Now I Can Cry
OCTOBER 12, 2022
Have you ever noticed that when a parent picks up their small child after falling, the child will be quiet for a bit before screaming bloody murder?
What’s with that pause? The child wants to make sure they’re safe and secure in a parent’s arms before the tears.
Last Saturday (I’m writing this in August), I spoke at the memorial service for my longtime (almost 50 years) beloved friend, Jim Youngblood. I had a hard time. When the slideshow of Jim’s life played, I had to think of something else. It was the same way several years ago when I spoke for the funeral of my longtime (almost 40 years) mentor, Fred Smith. He had recorded a video of himself to play at his funeral. I didn’t dare watch that, either. I would not have been able to get through my part in the service.
When I got up to speak for Jim’s service, I said that the only way I could keep from losing it was to think of someone who ticks me off. While I would have had to repent later, sometimes that’s the only thing to get me through the pain and tears. And at Jim’s service, I had to think of ten people who ticked me off. At the end of my remarks, I said something that surprised me, “Now I can cry.”
Is there a place I can cry? Or, as my friend Harold Myra, in his book, put it, Is There a Place I Can Scream? Yes, there is.
In John 8:31-32, Jesus says something that has implications far beyond what most of us suppose, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus doesn’t specify what that freedom is because truth’s freedom is multifaceted and even endless. As you know, I’ve written and taught a whole lot about freedom. I even wrote a book about it, A Scandalous Freedom (I’m not above pushing my books). Knowing the truth Jesus talks about is an amazing gift that cuts through the sham, pretense, and lies we hear daily from people who don’t know what they’re talking about. Knowing that truth is knowing the good news about forgiveness, redemption, and heaven.
But that incident at Jim’s service got me thinking about another aspect of the truth that sets us free. It’s the safety of knowing the truth about being forgiven without exception, loved without condition, and guaranteed heaven without any reservations. It’s knowing that there isn’t any “small print.” And if we have experienced that truth, it means that there is enough safety to enable us, as God’s children, to cry, scream, “cuss and spit,” laugh inappropriately, dance, or just rest, all the while knowing that we won’t get kicked out.
Years ago, I was at an ecclesiastical meeting where the speaker (along with several others) decided we would experience something of a revival. He said, “That always starts with confessing our sins to one another, and I’m going to start.” Then, to everyone’s surprise, he confessed his sin to us, and it was so honest that, even though I was in the back row of the church, I blushed. I thought I don’t believe I would have said that.
Then to my horror, the pastors and elders began, in turn, to stand up and confess their sins. After that went on a good while, those at the meeting started looking over their shoulders back at me. Some of them were former students, and I’m sure there was a keen interest in their professor’s confession. Finally, when I was one of the few who had not yet made his confession, I stood up and said, “If you think I’m going to confess my sins to you, you’re crazy. I love you guys, but you’re not safe enough . . . not even close. So, forget it. It’s not going to happen.” I sat down. Then I stood up again and added, “Maybe that’s my confession.”
Everybody laughed because they thought I was making a joke. I wasn’t. The truth is that they weren’t safe enough, and they didn’t love me enough to be honest in their presence. But Jesus both loves me enough and is safe enough. There is no place on the face of the earth where I feel free and safe enough than in his presence.
George Abihider, a staff member who does a good deal of our audio and video editing, sent me a funny statement the other day: “She danced like no one was watching . . . but they were, and she looked like she had had 12 shots of Jack and had run into a spider web.” Christ’s freedom means that, in his presence, we can dance even if we just had 12 shots of Jack, and it looks like we have run into a spider web. (And, no, I don’t drink alcohol. As a Christian, you can choose drinking, cussing, or smoking. I’ve already chosen two and can’t afford to add the third.) Our freedom is hard to come by in a world of “cancel culture” rejection, self-righteousness, and condemnation.
