High River United Church of High River, Alberta


Playing with Sadness - the Blessing of Tears

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Time to play with sadness!  We’ve all done it.  Boo, hoo, hoo! we have playfully cried. And we might even end up giggling at the end of our playful sadness.


Real tears, real sadness, is essential to our well-being.  Tears are not a sign of weakness.  Tears are the movement of very real emotions deep within.  If we don’t cry, or at least feel sadness to the point where we can feel tears at the edges of our eyes, then the emotions get stuck and harm us, and sometimes others, in the long run.  But tears can be hard to let go.  They can be messy. We feel out of control.  Or they can be so deep within that it is hard for them to find a way through.


That’s why playing with sadness and tears is as important as it is fun.  When we are playing, it is not for real, and so it feels safer, less scary, less out of control.  Our playful sadness might turn into real tears and that’s okay.  Then it is time just to hold each other and let the tears flow.


It is alarming for children to see their parents or grandparents crying.  So how do we communicate that it is okay to cry but not alarm them with our tears?  That’s where play works well.


So pick a moment when something could be a little sad.  You dropped a favourite book.  You aren’t really upset, but you pretend to be upset.  Make sure that there is that sense in your voice that you are playing – exaggeration, words too much for the situation, and just a little twinkle in the eye.  “Oh no, I dropped my favourite book. That is absolutely terrible. Oh, I am so so so upset. Boo hoo hoo hoo! sniff, sniff, sniff….”


Or when your child has knocked over a tower of blocks which they have just built – something that children love to do.  You can play with the sadness, when they aren’t really sad at all.  “Oh, you must be so sad that the tower fell.  You must be so very, very sad.  I can just hear you crying, Boo hoo hoo hoo!”  And they’ll probably say, “Stop being silly!”


Yet what you are doing is showing that there are times to be sad, that sadness is part of life, that sadness is okay.


You can move on from there to moments when there is a little bit of sadness in a situation, but not so much that it is scary or alarming.  You can gently touch on the sadness, and then move on to the next thing to do.  “You had a tough day at school.  Oh, your friend wouldn’t play with you at recess.  I bet you feel sad.”  And you put just a touch of sadness in your voice – not the exaggerated playful sadness in the previous examples, but a gentle touch of real sadness and empathy.  If your child responds with tears or frustration or anger, make room for it.  If they don’t want to talk about it, go on to the next thing to do.  You still have shown that tears are okay, that sadness is okay. 


Or you might notice a picture in a book or a magazine and note, “I think those people are sad.”  If you’re playing, you might play with “how sad are they!” and find different ways of showing big and beautiful sadness.   Or if you want to express real sadness, you make the words genuine and then take a breath or give a sigh…then move on if your child isn’t ready to engage the sadness.


We don’t have to actually cry about what we are sad about to receive the blessing of tears.  Watching a sad movie (just sad enough for the age of children) or sharing a sad story that brings tears.  We can cry for others, even fictional others, and we feel better inside because our tears have helped our emotions move.  It is amazing how this works.


Make room for your child’s tears.  Children have so many things that don’t work in their lives, so many frustrations and things that they just can’t control.  They need lots of tears, especially our pre-schoolers, but even our elementary age kids and our teen-agers and we adults too; we need our tears!


All the messages we may have grown up with – Big boys don’t cry!  Don’t spoil this with your tears!  Keep your tears to yourself!  I hope you didn’t cry!  Crybaby!   Those message are wrong.  Hold your child, hug your child, when they have tears – and celebrate within yourself that they feel safe enough and loved enough to cry in your arms.  That is a great tribute to the great job you are doing as a parent.   Welcome the tears, even if they break your heart and are loud and messy  (and even if you have caused them by saying No to something your child wants).  In the end, the tears will bring a smile and the ability for your child to adapt to their situation and have resilience.


The Psalms are a whole compendium of emotions, a great resource for expressing our feelings.  Sadness is expressed alongside all of the other emotions.


Psalm 6:6-8   I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eyes waste away because of grief; they grow weak because of all who are against me.


Now that is a lot of sadness.


Psalm 55:12-13 shares the deep and sad disappointment at the betrayal of a friend: It is not enemies who taunt me – I could bear that.  It is not adversaries who deal insolently with me – I could hide from them.  But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend, the one with whom I kept pleasant company.


Psalm 22:1 – 2 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day and you do not answer; and by night but find no rest. 


Psalm 130:1-2  Out of the depths, I cry to you, o Lord.  Lord, please hear my voice.


What deep expressions these are of deep sadness, and loneliness.  The tears are many!


And yet there is comfort as well in the sadness:


Psalm 23:4  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadows of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.


And my favourite from Revelations 21:3-4  - See the home of God is among mortals.  God will dwell with them and they will be God’s people. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.


God holds our sadness. God makes room for our tears.  And we can make room for our own tears and our children’s tears. 


Remember that tears are healing.  They have an essential role in your life and in your children’s life. Hold your children as they cry & know that God is there receiving the tears as a holy gift.


Sadness – we play it. We pray it.

October 19, 2017                                 ©Susan Lukey 2017

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