Listen to Your Tears

by | Feb 18, 2013 | Uncategorized


Chills form on my forearm as I lean on the door throwing kisses to H and Harrison seated in the car. The cold wind whips underneath the garage door as it makes a slow descent, marking the start of a new day.  Turning around to silence, I pick up my cup of tea steaming on the kitchen counter and sit down at my desk to read the Psalms with a blanket over my knees. And I wipe away the tears streaming down my face.

I don’t remember a day in 2012 that I didn’t cry after my family left the house to begin their day.

After four decades of walking with Christ, my idealistic view of the faithful shattered in the duplicitous actions of leaders I’d grown to love.  It took a year of wrestling with the words of David to heal. He put meaning to my grief, forming sentences from the heap of hollow holiness strewn on the doorstep of my faith.  His laments, they helped me to find hope again.

Last week, as I sat in a conference space listening to Emily Freeman say listen to your tears, I realized that there are an entirely different kind of tears I hadn’t given a second thought.

Unlike tears of sorrow, she spoke of tears that come from a place deep inside, where the heart sings. And now, instead of trying to gather myself during a sermon or wipe off the mascara before it leaves black streaks on my cheeks in a movie theater, I’m paying attention.

“It’s not enough to say a story moved you but think about what it was about that story that moved you.  That is a hint to where you are most fully alive. They are not just tears, they are tiny messengers sent to tell you, here is where your heart beats strong, a hint to your design, your image bearing identity.”  ~Emily Freeman

Days before I listened to Emily, I sat in my pajamas scrolling through the ethereal photos on the website of a gifted photographer, piling up wads of wet tissue on my desk feeling ridiculous. On another day, I used my bed sheet to wipe my face while watching a documentary on a man of faith, living joyful without the use of his legs. It’s not uncommon for me to cry while witnessing a firefighter or policeman do his/her job.

Tears, that’s probably why I’ve watched The Holiday repeatedly. If you’ve seen it, you know Cameron Diaz’ character cannot cry for years until she experiences true love.

And I realized that redemption, it moves me to tears. Watching someone live it out is an act of worship. It’s how I know when I’m most fully alive. Because every time I see redemption present in someone else, it’s a reminder of the gift in my own life. The beauty of redemption, it makes my heart sing.

This year I’m smiling my way through the Psalms and laughing about the pile of tissues on my lap.

I’m just wondering, have you thought about your tears as tiny messengers giving you hints to the way God made you to bear His image?

Linking with Michelle, Laura, Heather and Jen.

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  1. kelli woodford

    oooh, love this one, Shelly.
    my tears are often and many these days.

    when i see people unafraid to share their sorrows, i think, i am moved the most deeply. it seems easier for us, as people, to only share what seems positive and upbeat, without acknowledging sometimes, that the things that break us are often the most redemptive parts of our story. they are the cracks where the Light breaks through.

    meeting those brave ones who admit their brokenness with grace is rare in a world covered with happy-varnish an inch thick. and it’s gotta be the truest form of both fellowship and faith. at the same time.

    • Shelly Miller

      I love what you say here Kelli. I think there is some untrue teaching that Christians believe, that we are somehow not measuring up spiritually when we admit we struggle. We’ve categorized emotions as being bad and good, yet He makes them all. It’s in revealing the broken places that healing begins.

  2. Beth

    So beautiful! “The beauty of redemption, it makes my heart sing.” Reading this made me realize I had several moments this past weekend where someone really shared their heart and it made my heart sing to see how God was at work in their life. Thank you for your beautiful words.

    • Shelly Miller

      Love this realization Beth, it feels a lot like the one I had while I listened to Emily. And sometimes those ah-ha moments are the door opening to a whole new world we hadn’t explored yet. So glad to meet you through the writers group.

  3. lauralynnbrown

    YES. Or, as the young people say, I know, right?

    Years ago, during a very rough patch, for months I was unable to cry. I felt not fully human. I remember the day, the place, the tears came back, and that was one of the ways I knew I was getting better.

    Did you know that emotion tears have a different chemical makeup than, say, grit-in-your-eye tears or pain tears? Higher protein content, I think. As if something physiologically necessary is happening there. Something weighty being shed.

    And then there’s that odd and oddly comforting passage — in one of the Psalms, I think — about God collecting tears in a bottle.

    • Jillie

      “Something weighty being shed”. I like that. Will remember it next time I’m feeling really sad.