At Jim’s service, when I said, “Now I can cry,” everybody laughed because they thought that was a joke, too. At the time, I thought it was one as well . . . until I got away from the crowd and was with Jesus and cried about the loss of my good friend.
There are many reasons why most of us don’t pray much or, if we do, find it such a hard task. Unbelievers don’t pray because they’re afraid God might really be there. Believers don’t pray because they’re afraid he might not be. Of course, when we’re so little, it’s scary to stand before such a big God. My late friend R.C. Sproul called that “cosmic claustrophobia.” It’s not easy to stand before a sovereign and holy God when we’re not. It’s difficult when we pray, and we’re like the preacher who goes on and on when he should have ended the sermon 20 minutes before. Prayer can be hard and endless. Prayer can become so religious that we’ve missed its joy and freedom.
What if we began our prayer with, “God, if you’re there—and sometimes I wonder—you should know that I don’t want to be here. I would rather go to the dentist. I already went to your church, and that ought to be enough. But I don’t know where else to go. You scare the spit out of me, but I’m willing to face the fear of your deserved wrath than to continue to live like this without you.”
Are you crazy? That kind of prayer could get me killed. A lightning bolt could strike me dead.
No, that’s not going to happen.
Have you heard the story about a priest and a man playing golf together? They didn’t know each other, but the starter had paired them up. Every time the man missed a shot, he shouted out of frustration and irritation, “Damn! Missed again!” After a while, the priest said, “I’m a priest, and I’m offended by your language. Please don’t say that again.” The man promised to do better, and he did until hitting the ball on the 17th hole so far in the rough that nobody would be able to find it. He tried not to say it again, but it came out, “Damn! Missed again!” Then, to his horror, the man noticed that the priest was on his knees praying, and a dark cloud began to move in their direction. A lightning bolt came out of the cloud, struck the priest, and killed him. Then a deep voice came down from heaven, “Damn! Missed again!”
Sorry. I just couldn’t resist. But God never misses, and you are not his target, okay?
We often miss the freedom God gave us because we fear lightning bolts from a scary God. John said that because Christ died for our sin, we have confidence: “Perfect love [that would be God’s love] casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected [forgiven, accepted, and valued] in love” (1 John 4:18).
I often say to Christians (and get criticized for it) that they shouldn’t lie, but if they do, they should lie to unbelievers, not other believers. But more important than that, Christians should never lie to God . . . because we don’t have to. There isn’t a thing you can do, say, or feel in God’s presence that he doesn’t already know you have done, said, or felt, and he likes you anyway. God likes us so much that he is pleased when our prayers are honest and free.
The other evening, my wife Anna was upset by something hard and sad that one of our daughters told her. She said, “I’m so worried. Would you pray?” Of course, I prayed about the situation, but I also told her, “Don’t forget that you’re her mother, and mothers always hear the most difficult, sad, and scary stuff. She’s probably fine now that she’s talked to you. It’s a mom’s job description to love and listen, and you did.” As it were, that’s kind of God’s job description, too. That’s kind of obtuse, though. That’s not really God’s description; it’s his very nature.
I have a friend whose daughter’s dog somehow got lost, and they never found him. Through her tears, she said, “There are things I told him that I never told anybody else.” Well, there are things I’ve told God that I’ve never told anybody else, too.
God gives Christians all sorts of perks. We don’t often think about the safe place he provides to cry and even complain. We sometimes forget that when we turn our prayers into ritual and religion. I suppose that’s okay, but don’t stop there. Make sure you don’t leave until you’ve opened your heart before God, knowing that whatever is in your heart—tears, anger, fear, loneliness, doubts, and sin—is acceptable in his presence.
Well, did you finally cry over your friend’s death?
Of course, I did. After the service was over, when I didn’t have to impress anybody and pretend to be strong, I cried after driving home and after nobody else was around. I also told Jesus that he would have kept Jim around a little longer if he really loved me. His response was, “I know, child.” Then he loved me.
Jesus will do that for you, too. He told me to remind you!