Permission to Weep, Cry, and Mourn (Even if You’re a Leader)

We are living in difficult times. Covid-19 has caused the end of many lives, infected countless others, and shut down millions of jobs.

I’ve seen many people talk about the ways they’re trying to make the most of this difficult time – they’re completing projects, spending time with family, and trying to grow as a person. These are all noble tasks – we need to encourage each other to learn and grow and find joy in challenging circumstances.

This, however, is not one of those posts.

Instead, my goal is simple: to give you permission to simply weep, cry, or mourn. If you’re sick of hearing others tell you that someday will wish we were back in quarantine, if you miss your friends and family, if you are disheartened because of your circumstances, then this post is for you.

social distancing photo

The importance of weeping has been lost in many corners of modern christianity. Our culture often dictates that we should be happy and joyful all the time. We have Jesus, so nothing should bother us, right?!

And yet, Scripture is filled with examples of important figures, leaders, and even Jesus himself taking the time to weep.

So let’s get started – let’s talk about why we need to take time ourselves to weep, cry, or mourn.

What does it mean to weep?

The word “weep” can have intense emotional connotations, but effectively it simply means “to shed tears.” They may be slow and quiet, or loud and furious. You might call it mourning, you might just call it crying or feeling sad.

Whatever you want to call it, you should know that not only does the Bible give us permission to weep, it encourages at times. In fact, there is an entire book of the Bible dedicated to Lamentations.

Biblical figures typically weep when they encounter the world as it was not meant to be. The same is true for us today.

We were created for eternity, and so death causes weeping. We were made for oneness with God, and so separation from Him brings tears. We were designed to love others, and so isolation can hurt and cause great pain. We were placed in the Garden of Eden to work, and so when work gets taken away from us challenges our self-worth.

Examples of People Weeping in the Bible

There are countless people who spend time weeping in the Bible. A quick search of the concordance shows that the word “weep” appears 101 times, “wept” appears 68 times, “mourn” appears 120 times, and “sorrow” appears 49 times to describe people’s emotions. I won’t list them all here, but I did want to highlight a few key examples:

  1. Joseph weeps with his brothers: Joseph spent years in Egypt as a slave and in then as a prisoner. He eventually became like a King, but you could understand if he held a grudge against his brothers who sold him into slavery in the first place. Instead, he offers them forgiveness and weeps with them in Genesis 45:14-15: “Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him.” In fact, Joseph weeps at least 9 different times in the story. 
  2. Ruth wept when she said goodbye to Orpah: Ruth and Orpah were sisters-in-law, but Ruth chose to go with Naomi and Orpah chose to stay with her biological family. Everyone wept at their parting in Ruth 1:14, “Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
  3. Hannah wept because she was barren: In I Samuel 1, we meet a woman named Hannah who desperately wants children. Scripture says she wept “bitterly” and “would not eat” because she had so much trouble conceiving. Eventually, God answers her prayers and she gives birth to Samuel.
  4. King David wept several times: Despite being a legendary warrior, David did not hide his emotions. He wept frequently, including 1 Samuel 20, when he weeps because he will no longer see his friend Jonathan again. Later, in 2 Samuel 12 and 2 Samuel 18, he wept for the death of his sons. The Psalms are filled with songs of grief and sorrow.
  5. King Josiah wept when he recognized the depths of Israel’s sin: In 2 Kings 22, King Josiah discovers the book of the law. It had been lost to Judah because their kings had been so evil. When he learned the words, he realized how great the sin of his people was and he wept. In Nehemiah 8:9-10, the people of Israel weep for the same reason when they hear the word of God.
  6. Jesus wept when Lazarus died: Even though Jesus knew he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, he still wept at the loss of life and the pain for Mary and Martha. John 11:35 is famously the shortest verse in the Bible, and keeps things simple: “Jesus wept.” This was not his only experience of grief, Isaiah 53:3 called him a “man of sorrows.”

Again, there are plenty more examples of people who spent time weeping. Think of Job, Ezra, Esther, Abraham, Adam and Eve, Mary Magdalene, Peter, and countless others who took time to mourn their circumstances and the loss caused by sin in their lives and in the world.

It’s important to properly mourn the big things

I think for most people, we give ourselves permission to mourn the big things. It’s ok to be sad when a family member dies. It’s ok to be sad when a loved one gets cancer. It’s ok to cry when the church gets persecuted or nations go to war or people go hungry.

And yet, many of us still struggle to allow grief to run its course. We can cry once or twice, but after that we need to get positive. Sorrowful emotions may begin to rise, but we push them back down because we need to get on with our day or year or life.

funeral photo

Did you know that, when Joseph’s father Jacob died in Genesis 50, the people of Egypt wept for 70 days?!

