Tears for Japan

We are driving to school when this story comes on the radio. I turn up the volume. The boys grow quiet. We listen. I feel the tears welling and I don’t hold back.
Let’s pray, says Jeffrey, when the story is done.
So we do and soon they are hopping out the door, off.
And I am left with these tears.
I cry more. 
Dr. William Frey is a biochemist who is director of the Alzheimer’s Research Center at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minn. He has also spent much of his life’s work studying tears.
In his early research, Frey engaged volunteers to collect their tears in small glass vials as they viewed tear-jerking movies. For others, he concocted onion shakes and wafted the aromatic substance around in eye vicinity. He then conducted a detailed chemical analysis of what he calls “psychogenic lacrimation” (emotionally induced tears) and the lacrimation (tears) produced by irritants (in this case, onions).
Frey discovered that the emotion-induced tears have a higher level of the stress hormone adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) than the crocodile tears. One of the functions of ACTH is to cause the body to release cortisol. Cortisol is widely known as THE stress hormone because it is released in the body during the fight or flight syndrome.
In normal quantities, cortisol serves to benefit the body. However, chronic stress can lead to sustained high levels of cortisol that can cause enormous damage to the body. High levels of cortisol are associated with a suppressed immune system, a reduction in restorative slow-wave sleep, higher blood pressure, decreased bone density…even more abdominal fat!
Crying is an exocrine process, says Dr. Frey, that is, a process in which a substance comes out of the body. Other exocrine processes, like exhaling, urinating, defecating and sweating, release toxic substances from the body. There’s every reason to think crying does the same, releasing chemicals that the body produces in response to stress.
I am leaking stress hormones all over myself this morning.
According to Frey’s research, 85 percent of women and 73 percent of men say they feel better after crying.

I don’t feel better after crying.

Releasing these stress hormones doesn’t change the devastation in Japan. When I first spoke with my children about the heartbreaking realities of the human suffering in Japan, I didn’t know where to start. I knew they had seen the images peppered all over our world. We talked about what they had seen. About the loss of human life.

We read 1 Corinthians 12: 12-30, which says these wondrous words: …God has combined the members of the body…there should be no division in the body, but that it’s parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it… 

I asked the boys, how do you feel about this?

I feel guilty, Jeffrey said. I feel terrible. There’s nothing I can do to help.  

This is not true, I told him. For if we are one with our brothers and sisters in Japan, we cannot forget this part of our body. If we believe that God is all-powerful, all-knowing…that God is love…then the most important thing we can do is pray. We are not helpless while God lives inside of us.

We talked about lament and what it means to join our hearts with the hearts of others. And we prayed. We prayed for comfort, we prayed for peace, we prayed for the loss, the devastation. We prayed to know what to do.

Crying may make me feel better momentarily, but devastation on this large scale calls for more. Annie Dillard says, We are earth’s organs and limbs; we are syllables God utters from his mouth.

What is God saying through me in the midst of this tragedy?
Would you like to share your heart on this matter here in this space? I welcome your thoughts, your prayers, your ideas. Let’s lament together. Let’s lean on each other in this reality of a broken world.
Are you struggling with how to talk to your children about the devastation in Japan? My friend L.L. Barkat did too. She came up with a beautiful way to start a conversation. Her words comforted this mamma and gave me courage to talk about the hard stuff. You can read about  it over here.

My sincere gratitude to John Preston, Psy.D. for introducing me to the work of William Frey.


  1. says

    Just last night I wrote a poem about Japan. I always turn to poetry in times like this.

    The scale of devastation is so enormous, it’s impossible to comprehend except by focusing on something smaller. In my poem, I focus on a roster, one of the many stuck up on walls (reminding me of 9/11) and the small things found, and the poignant.

    There are many aid and relief organizations and other actions people are taking that we can support. Beyond that we can pray through poetry and pray unto hope. . . for today, and tomorrow, and for the future.

  2. says

    God bless the heart of your son Jeffery saying, “Let’s pray,” when the story was done.

    His instincts are so right–it starts with prayer. It does seem so overwhelming, wondering what any of us could possibly do when the scale is so incomprehensible. But the prayers, first and foremost, I think are the vessels God uses to move His people to mercy, to direct help where it is most needed, to motivate us to give–time, money, blood, whatever.

    I remember hearing Mr. Rogers speak to children after the September 11 attack, encouraging them to look at all the helpers. There, in seeing the helpers, we find hope; we see the hand of God.

  3. says

    I embrace tears…I cry so easily. Sometimes it does help…it is a release. Japan….so very hard to process. Sometimes my prayers are stunned whispers….”Jesus, Jesus, Jesus”.

    I’m thankful I know the power of prayer…that is a lesson learned for our children isn’t it. Sometimes we must re-evaluate our lives…how we spend our time…yet the Word says, to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep”. Both are going on all the time.

    So to learn to sit at His feet when “life happens” and ask Him how to pray, to hear His heart…to weep in His embrace…to ask to carry part of the emotional burden for another…to stand in the gap.

    Wow, like I said this is one of those times that it takes a lot of time to process. So thankful He knows…so I join Jeffrey in prayer.

    Reveal Yourself to that country Father…give them a heart to know You…comfort, meet their needs for food, water and warmth. God hear their cries and break through that they sense Your presence.

  4. says

    For days I have felt “without words” and thought it was perhaps mere laziness, writer’s block, emotional “stuff”…

    then this post…

    and I wonder if my silence is the lament the Lord has requested of me?

  5. says

    What I said to Laura Barkat is what worked for us. We went through 9-11 near the Pennsylvania crash site. We have had friends and family members die “too soon”. My niece was two when she died in a nap next to her Daddy, my brother.

    What I learned was to be simple. A few words, sparse details, and a physical enfolding (embrace, hot cocoa, blankets, quietly sitting together) worked best for my boys.

    What God taught me was that my love for them was the sense they needed of the world and in the world. That’s my challenge: to love them like He does, to model it. Jesus doesn’t take us out of the world, out of the pain and the not-knowing, but his love enables us to be victors through it.


    Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

    “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

    No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.(Romans 8)

    God’s challenge to me is to be the living embodiment of this great truth, even as I am trying to understand it for myself.

  6. says

    Thank you for this. The devastation for Japan and its people is beyond my comprehension, despite news stories and photos. It hurts to watch, so I cannot imagine the moment-by-moment reality for the people.
    I do feel better when I cry–for a little while. Only because I’m then worn out and limp. Then energy returns and the cycle continues.
    Your son’s description of feeling guilty certainly resonates with me. I’m thankful for my family’s current safety, yet feel so guilty when I consider Japanese mothers wanting to provide essentials, unable to do so. Or worse, simply mourning loss.
    I had not thought to use the word lament. Somehow naming my response, which lament aptly does, helps my mental framework.
    Your inclusion of the tear research fascinated me on a personal level. I had an adrenal tumor removed years ago now, but had suffered with high cortisol levels in my teens and 20s. Very interesting info.
    This definitely wakes us to the reality of our broken world.
    Prayers for the people, prayers for the relief organizations and workers, prayers for the leaders. Comfort and healing and miracles.

  7. says

    My daughter and I were just talking about this research the other day. A good cry is really good.

    Lament is good too. It touches a creative place, and in so doing I think it touches the Creator, a source of sustenance even in the grimmest of moments.

    Love you, girl. I do.

  8. says

    I am a crier ..joy, laughter, sorrow, they come .. I actually relish the feel of the tears on my face ..I know that sounds strange ..but it is so organic.

    I have no words for this tragedy.. i really try not to watch TV too much as i think it makes the stress more..
    in the end I believe in the power of prayer ..so simply that is what I do ..without ceasing

  9. says

    Yes. The tears are a prayer. Those of us leaking hormones? I think that’s the groaning without words that the Holy Spirit interprets for us.

