A Male of Tears: Spiritual Gifts

Tears have not always come easily to me. I remember being at my grandfather’s funeral when I was 14, feeling miserable and wishing I could cry but not being able to summon tears. It had little to do with feeling too manly: my testosterone-overload of a football coach cried before and after every game, while my incredibly sensitive and caring father has cried only once in my presence. In my late 20s, a clutch of tragedies befell people I knew well, and I found I had acquired the ability. And now I can’t stop.

These days I probably cry once a week, on average. The last time I cried was this morning, while listening to a podcast of Faust’s forgiveness talk while walking to work. I try not to mention my family in testimony meeting because it will certainly make me cry, but I do anyway. My boys love the ‘Joy to the World’ DVD (they call it ‘Mommy and Baby’), and it makes me cry, every time. In my literature classes, I cannot show the film of Of Mice and Men, and I do not read certain sections of To Kill a Mockingbird out loud. (‘Thank you for my children, Arthur.’) My grade 11s were stunned and shaken to find their hard-nosed, six-foot-five (196 cm) ogre of an English teacher choking back tears while explicating Mrs. Dalloway. (The school counselor said several of them have been to see her about the incident.)

I won’t say this is a curse. It does not hinder my life, and while men displaying emotion might make others uncomfortable, I think it’s good for me. My good wife, who cries more than me, references Marvin J Ashton whenever we talk about it:

Let us review some of these less-conspicuous gifts: the gift of asking; the gift of listening; the gift of hearing and using a still, small voice; the gift of being able to weep; the gift of avoiding contention; the gift of being agreeable; the gift of avoiding vain repetition; the gift of seeking that which is righteous; the gift of not passing judgment; the gift of looking to God for guidance; the gift of being a disciple; the gift of caring for others; the gift of being able to ponder; the gift of offering prayer; the gift of bearing a mighty testimony; and the gift of receiving the Holy Ghost.

Is my ‘being able to weep’ a spiritual gift? I’ve always said no, it’s just a conditioned emotional response, now fairly frequent because of years of repressed emotion, etc. etc. But I have grown to appreciate Ashton’s list. (An insensitive BYU roommate called it the ‘special Olympics of spiritual gifts.’) As I’ve gotten to know people in the church better, I can see the point Ashton is making: spiritual gifts are not always about proclaiming or performing miracles, but are also about the humble exercise of faith. But I didn’t apply it to my weepiness until a few months ago.

My wife was sick so I took the twins to church by myself. I was in sacrament meeting fighting the Battle of the Fourth Row. I couldn’t wear the translation headphones so I was unable to even overhear any of the talks. At one point, while one son rested on my shoulder and the other tried to escape, I thought, ‘This is a huge waste of time. Why am I here?’

The rest hymn started. (In Finland, we don’t stand up.) It was ‘I Believe in Christ.’ I couldn’t get to a Finnish hymnbook, so I sang the English words from memory quietly to myself. And the tears came. And I knew despite everything I was in the right place.

The method by which we can hear the voice of God, feel the Grace of Christ, sense the influence of the Holy Ghost: that is a spiritual gift. I have not sought it, but I am grateful for it.

Does Ashton’s list add to a finite list, or suggest an infinite range of spiritual gifts? Are there any favorites there? Do we want to add to his list?


  1. I really like Ashton’s list, and agree with it, but I wonder whether we use it as a comfort blanket for the fact that the canonical gifts — stuff like tongues — are conspicuous by their absence.

  2. And if you can come up with a lamer pun for the title of this post, I want to read it.

  3. This is a touching post. Probably because a can be pretty sappy myself, especially with family and close friends. Beyond the question of whether it is a “gift of the spirit” or not, I do think it can be very important for communities to experience intense emotion together. Like Sam’s recent post on the funeral.

  4. I have to be honest–a Methodist minister once told me that I have “the gift of tears,” but it is not a gift I would choose. I “received” it during my first pregnancy, when I was singing “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in a Detroit choir and suddenly couldn’t sing anymore. That was when I knew for sure I was pregnant. The fact that I couldn’t even watch sweet commercials was a little galling. When I had to give up singing hymns in church (I am not kidding), it really got to be too much. No joking here. The “gift of tears” has stuck with me from that first pregnancy, and that daughter is now 26.