So how long is the appropriate amount of time to grieve? Diane Langberg, a psychiatrist who specializes in caring for trauma victims and clergy, explained it this way:


“The length of the grieving is determined by the griever – not by how long you, as comforter, can stand to be sad.”

If you are grieving something, then don’t beat yourself up about it if you’re still sad after days or weeks or even months. It’s ok – grieve as long as you need to.

Romans 12:15 reminds us to “weep with those who weep,” so if you’re close to someone who is in mourning, then give them time and space to grieve as much as they need. Weep with them, and don’t try to force them to rejoice until they’re ready.

It’s good to mourn the small things too

I’ve had my fair share of zoom meetings and phone calls. Lots of people seem slightly embarrassed to be struggling right now for a variety of “small” reasons.

I’m not sure what makes one cause “small” and another “big,” but most would agree that missing sports is a smaller sacrifice than losing a job or losing a loved one to Covid-19.

zoom calls are not the same!

But I’m here to tell you, even if you still have a job and your family is healthy, it is ok to mourn the “small” things too. There is no competition to see who can handle the most amount of grief before cracking. Things could, quite literally, always be worse, but that doesn’t mean we cannot grieve when things are not the way they were meant to be.

For our family, we’ve been sad over a lot of things during this season:

  • We love community, and we miss seeing friends and family. Zoom is nice, but it’s not the same thing. We are so desperate to connect with friends.
  • We love our church, and feel disappointment every Sunday that we cannot go worship God with our church family.
  • Our son was supposed to have his 4th birthday party, but it’s been postponed indefinitely. He LOVES birthday parties.
  • My wife and I really miss the ability to go on dates.
  • I love baseball so much. And it’s not happening.

Some of these may seem trivial to you, and to be honest some of them probably are. And yet, our family has had to stop and shed tears multiple times throughout this extended period of social distancing. We miss people, and when you add these recent challenges to some of the other challenges we’ve felt, there is a cumulative effect.

There are other “small things” as well. I’ve heard from people who are sad because they’re missing prom or graduation. Others were promised a promotion and it’s been put on hold. Kids actually miss going to school. Vacations have been cancelled. Businesses are struggling.

Everyone is operating at a higher than average anxiety level. Change is hard, especially when it cuts off many of the things you love.

Covid-19 is affecting everyone in different ways, so if you’re feeling sad about things that others may think are small, then don’t waste time feeling guilty about it. Yes, you should be thankful for the good things you have received in life and don’t forget about them. At the same time, we were made for perfection, and so anything short of that is worth mourning.

Why it’s good to weep (even if you’re a leader)

Many of us have the idea that it’s bad to cry, especially if you’re a leader. We need to put on a happy face, to show others our joy in all things and at all times. We irrationally believe that if others see us get sad, they will lose hope and give up.

I do believe that Christians and leaders are called to respond to grief differently, after all we have an eternal hope in Jesus. One day things will be put back together and made right. Despite our future hope, however, things are not ok today and that is sometimes worth weeping about. Just ask Joseph or Ruth or Hannah or King David.

There are several benefits to weeping. I’m not a qualified grief counselor, but here are a few observations from the Bible and my personal experience:

1) Emotions were made to be released:

My therapist once told me, “emotions are like poop. They need to get out or you’ll start to feel pretty messed up.”

I can’t pretend to know the science behind these things. All I know is, that when I hold my emotions back it leads to anxiety and stress or numbness that can last for days or weeks or months.

I am not a very emotional person. I have gone years without shedding a tear, but the challenges of the past year have changed that.

I am far from an expert, but I can tell you with certainty that, when I do release the emotions or give my self a chance to weep, I feel a lot better when it’s done.

2) Weeping connects us to others:

If you’ve never seen the movie, Inside Out, you should know it’s one of the smartest movies I’ve ever seen. It explores our emotions in a creative and helpful way. The main character of the movie is a girl named Riley, and we follow 5 different emotions that operate inside Riley’s brain.

The lead emotion is named Joy, and she works really hard to keep Riley happy all of the time. As sad things start to happen in Riley’s life (a move across country, a smaller home, a new school with no friends, etc), the emotion named Sadness starts getting more involved. Joy keeps suppressing sadness, however, trying to keep Riley happy.

This leads to Riley becoming emotionally numb, and she starts to make some poor decisions. It is only when Sadness is allowed to step forward, to be expressed, that Riley is able to start healing. In this scene, Riley returns to her parents and expresses her sadness. It’s a powerful scene and a great example of how weeping connects us to others:

When we hide our grief, we begin to feel isolated. Not only that, but others who are grieving nearby can feel isolated. Nobody feels ok, and because no one will take the lead, everyone thinks they’re struggling alone.

