Oct 30, 2016 by Norris Burkes
“I’m trying to be strong,” she told me, “but I just can’t stop crying.” Shaking my head, I wondered aloud, “Is there a reason you have to stop?”
If you’ve ever watched “Star Trek,” you would know that the Starship Enterprise often stumbles into places “where no man has gone before.” These are crazy places where the captain will often avoid a deadly trap by ordering, “Full power to the shields!”
As a healthcare chaplain, I sometimes see people throw all their power into their emotional shields when they hear a doctor give them a fatal prognosis. That was the case with a patient I met several years ago, a 33-year-old woman who’d just received worst-case test results.
“I understand you’ve gotten some unimaginable news today,” I told her. The term “unimaginable” seemed like an understatement. She’d been waiting for great news, but suddenly, the news morphed into the words, “You have a new tumor and it’s inoperable.”
“I’m trying to be strong,” she told me, “but I just can’t stop crying.”
Shaking my head, I wondered aloud, “Is there a reason you have to stop?”
“Yes, I have to be strong for my mother. I’m all she has,” the woman said. “She’s been so strong since I got sick. She’s my rock. It would destroy her to see me cry so much.”
I often hear similar statements from patients who have a certain expectation of what “strong” is supposed to look like. These folks usually find tears to be shaming, embarrassing or weak. Perhaps tears can sometimes indicate such things, but I’ve also seen great strength and courage in tears.
“Shielding yourself from your tears must take up a great deal of energy,” I said, still thinking in “Star Trek” terms. “You might better use that energy talking about your relationship with your mother and the other special people in your life, and even your relationship with God.
“Besides, you know your mother is going to cry when you’re gone. Have you ever thought maybe she’d like to cry with you now? Maybe she’s waiting for your permission to cry.”
“Mom’s not cried since this whole thing began,” she admitted.
“Maybe you’ve not seen her cry,” I speculated. “My guess is, losing her only child has to be devastating, and maybe she’d like the opportunity to express that.”
I told her that the desire to express grief is something that her mother and God could have in common. “Surely God must have cried when his only Son was killed,” I said.
She looked at me quizzically.
“Doesn’t the Bible teach that at the crucifixion, the earth went dark for three hours? I think your mom’s world must be looking pretty dark too,” I told her.
The woman’s tears suddenly fell like water leaking from a paper sack.
While her cancer couldn’t be cured, I’d like to think that she and her mother experienced some emotional healing of their relationship from the holy water of tears. Sharing tears with her mother was an act of supreme compassion, proving to the mother that her daughter trusted her, affirming the love they shared.
So the next time you drift into new emotional territory, resist becoming defensive. Instead of ordering “Full power to the shields!” try dropping your emotional shields. Trust someone to see your hurts. Trust someone to walk with you in the pain and trust that you will “go boldly where no man has gone before.”
– Get Norris’ latest book, “Thriving Beyond Surviving” at www.thechaplain.net. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 843-608-9715.