Crying? There’s no crying in math! Or so I thought. Echoing Tom Hanks’ iconic line from A League of Their Own, my children often hear me declare ‘there’s no crying in math – it’s simply facts and figures, not emotion.’ And yet, for all my feeling that there should not be any crying in math, it does indeed exist. It is not the crying of pain, or pleading, or even sadness – it is the crying of overwhelming disorientation as operators and operands leap from the page and swirl in a tornadic vortex, mixed and disordered beyond repair. There is crying in mathematics. Its angst is not merely the angst of computational failure. And many tears have been shed over math in our home.
Crying is peculiar if you think about it. While the production of tears, or lacrimation, has a cleansing effect removing debris from the eye, the physiological and psychological dimensions of crying go much further. We cry when we are afraid, sad, happy, angry, relieved, or surprised. And these emotional tears differ in their chemical composition from other tears. They have higher concentrations of protein-based hormones, including prolactin, and also the neurotransmitter leucine enkephalin – a painkiller produced when one experiences stress. Emotional tears are also more viscous, remaining on a person’s face longer thus more visible to others.
Crying communicates what words cannot. Before children speak, they cry to communicate. And even after we speak, crying communicates what words cannot. Humans are the only creatures that cry. Our tears transmit a depth and nuance of human emotion that even the infinite subtleties of our mother tongue cannot express. We feel this in Paul’s discussion of the work of the Holy Spirit in Romans 8.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.Romans 8:26-27
Groanings too deep for words. That is where prayer often takes us. John Owen, in his treatise on prayer, emphasized written prayer. He rightly observed that vocabulary governs thoughtful expression in prayer. But there are depths of joy, sorrow, and uncertainty that outpace our conscious expression – groanings too deep for words.
“Deep calls to deep” the Psalmist laments. And deep answers deep! This is the truth of crying out to God. His ear is tuned to his children’s cry. He hears, he sees, he remembers, and he knows. No sorrow, trial, joy, crisis, or struggle slips past his loving gaze. The Hebrew people had been slaves of countless Pharaohs through centuries of Egyptian history. They cried out. And God heard. They learned not only to cry over their condition, but to ‘cry out’ and to ‘cry out to God.’ Exodus 2:23-25 shows this dynamic in a remarkable way. Four different expressions of crying are answered by four specific responses from God.
The Hebrews learned to cry. Perhaps this seems absurd. After all crying is not learned. We have known how to cry from day one. Most of us were born crying. No one taught us to cry at weddings or funerals, to cry when pain grips us, or to cry when a loved one returns home. Some cultures cry more, some less. Women cry more than men. Yet we all cry. What we must learn is ‘to whom to cry.’ Until we cry out to the Lord, our crying, though cathartic, is like shouting into the darkness. But when we cry to the Lord, he sees, he hears, he remembers, and he draws near. Only he will answer our cry. Only he can make the difference. Join us this week as we examine Exodus 2:23-25 and consider what it teaches us about learning to cry out to God.
We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship. Get directions here or contact us for more info. You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube.