myself for crying but this post made me feel connected with others who understand. Thank you.

    1. Thank you so much for your bravery in sharing Sophia – and in continuing to return to church. Vulnerability is so hard – I’m grateful we have a Saviour who also knew what it was like to be ‘weak’ in front of others. Will pray for you right now.

Thoughts? I'd love to hear from you, friend.