    • Shelly Miller

      I remember you saying something like this once to me Laura awhile ago when I mentioned tears. It stuck with me. Thanks for explaining this, it’s quite interesting.

  4. Sharon O

    For years I couldn’t cry. I was sad. I was deeply moved. But the tears were locked away in a forever sealed off room of my heart never to be released until God through Jesus through the gentle moving and touch of the Holy Spirit entered into that closed off space. He said to me, “feel”… He said to me, “let go”… my heart broke in shattered pieces fragmented into crystals reflecting his love for me and the pain I bore deep inside. Tears follow me now. In church mostly. In conversations with others too. I do not try to hide them, I let them fall. Like you say, “I am becoming more alive”. It is a good thing.

    • Shelly Miller

      Sharon, this is such a beautiful story of God loving you and your release of all you held inside to Him. I’m so grateful.

  5. Emma

    Have I thought about my tears as tiny messengers giving you hints to the way God made you bear his image? No, but I am thinking now. Thank you. Emma

    • Shelly Miller

      Love you Emma, your heart is so very teachable. It’s a great attribute.

  6. Sylvia R

    Shelly, did this ever speak to me! For one thing, some of your words could have been mine. Like “After four decades of walking with Christ, my idealistic view of the faithful shattered in the duplicitous actions of leaders I’d grown to love,” only it would have been three decades. But about the tears, oh what truth! Psychologist Harriet Braiker called them “emotional punctuation” that helps us realize what’s going on in our hearts. Just yesterday I got clued in this way when my own words welled up the wetness.

    However, for a period in my life, too, I just did not cry. one. tear. Result: I ended up in depression! So much for that! Tears are a healthy release.

    But the tears moved by holy joy, oh, they are the best! What a blessing this post is to me today! (I could almost cry!)

    • Shelly Miller

      I’m so thankful for the way God redeemed that period in your life as well. That you are free from depression and unafraid to shed those beautiful tears. Rejoicing with you Sylvia.

  7. Debbie Petras

    I am one who doesn’t cry easily. I see people touched so easily and tears roll down their cheeks. There are times when I wonder what is wrong with me. But then I remember when I was a little girl and I heard my mother crying in her room. I heard my name and wondered why I was causing all this pain and tears. Later I found out that was when they had learned I had a congenital heart defect and the doctors had nothing at that time to offer me. This was in the 1950’s after all. Even in the hospital years later I remember in my seven year old mind …don’t cry. I weathered many injections, IV’s and procedures without crying.

    So I guess you can see a pattern developing. I am healthy now. But it’s only more recently that the tears are beginning to appear. And I know God sees the tears I never shed but did so in my heart.

    Your post was beautiful and gave me much to think about Shelly. I love the quote you shared by Emily Freeman. And I’ve watched The Holiday many many times.

    Blessings and love,

    • Shelly Miller

      It’s so amazing how an incidence like the one you describe with your mother, can find a place to grow in the crevices of our heart without our knowledge and become the core of our thinking. I’m thankful that God never lets us go, is so steadfast in his love for us, that his commitment to our wholeness never wanes. Thankful you shared this Debbie.

  8. Jillie

    This post touched me deeply, Shelly. You’ve hit a real nerve with this one. I’ve never thought about my tears in quite the way Emily expressed it. To think that where I am most deeply touched, is the place I am most fully alive. And that it’s part of my ‘design’ by the Father Himself?!?
    Lately it would seem, I am most fully alive when hearing about the young girls held in bondage to the sex trade going on all over the world. Oh, how it grieves my heart. It also makes me very angry.
    Next time I’m watching one of my ‘sappy’ movies, I will pay closer attention to the things that move me to tears. I’ve never considered digging deeper into the ‘whys’ of my tears, but I will now. Thank you for this.

    • Shelly Miller

      I think the anger is just as much of an indicator about the way He made as the tears. It’s really about passion welling up from deep inside and pouring out in our tears. And perhaps there is something God wants you to do with that emotion Jillie, regarding those shackled by the sex trafficking.

  9. ro elliott

    Tears as tiny messengers…I love this…for years my emotions were so locked up…pain…sadness but no tears…as God has brought healing…tears accompanied the process…but I have never really stopped to ask sometimes…what are these tears trying to speak to me… I feel them pooling this morning…as they come…I will listen more intently. thanks for sharing this wisdom…blessings~

    • Shelly Miller

      It’s a great exercise that has given me some insight about the message He is asking me to share Ro. I’m glad you will be more alert to your tears now too.