    And your prayer today at my site was just. beautiful. It gave hope. Thank you…

  10. says

    Sitting here crying right now. Was listening to the evening news and thought I cannot listen anymore it hurts to much. I have a client at the salon who is still awaiting news of her loved ones in Japan. It broke my heart as she is an elderly lady and I cannot even imgaine in my wildest dreams. I came on here tonight to escape realiteis I guess. Prayers that is all we can do is continue lefting and holding each one up in prayers. God knew this before it happend. You littel Jeffery how precious. Thank you Lord for teh lttle ones will lead. God we so love you and we thank you taht your ahdn is upon those in such great suffering Lord. Bring wisdom and relief to this torn country and people Lord. We thank you for the help you are sending their way Lord. We thank you for the silent heroes Lord. We thank you you hold each one in your hand Lord. Bring us all your wisdom on how to pray and what to pray in. How to help in Jesus name Amen

    Thank you for your thoughtful and tearful wonderful post.

  11. says

    Laura, I believe the world is lifting up Japan to the Lord…even people who don’t think about prayer. Your son is reflecting what he has been taught. Good job Laura. It is heartbreaking to see the destruction knowing it is still not over because of the nuclear plants. I can’t really fathom what lies ahead. B

  12. says

    So my 11 year old son was talking with three friends on the schoolbus yesterday. They discussed the recent earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand. My son told them how the Bible says this stuff will happen close to the endtimes. He talked of the rapture, the peace treaty with Israel, and the great tribulation.
    “How can we miss out on that Tribulation thing?” they asked. “Believe,” he said. ‘In God. In Jesus.”
    He told me that story as we walked home and I thought, Wow. Romans 8:28 right there.

  13. says

    I read about tears not too long ago Laura. It is so touching. I think about the Father collecting them.
    I don’t have any simple answers to all of this unfathomable pain. I pray for them as though they are my brothers and sisters – because they are. We give to an organization that can put hands and feet to those prayers.
    You have such a precious heart Laura. You are so dear.

  14. says

    Wow. I think you are such a kindred spirit…I wrote about ‘a heart that breaks’ today and I’ve been thinking about the discipline of cultivating His heart within me…it’s an infinite heart and as it reflects Him it brings Him glory…we must be doers but taking the time to know and receive His heart in devastation that is so very beyond us changes what we do…His heart is breath and movement of our intercession and dreams of blessings designed to be our part are born from this same place.

    All of this happening as I also read ‘Half the Sky’…it is so painful and yet I have to trust that I am not to selfishly guard my own heart when there are horrors to millions of my sisters that happens still so terribly silently…Knowing His heart will bring to pass my part to play in seeing this oppression lifted…

  15. says

    I don’t know where I heard it but “tears lubricate the soul.” Sometimes I’ll say to my wife “I need a good cry…flush out the soul.” Thanks for processing through writing. I shared some brief thoughts on this subject on my (pardonmemyhearingaid) blog today.

  16. says

    This reminds me of the day of 9/11, and our reactions that day. Your observation about prayer being the greatest thing we can do is so true, such an understatement. I say with you and Jeffrey, “Let’s pray.”

  17. says

    I really appreciate this post…because unless kiddos are really little…they need to have some sense of what’s going on. And they will…whether we avoid the topic or not.

    A few days ago, I posted after reading a comment under a youtube video that said “Looks like a great blockbuster hit”.

    I felt sick.

    But like I wrote in the post…in some ways it feels important for me, for our kiddos to help move past the surreal and find a specific person or place or city or ministry or church to pray for.

    Or else it all just almost seems so overwhelmingly big that I want to run away from what’s going on as a reality.

    I think it has helped our kiddos to add in some specifics to pray for.

  18. says

    This was such a beautiful post.

    And it just somehow fit my medically involved mind and made perfect sense.

    Yes, the devastation is simply awful.

    All I can say is God knows each tear that falls in memory of Japan. Somehow each tear makes it better.

    I have to believe that.

  19. says

    What a beautiful piece on the lives tore apart in Japan. Prayer is the answer for now, and always,like your sweet son said.
    Relief organizations are springing up all over to send aid to Japan. I see this as another opportunity to bless the body of Christ and all of those in need in Japan.

    Thank you for the tears,

  20. says

    oh how i miss having young children in the house who made me struggle with the hard questions and peal the answer down to their understanding – i continue to need those kinds of answers

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