    I think my particular “gift” is related to excess estrogen, not just the Spirit, but honestly, honestly, I would love to be able to bear my testimony, or give a fireside, or give a talk without the tears. The times I HAVE been able to speak without tears (such as at my best friend’s funeral) and sing without tears (such as at my sister-in-law’s funeral) have been gifts for me.

    In the case of speaking at my friend’s funeral, it mattered deeply to me to say what I felt she wanted said (the talk was addressed to her deeply grieving daughter). My husband gave me a blessing, and I was able to give the talk with only one break down. For me, that was a gift.

    On the other hand, I did try anti-depressants for a time, and they made me feel completely disconnected from my emotions. I chose to return to “the gift of tears.”

  5. Norbert,

    I started to cry yesterday when the Sawx hit four consecutive home runs at Fenway against the Steinbrenner Yankees.

    But then I remembered that there is no crying in baseball.

  6. Happy tears, I hope, Mark.

  7. Kristine says:

    “I started to cry yesterday when the Sawx hit four consecutive home runs at Fenway against the Steinbrenner Yankees.”

    Yes!! That was a powerful spiritual experience for me, too, Mark :)

  8. The only time I’m frustrated with my gift of tears is when I’m crying over something a little lame, like Extreme Makeover when they build a house for a family that needs it (you know what I’m talking about? I can watch it for 5 min and I’m crying even though I know nothing about the family) that’s when I feel my sweet gift is being manipulated by media.

    It’s cute that you have this gift Norbert. You shouldn’t be embarrassed. No, really. Don’t be.

  9. I enjoyed your post, Norbert. My delightful grandfather whom I sorely miss (a biochemist with a huge heart but a tear allergy) used to grouse about all the wet cheeks at church. Sometimes I wouldn’t mind a gift of believing or a gift to be free from cynicism, even if it came at the cost of tears. I actually love to cry. The fact that I do it only when blessing my children or in the face of an overwhelming shared tragedy seems to be a description of how I respond rather than how I feel, a reminder that we may not know the internal experiences of our neighbors. I do cherish the moist eyes I get when I see a film like Little Miss Sunshine, though clearly that experience differs greatly from a deep, whole body cry. Just don’t tell my grandfather.

    Recent experiences have also brought home to me the difference between the tears of a fractured heart and the gentle, easy tears of those who possess that gift. Both are valuable but they feel quite different.

    And, Ronan, my gosh you Brits are rabble rousers. Can’t an expat have a wee little cry without getting all defensive about the five years that the lds church was extremely Enthusiastic and the five or eight decades it wasn’t quite sure? PS: can you imagine being at those early Methodist-style meetings when people were barking and singing, ululating in apparently Indian-esque languages and dropping in trances? I think more than just Norbert would have cried about that one. I personally think I would have been possessed by a bear spirit and grunted and roared for my contribution to the communal glossolalia. There’s just something about bears.[1]

    PS Atlanta is one muggy city.[2]

    [1] No lids flipped. This is an allusion to a few phenomena in charismatic religion in the Second Great Awakening, primarily a reference to the confusing extensions from the pow-wow trances of native cultures and the confusing intermixtures of white and Indian shamanistic impulses. While it’s not recognizably my religion, I think I get why some people feel great satisfaction in participating in these kinds of religiously altered states of consciousness. Also, my wife wrote an entry for an encyclopedia on Indian rituals surrounding the bear hunt, and some of the images just stick with you. Although bear meat has a notoriously high rate of Trichinella infection.
    [2] Seriously.

  10. The canonical gifts are not conspicuous by their absence. I have seen the gift of tongues and interpretation of tongues more than once, the gift of healing many times, etc. – and I also have experienced the controlling of the elements. I see them more often in cultures that are more open to their existence and rarely in those that are not. As to the other gifts mentioned by Ashton, I am glad he elaborated, since too many people restrict spiritual gifts to those listed as examples in scripture. I think the list of gifts is almost as innumerable as those who possess them. In particular, I would add the gift to serve while suffering – which amazes me.

  11. Wow, sam, even Stapley doesn’t have to footnote hiscomments!!

  12. “On the other hand, I did try anti-depressants for a time, and they made me feel completely disconnected from my emotions. I chose to return to “the gift of tears.”

    Margaret (#4),

    From one “reconnected” person to another, hear, hear!