This is why, as a leader, it is so important for you to share your grief with others. People see your grief as permission to grieve themselves. And of course, when you see others mourn it draws you closer to them. Everyone has experienced grief, and so grieving brings us together when we need it most.

3) Tears can strengthen our resolve:

I’ve always been inspired by Nehemiah‘s response when he learns the walls of Jerusalem are in shambles. Nehemiah 1:4 describes the scene: “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.

He was devastated. He didn’t try to ignore the problem or think happy thoughts. He mourned for days. Walls may not seem important to you, but they were important to Nehemiah and his people.

But that’s not the end of the story, is it?

ancient walls photo

After the tears finished rolling, Nehemiah decided to do something about the tragic news. He resolved to fix the walls, and he boldly went before the King to ask for permission and aide. He led a completely random group of Israelites to rebuild the wall. He faced down enemies both external and internal. And he rebuilt the walls that protected his home city and gave it a sense of identity.

It’s hard to believe Nehemiah would have been moved to do so much if he didn’t first spend so much time weeping. Buddy Hoffman, who was the pastor of the church I worked for, once said “you can identify your calling when you recognize what breaks your heart.”

It’s hard to know what breaks your heart until you shed the tears. But when those tears come, they can help strengthen your resolve and your dependence on the Lord to make change happen in the world.

4) God listens to our tears:

One final benefit of weeping is that God listens to our tears. He is our Father, and any good father longs to comfort their children when they weep.

Earlier I mentioned how Josiah wept when he learned about the law. The Bible actually records God’s response to Josiah in 2 Kings 22:18-19

Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard, because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the Lord.”

God heard Josiah because of his weeping. Does God hear everything anyway? Yes, of course He does! But our tears change things somehow – they move Him to mercy and compassion. They move Him to act. Throughout the Bible, we see God doing incredible works because of the tears of his people.

Best of all, the Bible ends with a promise to wipe away our tears and that there will be no crying or death anymore.

Take time to weep, but do not forget the hope you have

It is important to weep, but it is also important to be thankful. It’s important to shed tears, but it’s also important to have joy. It’s good to mourn, but it’s vital to hold onto our hope.

It’s a strange balancing act: on the one hand, we know that someday broken things will be put back together. On the other hand, things are still broken today and that is worth mourning.

The Psalms are filled with this balancing act. Psalms 42 is a great example of this – The Psalmist describes his anguish in verse 3 by saying, “My tears have been my food day and night.” Later, in verse 5, verse 11, and then Psalms 43:5, he reminds himself of the hope he has:

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

These are the words of a man who has known great pain, who has mourned and wept. But he is not broken, he still has a hope because of his Savior and his God.

I saw this quote last week around Easter from David Mathis:

“Easter is not an occasion to repress whatever ails you and put on a happy face. Rather, the joy of Easter speaks tenderly to the pains that plague you. Whatever loss you lament, whatever burden weighs you down, Easter says, “It will not always be this way for you. The new age has begun. Jesus has risen, and the kingdom of the Messiah is here. He has conquered death and sin and hell. He is alive and on his throne. And he is putting your enemies, all your enemies, under his feet.”

A day will come when Jesus wipes away every tear from your eyes, and so we should not despair. We can press on, we can persevere, and we can feel no shame when the tears flow.

After all, if we refuse to shed tears, then Jesus would have nothing to wipe away.

Conclusion

Our family has a lot to be thankful for right now. We’re all alive, we’re all healthy. We know Jesus, and we have good friends (even if we can’t see them face to face). I have a good job and God has provided for us in some remarkable ways.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend like our struggles are better or worse than yours. There is no need to compete here. We have spent time mourning and we have spent time counting our blessings.

John Stott points once wrote, “There is a time to laugh, and there is a time to weep,” said the Preacher in Ecclesiastes. Moreover, we are followers of One who went about saying, “Be of good cheer.… Go in peace,” yet was called “the Man of sorrows.”

Wherever you find yourself, just know that it’s ok to not be ok. The Gospel we believe does not call us to be saints so we can approach God, it calls us to recognize our own brokenness and seek God from a position of need. Wherever you are, He longs to love you, justify you, sanctify you, and glorify you. So shed a tear if you need to, and then call to the Lord.

Additional Resources:

I’ve said this a couple times already in this post, but I’m not an expert on grief. I’ve brought together a few helpful resources below, and of course I strongly recommend you reach out to a licensed therapist or counselor if your experiencing grief that is more than you can bare. It’s ok to not be ok, and it’s ok to ask for help.

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Comments 2

  1. Lisa Renee Brittain April 20, 2020
    • Evan April 22, 2020

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