GOOD GRIEF

Types of tears

This is a repost from 2017, but I think it is timely this holiday weekend when so many are dealing with grief and the empty chair. Sending you all blessings and wishes for a happy Thanksgiving.

Have you ever wondered why we were created with the ability to cry?  I am privileged to sit alongside my clients as they shed many tears.  People are usually embarrassed and tell me they are sorry for crying, but I tell them they never have to apologize for shedding tears.  In my own life, I have gone through a seasons of tears.  There were days when I wondered how I could produce so much water!  Finally I decided to do a little research on crying and what the Bible has to say about it.

According to scientists, there are three types of tears and they all differ in their function and chemical makeup.  All tears are salt water and they drain through our nasal cavity, which is why so many of us have to blow our noses after a good cry.  Basal tears are the tears that we have in our eyes all the time.  They keep our eyes from drying out.  We produce about 5 – 10 ounces of basal tears every day.  Basal tears are about 98% water. 

Reflexive tears are those that protect the eye from irritants, such as smoke, onions, or dust.  The sensory nerves in your cornea send a message to your brainstem that in turn sends hormones to the glands in the eyes that produce tears.  These tears contain a bio-chemical called lysozyme, an antibacterial protection for the eyes.  

The third type is emotional tears.  Most scientists believe that only humans are capable of producing this type of tear. God created us with this unique ability among all His creatures.  I think it is interesting that Jesus (God in human form) also wept (John 11:35; Luke 19:41).  These emotional tears are the ones I am most curious about, and it turns out that they have special health benefits.  Dr. William Frey, a biochemist at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis, has done extensive research on tears.  He discovered that emotional tears contain stress hormones that are excreted from the body through crying.  Dr. Frey’s research suggests that when we are under stress, even good stress, our bodies produce stress hormones which are necessary for a fight-or-flight response.  However, over prolonged periods of time, these hormones can be dangerous to our health.  Dr. Frey proposes that tears are the body’s mechanism for releasing these built up toxins.  Crying is beneficial to your health, and research shows that stifling emotional tears can elevate the risk of heart disease and hypertension.  Psychologists believe that those who are experiencing grief do better through talking and crying, rather than holding it all in.  Sometimes having a good cry is the healthiest thing you can do.

The Bible has a great deal to say about crying.  In fact, there are almost 700 references to crying and tears in Scripture.  One thing stands out loud and clear: God sees our tears.  David says in Psalm 56:8: “You keep track of all my sorrows.  You have collected all my tears in your bottle.  You have recorded each one in your book.”  Tear bottles were used in ancient (and in some more modern) times during mourning.  They were used to collect the tears of the bereaved and often buried along with the deceased as a sign of respect.  

God collects our tears.  He knows when we are grieving, hurt, sad, frustrated, and angry.  He even knows when we cry tears of joy.  He sees every tear that falls.  And He records all these tears in His book of remembrance (Malachi 3:16).  God keeps a database of all our sorrows.  And He promises to wipe away all our tears when we get to Heaven (Revelation 21:4), where death, sorrow, crying, and pain will be gone forever.  

We take comfort in these things.  We are so fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), that even our tears have a purpose here on earth.  But when we get to Heaven there will be no need for tears.  God Himself will tenderly wipe them away.

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 (NIV).

Author: Fran Carona, Ph.D.

I am a wife, mother, grandmother, and licensed clinical psychologist.

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