Faith · Parenting

What Makes You Cry—With Joy?

I cry easily. I cry over movies, books, and commercials … I cry on behalf of total strangers I read about online … I cry when animals are rescued from a cruel fate … I cry when I laugh really hard … you get the picture.

I also cry when I feel overwhelmed. Including feeling overwhelmed with joy.

Here’s one example of crying with overwhelming joy: I’ve always been one to appreciate human creativity and excellence, and for my whole life I can remember crying while being in the presence of a creative person doing something very, very well and with great passion. I love the arts, so I’ve spent more than my fair share of time crying over art and artists of every kind—dancers, actors, singers, musicians, writers, and even sometimes at visual arts that are highly moving to me.

Maybe you cry easily, too, and if you’re a mom, you’ve probably had more than one occasion to cry over your children—with joy. And this article is about joy, not about the many times we surely cry over the struggles and difficulties of child-rearing.

You may have young children, or your kids may be grown. If you’re a crier, let me warn you now that the tears will continue to flow even over your adult children, and at times when you’d least expect it.

Tears of joy that took me completely off guard

Our oldest son is in seminary and when he finished finals week after his first fall semester (pre-COVID), he texted my husband to tell him about the last day in one of his classes. The professor brought in a sword (no idea why, but I’m sure it was impressive) and then: “Someone brought in a figgy pudding and we poured brandy over it and set it on fire while we all stood around it singing Joy to the World.”

In retrospect, I can see that this would have been a good moment for me to laugh, give a wry smile, or even perhaps roll my eyes, enjoying the humorous moment with my husband over our son’s amusing text.

But instead, I burst into tears.

It was a one- or two-minute cry at the most. Nothing over the top, nothing alarming. My husband is used to it so he didn’t blink an eye. But I was baffled.

Why on earth was I crying? Sure, it could be hormonal—there’s always that possibility— but what was going through my head that was triggering this wave of emotion over a flaming figgy pudding?

Looking at my son through two windows, side by side

In one window of my mind’s eye, I could see my adult son at seminary, studying the one and only thing he was interested in after his four years in the Marines. He was finding his niche, finding his place in the world as an adult, and finding his calling.

In the other window of my mind’s eye, I could see the boy he had been, at every stage and in every situation. Of our four children, his was the most challenging young childhood and I was at my least confident as a mom. I was both a new Christian with no religious upbringing or example, and also an extremely inexperienced parent. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, and I didn’t have an easy child on my hands.

Oh, I read all the “right” books and I listened to all the “right” people. None of it helped, because my child didn’t fit the mold. But instead of realizing this and allowing myself and my son grace, I jumped right to blaming myself and assumed that I must be doing something wrong. It was a hard time.

So as I envisioned my adult son enjoying this somewhat bizarre and thoroughly fun way to end his first semester at seminary, I simultaneously saw his entire previous life here at home—everything that had brought him to this point, all the years of struggle and joy, all the hopes and prayers, one by one.

And my tears flowed because of overwhelming joy at my son’s present life, his overcoming many childhood challenges, and the minutes, hours, and years of my own faith in him and seeing it all come to fruition.

Tears of joy for the goodness of God’s grace

Crying over my adult children sometimes involves big life events or milestones (military enlistment, a wedding, a pregnancy announcement). But what really catches me off guard are the little moments, the unexpected tears that come simply as a result of God’s grace. The realization that all through the years, God has loved my children even more than I do, and unlike my many parenting mistakes along the way, God has done it perfectly. He has known and loved them from the beginning of time, long before they were “mine” for a few years. Each of my children have been, and are, a part of his plan, just as I have been.

This is one of the many things that makes me cry—with joy.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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