  10. Jamie H

    How I needed to read this today! I will ponder it the rest of the day. I’m writing a series of posts on decluttering my heart. I’ve cried a lot of tears over unfulfilled dreams here recently. Where did you hear Emily speak and is her message available for download? I am curious. 🙂

    • Shelly Miller

      She spoke at the Anglican Mission Winter Conference that my husband led in Greensboro last week. We did tape her talk and will have them available for purchase. Email me at if you want me to send one to you. I’ve listened to it three times already, so good.

  11. Lisa notes...

    “And I realized that redemption, it moves me to tears. Watching someone live it out is an act of worship. It’s how I know when I’m most fully alive.”

    Yes, yes, yes. I cry easily, too, but they’re not necessarily sad tears. Just moved tears. Seeing God at work–it should move us all. Thanks for this.

    • Shelly Miller

      You know, I always knew I could cry easily over certain circumstances but I never really paid that much attention to the common thread in all those moments. I’m grateful now to have this kind of intentionality about it.

  12. Beth Steffaniak

    I’ve seen on many blogs the statement that tears are “liquid prayers.” I think that’s what you’re talking about here. They really do say something about how God is moving in us and what God wants us to see and learn from. I’m so glad that He is speaking “regularly” to you, Shelly. I see it in your writing and insight into His heart. Thanks for reminding me to stop and really pay attention even to the softness of a tear.

    • Shelly Miller

      Thankful you see that Beth, that is an answer to prayer for me.

  13. Jennifer Camp

    Shelly, I love this and will be thinking about this for a while. My tears come for redemption, too–for stories of His amazing love, for His grabbing us by the hand and showing us what He has and His strength is enough, all while His goodness is nothing we deserve.

    • Shelly Miller

      You have such a tender heart Jennifer, that doesn’t surprise me at all.

  14. Barbie

    Tears, these are something that don’t come easy for me. There are moments when I can feel my tears, in the depth of my soul, yet I don’t cry. I have been praying and asking the Lord to unlock my tears. I know there is so much healing there. Thank you for this beautiful post.

    • Shelly Miller

      I’m joining you in that prayer Barbie, may He uncork the tears that leads you to a new place of healing and freedom.

  15. Nikki

    I have an easy time shedding tears for another and do often–you make me wail repeatedly:)…it’s giving myself permission to spend them on myself I struggle with. I love Emily’s perspective…and yours, Shelly. Thank you for this gift to me.

    • Shelly Miller

      Praying you give yourself permission Nikki, to love yourself this way.And maybe crying for others is actually your heart resonating and letting go too.

  16. Laurie Byrne

    My heart sings….A LOT. Needless to say, I cry. A LOT! 🙂 Thank you for this perspective. I’m beginning to stop apologizing so much for my tears and instead learn what moves me.

    • Shelly Miller

      Glad you aren’t apologizing for the tears and embracing them instead.

  17. Nancy Ruegg

    With many others who have already commented, I add my voice to the declaration cry: I will listen to my tears–to know myself more and the purpose I’ve been designed to fulfill. But I’m also thinking of tears as the window-washing agent for my soul so I can see God and His glory more fully. Thank you for opening my eyes to this principle, Shelly. Bring on the tears!!

    • Shelly Miller

      Like that analogy of tears being the window washing for the soul Nancy.

  18. Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    I don’t cry much. I need to learn to let it go. Thanks, Shelly, for this encouragement.

    • Shelly Miller

      It’s actually amazing how much better you feel after crying Sheila.

  19. Lolita Valle

    I know that I miss coming here and seeing the new look, the new banner-means I’ve been of the net for so long, almost six months.

    And then as I read redemption, my eyes mist with the knowledge that I myself, most often, don’t take much notice of why I cry (which is not common). Then I realize that the times that I do, are the times that I am most alive and most shining in Jesus’ image. I need to find them and let Jesus redeem those nooks that have chilled.

    Thank you for this, Shelly. I miss your words and I hunger for these “redemptions beauty” spilling in abundance here.

    • Shelly Miller

      Lolita, I have had you on my mind so much since I saw a comment over on Pam’s blog. I’ve missed your voice here in the conversations. It’s a gift to see you here again. I hope you won’t stay away so long this time.

