What Is the Gift of Tears?

Question: I am 17 and sometimes at mass or adoration, I get teary – eyed. I asked a priest about it and he said it was the gift of years. He explained it a little bit, but I want to know why people experience it at different ages. I don’t feel like I’ve reached spiritual maturity to receive this.

I think you misheard your priest, I’m sure he was saying the gift of TEARS.

Tears are actually a biological release triggered by a strong emotional experience. They are the body’s way of providing relief.

In church parlance, a strong experience of God can be so overwhelming that tears flow. I know this has been the case in my own life. I often don’t feel this coming on until it happens and then I’m not actually sure why tears are flowing, I just know that they are.

People of all ages can experience this. It is usually a sign that you are experiencing God working in your life in an intimate way.

Ignatius of Loyola often said we should pray for the gift of tears. That we should be moved beyond our usual emotions when experiencing God in our life that it overwhelms us. He even called for us to consider our sinfulness and to be overcome not by guilt, but by God’s overwhelming love in forgiving us. We cry because we know that we are “loved-sinners.”

As a public speaker, I sometimes find myself in the position of being overwhelmed in the midst of a talk or reflection that I am doing. I find the best course of this is to be honest about it. To admit that you’re not sure why tears are coming but that it’s usually a sign that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in the moment.

Since tears are a physical response, you can also try a physical response to them to try to bear the intensity by pressing into your chair with your sitz bones, or sitting bones–or even just clenching your gluteus can sometimes stop the flow of tears.

Mike Hayes

Mike co-founded BustedHalo.com in 2001. Currently, Mike is the director of campus ministry at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. A frequent speaker on ministering to young adults, Mike is the author of "Googling God: The Religious Landscape of People in Their 20s and 30s" and "Loving Work: A Spiritual Guide to Finding the Work We Love and Bringing Love to the Work We Do."