Why it's OK to cry in church
A group of us has just got back from New Wine United, a big Christian conference where 10,000 people camped out for a week in the Cambridgeshire countryside to worship together, pray and experience God. I was going to write a blog describing what such a conference looks like, but I’ll save that for another time. One thing that happened a lot there was that people cried. And people cry a lot in church. This is normal, it’s OK and I’m going to explain why.
First, a confession: I am a terrible weeper. I cry in Disney films and when TV characters get killed off. I was on the top deck of a bus in Zimbabwe when I finished reading Nicholas Nickleby and I was a complete mess. When I was at Vicar Factory, both my parents died just over three months apart from each other; I cried a lot then too, and I still shed the occasional tear thirteen years later. Leading worship can be a very emotional experience too and I’ve cried at the front numerous times.
It’s common to cry in church; I should know, I’ve been at the front of a lot of services. In any given service, there’s a number of people in tears. Yet when you see people crying, they often apologise. I suppose we’re British, and any public display of emotion is potentially challenging. I’ve even heard people apologise for crying when they’re newly bereaved, but surely if there’s any time when it’s OK to cry, it must be when someone you love has just died?
Here’s the thing, and the connection with New Wine: when the Holy Spirit touches you, it’s common to be in tears. God’s Spirit ministers to the broken parts of us, the deep hurts that may go back a long way. Sometimes your spirit will need to let go of strong emotions, and that can mean tears. As an experienced pastor, let me give you permission to cry. Let it all out. And don’t reach straight for the Pastoral Tissues (you know, that box that’s handy in every church). It’s OK to be in a mess with God for a while; don’t wipe it up straight away.
Of course God himself is a weeper: the shortest verse in the Bible says, ‘Jesus wept.’ (John 11:35) He’s also the one who makes the most incredible promise about the future for believers in him: ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ (Revelation 21:4)