Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: December 2011

At Christmas time, I, like many people go to my parents and see my grandparents and elderly relatives. The last time I was at home was to say goodbye to a neighbour and dear friend of our family who was sadly succombing to the late stages of cancer. This time I have spent quite a bit of my time with my Grandma who’s Alzheimer’s Disease has advanced very rapidly since I last saw her.

I’ve not had much experience of terminal diseases before. When I was living in Kenya a colleague of mine died of HIV/AIDS…but we weren’t that close and I didn’t see him in the weeks before he died. So when my neighbour passed away in October that was the first time that somebody I’d known and cared for had passed. I remember sitting next to that hospice bed, trying to swallow what felt like an almighty lump in my throat and feeling hot tears spilling down my face. I’ve read the phrase hot tears before but never actually felt them – burning my cheeks.

On Christmas Eve I was sat with my grandma who is now very afflicted by Alzheimer’s and is extremely distressed most of the time. I put on a CD of carols and we sat down and sang them together…her voice cracking on the high notes but her soul somehow peaceful as she sang the familiar words. It was like she had entered an oasis of calm in the midst of a whirling storm. The hot tears came again as we sang…with my voice cracking this time.

I realised these tears are of a different kind to the ones I normally cry. Anyone who knows me well knows I’m a bit of a pro when it comes to weeping. But I’ve realised a lot of my tears are selfish tears – tears of anger, frustration…tears for me. I cry about my health, I cry when work is getting too much for me, I cry when a friend hurts me or when I feel lonely or when things aren’t turning out how I want at home. I’m not saying there’s something wrong with crying about these things…often it helps to let things out rather than bottling them in.

But those tears are not like these hot tears. Because the hot tears are not about me -I mean I do feel pain – but I’m crying for the people I love. For our dear friend and the pain she was suffering, for my Grandma and the anxiety and confusion she is grappling with. I’m moved to tears by another’s pain – not my own.

I’ve always been annoyed at my tendency to cry. I’ve traditionally seen it as a sign of weakness. I mean – other people who cry a lot irritate me…so I irritate myself intensely! In recent years I’ve realised though that it’s more often than not a sign of tiredness…so I’m trying to have more patience with myself. But the past few weeks I’ve also realised tears can be a sign of love – and empathy. I was listening to a sermon the other week about when Jesus went to Lazarus’ tomb and there’s that very short verse which says quite simply “Jesus wept.” The guy who was preaching said the translation from the Greek hadn’t been done justice as a more direct translation would have been “Jesus bellowed and moaned.” So he was basically this sobbing mess outside the tomb of his dead friend.

The preacher asked the question which I’ve always asked myself – why was Jesus crying when he knew things were going to be OK and that Lazarus would shortly be raised? The answer he suggested was that Jesus was demonstrating something very human and something very loving – he was empathising and entering into the human experience of pain and loss. He was standing with people and allowing himself to feel the misery and pain they were experiencing. I’m guessing he cried a lot of hot tears.

So the question I’m wondering is…how would I have responded to that situation and  to Jesus’ hot tears? Would I have been irritated and thought to myself “for goodness sake man hold it together – stop over reacting everything will be alright – you of all people should know that!” Or would I have entered in myself – would I have stood in his shoes, in Mary and Martha’s shoes and willingly shared their pain?

I try to hold back the hot tears around my Gran as I know it doesn’t help her and we need to be strong for her – but at times I have to confess they’re not far off. But I have been challenged – am I willing to “enter in” as Jesus enters in to the pain in other people’s lives and to respond with action to their pain?

When people are going through suffering, loss or ill health we often don’t know what to do. We feel awkward, we’re scared of saying the wrong thing, we don’t know what we can say that will make things better, we quite frankly don’t know where to put ourselves. We take a step back and reassure ourselves that its better that way as they’ll want to be left alone and there’s nothing we can say or do that can change their circumstances so what’s the point. But really this step back is  for ourselves – not for the person – we’re relieving the discomfort we are feeling when what we need to do is follow Jesus and enter in.

I think similarly when it comes to things which effect different members of our society – homelessness, alcoholism, child abuse, domestic violence, poverty, hunger and debt…we take a step back and don’t enter in. Sometimes we think the problems are so big what could we possibly do to make any difference? There are hundreds of thousands of people still living in refugee camps in Northern Kenya but when was the last time they crossed my mind  or when did I last enter into the pain and suffering they are feeling? Have I dug my hands into my pockets recently on their behalf – I’m sad to say I haven’t…in fact I’ve been more concerned with petty work politics and whether I’ll get a good review from my boss than the fact that people are literally starving to death!

I think that also there are many times we know that if we do enter in, the comfort of our lives and the little circles of comfort we have built for ourselves will be severely shaken up. We’ll have to get involved in people’s lives, deal with the messy side of intimacy, know the complexity of people’s emotional baggage and history. So we hold back, we keep a distance, change the TV channel and don’t respond to that call for volunteers that’s coming from the front at church.

I was wondering whether or not to write this blog…whether it would be the right thing to do. I blog for my own catharsis and reflection rather than to make a massive public statement…when I’m blogging I find it helps to bring my thoughts back round to Jesus and encourages my heart to be in tune with and challenged by his life and persona. I want next year to be a year in which I grow in selfless love and prod myself to enter in as Jesus did. He’s entered in with me…his Spirit is constantly interceding for me…he cries hot tears for my pain…this is something I need to remember when I’m crying the “me” tears and thinking nobody really cares.

But I’m wierdly enough now praying for more tears – but ones that provoke a response of action, of service, of love.