Did you know that you make about 10 ounces of tears per day just to keep your eyes moistened (Patel, Levin, and Patel 2022)? That’s about 30 gallons of tears each year! Throw in the statistic that women cry for emotional reasons about five times more frequently than men, and that’s a lot of tears (Collier and Van Hemert 2023)! Whatever the cause of our tears, God gave our bodies the amazing ability to produce them.
Science Behind Tears
God designed the body to store tears in the lacrimal glands. (There is one above each eye.) Whether it’s due to emotion, dry eyes, or cutting an onion, when your brain gets the signal to release tears, they are carried through a system of small tubes down to the nasolacrimal ducts (commonly known as the tear ducts). As you blink, the tears are spread across your eye, lubricating the surface (Mukamal 2016).
Three Types of Tears
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, there are three types of tears that your eye produces: basal, reflex, and emotional. Basal tears are meant to be the constant lubrication for your eyes. They also nourish and protect your eyes from dirt and debris. If some foreign body (like dirt or debris) does get into your eyes, your body creates reflex tears. These are released in greater quantities and contain more antibodies so as to quickly flush out the irritant and help fight off any lingering bacteria. As the name implies, emotional tears are produced in response to overwhelming emotion. Joy, sadness, pain, and fear are among some of the causes for emotional tears. While all three types of tears have the same basic composition (mucus, water, and oil), scientists have suggested that emotional tears have additional hormones and proteins not found in basal or reflexive tears (Mukamal 2016). Some have hypothesized “that the release of stress hormones…might help regulate the body or bring it back to a homeostatic level” (Mukamal 2017). There is still ongoing work to help scientists understand more about emotional tears. Whatever the case, we know that our bodies are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 119:14) and reflect the amazing Designer’s handiwork.
Is Crying Good for You?
Have you ever felt like you just needed a "good cry"? Or maybe in the midst of weeping, you find yourself feeling unable to stop. You might wonder, “Is crying good for me?” Psychologists have found that when a person holds in emotion (known as repressive coping), it can be bad for their health. When a person cries, they allow for those feelings to come to the surface, which can in turn contribute in a positive way to the rest of the body and even strengthen relationships between friends and family (Newhouse 2021). One of my favorite Bible verses is Psalm 30:5: “His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning.” Even in our times of grief and sadness, we can know that there is a Light at the end of the tunnel. God is with us in the good times and the bad.
Communication Through Crying
In the creation account, we read in Genesis that God made humans a special creation, different from the animals. One of those differences is our ability to emotionally communicate with each other, sometimes without the need for words. A newborn baby’s primary form of communication is through crying. Just by the different sounds of her child’s crying, a mother can know if the baby is hungry, hurt, or in need of comfort (Ex. 2:6; 1 Pet. 2:2-4). What about when you see a friend sad and crying? Without even knowing the cause of the tears, we know they are distraught and need comfort. Oftentimes, we will shed mutual tears over their grief (John 11:33). Think back to our recent baptisms. Did you get tears of joy? I know I did. As a church, we are overjoyed with the decision the person made and are so excited for them to begin their new walk in Christ. If the new convert looked out into the audience, they would have seen eyes glistening with joyful tears, and they would recognize they have a new family who cares deeply for them (Acts 20:37).
We look forward to the day when, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
Even if the full extent of the physiology behind our tears isn’t fully understood by scientists yet, God provided us with tears as a way to express emotion. God knows our sorrowful times and our joyful ones. As a Christian family, we have the benefits of our local church family and those abroad to share in our woes and joys. We look forward to the day when, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
Collier, Lorna, and Dianne Van Hemert. n.d. “Why we cry.” American Psychological Association. Accessed February 18, 2023. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/02/cry.
Mukamal, Reena. 2016. “Facts About Tears.” American Academy of Ophthalmology. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/facts-about-tears.
Mukamal, Reena. 2017. “All About Emotional Tears.” American Academy of Ophthalmology. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/all-about-emotional-tears.
Newhouse, Leo. 2021. “Is crying good for you?” Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/is-crying-good-for-you-2021030122020.
Patel, Jay, Ariana Levin, and Bhupendra Patel. 2022. “Epiphora.” PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32491381/.
By Alana May