  20. Kelly Hausknecht Chripczuk

    Lovely. I have a habit of surpising myself and others with giant, crocodile tears and, over the years, I’ve learned to listen to them, to stop and pause and treat them as the holy guests they are.

    • Shelly Miller

      That is a gift Kelly, to recognize the need of a pause and reflection. May you be an inspiration to others who struggle to understand their tears.

  21. Elizabeth Stewart

    Thank you. I think it’s easy for me to understand my moments of sad tears, but the ones that come from that place of deep joy and contentment, those that reveal who I am and what stirs me, those are the ones I haven’t paid enough attention to.

    • Shelly Miller

      Hope you will now Elizabeth. 🙂

  22. Jody Collins

    I’ve been hearing God say ‘rest, abide, be still’ this year (even before your Sabbath idea 🙂 and have found LL Barkat’s ‘God in the Yard’ a remarkable tool to that end. I’m reading Chapter 4 ‘Weep:Celebration’ where she talks about the fact that we cannot have joy aside from grief–and I never could put it into words why that was so. I was raised in an alcoholic home and by God’s grace was saved out of that, but many of the things Jesus has healed me from (and continues to heal me from) are the emotions I never let go of….Tears–‘the window washer of the soul’, as my friend Nancy said earlier, flooding, cleansing, a river, eh? at times.

    I look forward to the whole beautiful story of how God redeems this chapter in your life. The beauty shines through, friend.

    • Shelly Miller

      That book has really touched you in a deep way Jody. It sounds like one I should invest in. And I agree, we cannot know true joy until we wade through grief.

  23. Kris Camealy

    I so identify with this, Shelly. redemption moves me deeply, tears come without warning, and I weep with no ability to suppress them. And I feel so raw living this way, but I cannot contain them, when I read redemption stories, or see the fruit and process of redemption. it’s as if a part of my heart splits inside and the overflow of gratitude and the humbling of grace pour out. I wept my way through Les Mis, and the part that wrecked me so deeply, was in the chapel when Hugh Jackman is just weeping so desperately through his song after the priest has pardoned Him. Redemption. It is a vast gift that we cannot fathom, and it splits me wide open every single time. Thank you for sharing this, I feel less alone in my messy state. Love you.

    • Shelly Miller

      I think you would have to park a box of Kleenex between us if we ever see a movie together Kris.

  24. bluecottonmemory

    I cried tears when I experienced travail – where the Holy Spirit mourns through you to the tips of your soul, one Sunday, I was crying during Praise and Worship and I learned over telling my husband I think we were expecting our 5th child – because the only time I cried during P&R was when I was pregnant – a little LOL there – I had not clue until that moment – proud crying when my son’s graduated – crying, it seems, goes with every occasion:)

    • Shelly Miller

      Yes, I think you are right. And its good to listen to the tears to know where they come from and what message they bring.

  25. floyd

    Okay… A man’s perspective? Beautiful post. The heartbreaks in life aren’t prejudice to gender… nor is a melancholy heart. Men generally have more control over those types of emotions… tears. But knowing the reason for the sadness and seeking our Father during those times are universal.

    At night… in the difficult times, tears can catch up with me…

    • Shelly Miller

      It’s so good to have a man’s perspective here Floyd. Glad you are weighing in. I spoke to my husband about this too. He said almost the very same thing you said and it’s something I need to remember.

      • Pam

        I was just sitting in a theater tonight with friends, watching a movie about the life and conversion of St. Augustine…my friend and I wiping tears on one side, while i heard her husband sniffing them away on my other… Reminded me of how I used to hear my dad doing the same when watching programs that evoke the heart. Maybe something in the darkness of a theater (or evening, as Floyd said) that reaches men too…

  26. Megan Willome

    I’m a crier, too.

    • Shelly Miller

      I gathered that when you broke into tears the first time we met at Laity. Love you Megan.

  27. Laura Boggess

    Such wisdom from Emily. Yes. Living with three males, I’m often the only one left in a blubber after touching incidents but I’ve come to embrace this part of me :). I don’t know that I’ve thought of tears as messengers, but that is a lovely way to see them. Maybe at the Jumping Tandem retreat I will have to borrow a tissue from you :).

    • Shelly Miller

      YAY! I didn’t know you were coming Laura. I am so excited. I actually must’ve said five or six times at the Laity Retreat that I wished you were there. I can’t wait to meet you in real life.

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