    I feel sorry for those without this spiritual gift. They must feel like a bucket full of water that is constantly being filled, with nary a chance of drainage. While crying cannot always be associated with spirituality (some actors can do it on cue) personally it really has been the rain the helps extinguish the fires of the soul.

    Amri, (#8)

    I would propose that rather than a media manipulation, showing tenderness for a perfect stranger is an even stronger manifestation of your gift. (IMHO)

  13. “THAT” helps……….can’t see through the tears.

  14. Ronan makes a good point: the claim that miracles can be found in everyday life can be seen as lowering the bar for what consititutes a miracle as nobody’s seems to be coming back from the dead, or turning water into wine. Occaisionally those stories do come through, but they’re in the back of the Ensign, and so it’s hard to see how we’re meant to read them. Have they been cannonized by being published?

  15. Thanks for sharing the Marvin J. Ashton list. I hadn’t seen it before. I cry so often in public that other ward members reference my crying as justification for thier crying when speaking in church. And yet, like you Norbert, there are times when I think I should be crying that I don’t – like at some funerals.

    Margaret, like you, music is one of the strongest influences in my life and it often brings tears to my eyes. When I served as bishop I tried to attend all the primary baptisms and they would customarily sing the baptism song “I want my life to be as clean as earth right after rain…” and I would not be able to sing the complete song.

    Amri – I cry every Sunday night while watching Extreme Home Makeovers – I can’t help it.

    I think the Ashton list is important for us to consider because it lists the gifts that sometimes we take for granted in others. Thank heaven for those gifts.

  16. Kristine says:

    Lamonte–I can’t get through that baptism song, either! Also Come, Come Ye Saints, O My Father, Reverently and Meekly Now, Be Still, My Soul and Abide with Me. And those are just the ones that always do it. There are plenty of others that will do it on occasion.

  17. makakona says:

    oh, kristine, “come, come, ye saints” makes me sob like a fool!

    i’m a crier. i came by it honestly, as my mom and aunts are the same way, but i wish it was a “gift” i could turn on and off. sometimes it’s just plain embarrassing and i have occasionally explained to someone, “i’m really sorry, you’ll have to excuse me… i cry at everything!”

    i once burst into tears while watching a march madness commercial. seriously embarrassing.

  18. As a junior in high school, I sang in our acapella group. Our director had 4 children with severe mental and physical handicaps. One day, the school they attended sent a group to perform for our school. The quality was mediocre, at best, but I will never forget bawling like a baby for nearly ten minutes while and after they sang “I Am a Child of God”. Memories of that experience still bring tears to my eyes nearly 25 years later.

    I will be grateful forever for that gift.

  19. kristine N says:

    “The Littlest Angel” is what gets me. I bought the children’s book because I remembered the story being one I loved, and because I’d recommended it to my mother in law as a good Christmas gift for a new niece and realized I wanted a copy myself. I’ve only attempted to read it about four times since I bought it. I always steel myself for those last few pages where the littlest angel feels ashamed at the inadequacy of his gift, and then realizes it is acceptable, but I always end up sobbing. I think I see a type of the atonement, because it says that we are all loved by our Savior even if all we have to offer is (the equivalent of) a well-worn dog collar and a few broken moths in a beat-up wooden box, and it tells me even the roughest, sorriest-looking of us can be accepted into the kingdom. More than any other story, it makes me feel loved.

    drat, now I’m crying!

  20. Wow, I’m glad I’m not the only one who cries easily! Reading the comments in this thread has my eyes watering. I tear up at all kinds of corny things, like grocery store grand openings, in addition to the reasonable things other people list like hymns or stories. I remember reading Heidi to my 5 year old niece and her patting me on the arm to console me in the sad parts as I read with a broken voice and tears pouring down my face. She was perfectly in control of herself, while I totally lost it. =) As someone who grew up in an abusive family, I’ve been known to cry (because of how beautiful it is) when I see siblings treating each other with kindness and respect. And I definitely cry at least once during almost ever sacrament meeting. I’ve never thought of it as a gift before, but now that I read this post, I think perhaps you’re right!

  21. kristine N- That book is one of our favorite Christmas traditions. My mom started reading it to her sibs when she was 12 and we still read it every year. It gets me too. I bawl and bawl. Especially when I’m feeling the vulnerability of my gift to God not being much more than a crappy box either.

    I’m not always convinced mine is always a gift. Like I said, sometimes it’s easily manipulated.

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