The words of the baseball manager (played by Tom Hanks) of the all girls team he manages in the movie “A League of Their Own” have become iconoclastic in American culture. One of his female players breaks out in tears during a game and Hanks say, “Are you crying? Are you crying? There’s no crying in baseball”. Hank’s character is a former professional player who was known for his slugging prowess. He had been in the game a long time and he had never seen a player cry. Thus, the now famous line; “There’s no crying in baseball”.
When a Christian hears the word cancer connected with himself/herself…or when spouses and loved ones hear the word cancer diagnosed in a loved one, sometimes the ethic of Hank’s character can come out; “Are you crying? Are you crying? There’s no crying in a Christian’s diagnosis of cancer”. We are supposed to say with Paul when faced with the prospect of death, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21), aren’t we? I mean, aren’t we supposed to taunt death and say, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting”. We should not “grieve as other’s who have no hope” right? I mean…where is our faith?
Okay, perhaps we might give a pass to our women folk who are more emotional than the men folk, right? They are made up differently than men. Men have an emotional “strength” that denies tears. One night shortly after the diagnosis, Michal and I turned out the light and said our “I love you’s” as we settled into bed. In a moment I heard the soft crying coming from the other side of the bed. I reached my hand over to Michal to touch her and and ask, “Are you alright”? She quietly said, “I’m not ready to say good-bye to you”. My throat clutched as she silently cried.
And then, the children…of course they can cry because…well, they’re our children. The thought of one of their parents with cancer spawns deep emotions. When we called Elise in South Africa and Emilee in North Dakota their tears were communicated in their voices and halting words. Sure, our children can be emotional at these times.
Well, maybe some men would be allowed to cry at the diagnosis of cancer. Not every guy is of the same make up. Not everyone is at the same stage in their Christian life in terms of being able to “handle” such a diagnosis.
But what about a pastor? What about a shepherd who has for years taught us about trust, faith, sovereignty, and submission to God’s will? What about he who has taught us of the brevity of life, the surety of death, and the glories of heaven? How about the one who has stood like a “rock” in the pulpit declaring the goodness of God and the fearlessness of the soul in the face of danger and death with such conviction and passion that we ourselves were encouraged? What about you, Terry? Have you shed tears at the news of this cancer? Has your faith faltered?
When the doctor told me I had caner, I was emotionless. As I met with the surgeon’s staff to get initial instructions on what needed to transpire in the next days (CAT scan, oncologist appointment, etc) I was quite matter of fact. In the lab to get my blood drawn for initial testing, I was stoic. On the drive back to the office, my mind was analytical. When Michal came to the office and I told her I was solid. I quivered a little when I heard my daughters’ tears over the phone when we told them. But when talking with Evan, Ethan, and Everette there was no great emotion either from me or from them. That evening at the Elder’s meeting my composure was sure as we discussed how to communicate to the church this news. All was normal through the rest of the meeting. After the meeting I went home and slept well.
But when I approached God in my prayer time, it was a different story. All the emotions, all the doubts, all the fears came out. Tears flowed. They were not tears over the fear of death. They were not tears over what I now might have to endure. During prayer I was not having to be “strong” for anyone. I was needing God to be strong for me. And he was. My tears came from two contemplations.
One was the contemplation of my sin. One is never so sensitive to his sin than when in the shadow of death or the relatively immanent prospect of such. How easy it is for us to be less than “exercised” over our sinful tendencies when life is “normal” and no “wolf of death” howls at the door. How easy it is to become complacent about our spiritual apathy, inconsistency, pride, and selfishness. Not so much so when one stares into his own mortality.
The second contemplation that brought and still brings tears is the contemplation of saying good-bye to my family. The thought of leaving them all behind is not a comforting one. The thought of Michal living another 25 – 30 years without me is a saddening one for me. The thought of me not being here to provide for her and protect her is disturbing to me. I had hoped and still hope to be able to stay with her well nigh unto the time she herself may head home to Heaven so that our separation might be brief. Of course, everyone hopes for this. And when it is “challenged” it brings some tears. The thought of not seeing my children raise their children causes me tears. The idea that if I died right now my current grands would not even remember me and I would never get to see any subsequent grands in this world. As I have said, the thought of dying is not hard. The thought of leaving is hugely difficult.
So, is there crying in cancer? Sure there is. If we are human there is. I once saw a man shed nary a tear when his wife died relatively young. His demeanor through out and after was nonchalant, matter of fact, and seemingly unaffected. It seemed as if he was communicating that any man of “real faith” would not need to express any emotion. I thought it was the most unnatural responses to a spouse’s death I had ever seen. No, just the thought of leaving my wife and family brings tears to my eyes. But Jesus knows those tears. He experienced those salty streams more than once in his journey on earth. So will we.