Crying Is Not Spirituality

by | Jul 11, 2021

girl crying

Part of A Happier Ward Series – (is it doctrine?)

This article was originally published on my first blog (2013). It still gets a fair amount of traffic. It is a bit controversial – but see what you think? I believe how we perceive crying, and spirituality is sometimes a cultural habit rather than doctrinal.

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Remember, the Holy Ghost bears witness within all emotions. Humor, wit, passion, humility, compassion, excitement, courage, sharing of talents, etc. True manifestations of the Spirit enliven us and upgrade us. What does the Spirit feel like? The Spirit increases our peace, our joys, our confidence, and our sense of well-being. You feel more alive.

Shawnie Cannon ~ Divine Code

I’m hoping some of you will make up your mind to forgive me ahead of time – because this will be new for a few of you. The first time I heard this, it was a bit of a surprise for me, and I punched back at it, so I understand anyone reacting the same way.

“Crying is not spirituality.”

I thought about this statement as I listened to a professor present his topic at BYU Ed week this last summer. It’s not the first time I heard someone clarify this. At a prior BYU Ed week, another professor repeated the same idea – and again, every so often in religion classes, this topic comes up.

It was a bit abrupt the first time I heard this – it was not how I understood testimony-bearing and spiritual moments to work. Over the years, I have realized the wisdom of teaching this principle.

Consider these quotes from the “Teaching, No Greater Call” lesson manual (lesson 9):

Recognizing the Spirit

Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught:

“We should recognize that the Lord will speak to us through the Spirit in his own time and in his own way. … We cannot force spiritual things.

“In most cases, ‘his own way’ is not the thunderous interruption or the blinding light, but what the scriptures call ‘the still small voice’ (1 Kgs. 1 Kings 19:12; 1 Ne. 1 Nephi 17:45; D&C 85:6). … We need to know that the Lord rarely speaks loudly. His messages almost always come in a whisper” (“Teaching and Learning by the Spirit,” Ensign, Mar. 1997, 10–12).

When the Lord speaks to us through the Spirit, He may occasionally “cause that [our] bosom shall burn within [us]” (D&C 9:8). This burning, Elder Oaks explained, surely “signifies a feeling of comfort and serenity” (Ensign, Mar. 1997, 10–12). Most often we will feel enlightenment, joy, and peace (see Romans 15:13; Galatians 5:22–23; D&C 6:23; 11:13).

President Howard W. Hunter explained :

“I get concerned when it appears that strong emotion or free-flowing tears are equated with the presence of the Spirit. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself.”

If crying were spirituality – the prophet and apostles would be sobbing through boxes and boxes of tissue at General Conference.

They don’t. They shed a tear here or there – but not a lot considering all the time they put into speaking.

Having said all this, crying has its place and is an excellent thing. Please don’t think I’m against it! It serves an essential purpose in our personal lives. We all need a good cry now and then.

Why? It cleanses us. It shakes deep down, pent-up feelings loose so they can surface, and we can face them. It builds resolve. It gives vent to grief, guilt, anger, fear, and frustration, as well as joy and happiness.

Our broken heart and contrite spirit cry. Our tender mercies cry. Sometimes when the Spirit touches on the crusty, hardened parts of our heart and we soften up – we cry as a result.

Now and again, when the Spirit shows me my true self – I find plenty of reason to cry.

Spiritual experiences do bring us tears, and often they are present – but by themselves, they are not a sure sign of the Spirit. It’s important to understand this. I’ve seen people bear tearful, heartfelt witness of false teachings and precepts – it happens.

Some people are very good at manipulating emotion, and a few of those, unfortunately, are at church. Evoking emotion and bringing the Spirit in are not the same.

So what is crying not? A moniker of true or dedicated spirituality or that the Spirit is present. This can only be discerned by a witness from the Spirit to the heart and mind together.

As one sister expressed in Relief Society last Sunday, “Some people use crying to show they are spiritually superior.”

I was delighted when this sister was brave enough to say such an observation out loud because I’ve seen it too – but wasn’t courageous enough to frame it quite like that.

When I can see someone is impressed with themselves for crying while talking from the pulpit or teaching – and they make a big show of it – that’s about when my mind wanders, and I quit absorbing what is said.

What is spirituality, then? How can we tell when the Spirit is present?

The effects of the Spirit are uplifting. The Spirit pours in light, knowledge, truth, peace, strength, confidence, solidness, wisdom, calmness, and a sense of well-being. When one experiences a heightened manifestation of the Spirit like the powerful burning from head to toe – it dries tears; it does not produce them. The Spirit influences people to action, to kindness, to forgiveness. The Spirit propels us forward in all aspects of our life. As Lorenzo Snow put it, “As long as there is a step forward to be taken, it should be taken.”

Here are some examples of what the scriptures say will happen if we have the Spirit:

24 And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works. (Alma 7:24)

27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness… (D&C 58:27)

As a young adult, I was forever influenced by a statement from Marvin J. Ashton – one of my favorite apostles of all time. He said, “Spirituality is not piety…it’s how many people are glad when you walk into a room.” He also said (and I’m paraphrasing from memory), “Spirituality is the acts of kindness not everyone sees.”

I never forgot this enormous impact on my soul and understanding. Almost three decades later, I still remember the instant his description of true spirituality laser-guided its way right to the center of my heart.

This can all be summed up with a simple question:  In the end, will we be judged for how much we cried or for how much we did and how much we gave?

Spirituality is the same way – crying doesn’t mark it, but the amount of charitable works and kindness does.

20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

21 ¶Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 7:20-21)

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Importing two comments and responses – Please remember the above article is my best understanding to date. I believe every opinion and perspective matters:

From a reader: “Thank you so much to Shawnie for your comments it has certainly cleared up my confusion. I did not want to give my testimony [for] fear of being seen as cold and without the spirit because I don’t cry.”

Reply: “It’s a cultural concept that spirituality includes crying. Thank you for sharing an important viewpoint. Most of the scriptural accounts of prophets and their spiritual experiences have no accounts of crying but rather edification, enlightenment and empowerment.”

From a reader: “I agree that crying does not signify spirituality every time, but people are different. I never cry, but recently a sister gave a talk and said, “I apologize if I cry, I’ll try not too, but I’m a cryer.” Some people cry when they experience or talk about experiencing deep emotion, others don’t. I think we need to accept that we express our deep feelings differently, and when the Spirit manifests itself to you, that is a very special feeling. If we say you shouldn’t cry when bearing your testimony some people may be afraid to bear their testimonies in case they can’t control the tears. That would be very sad.”

Reply: “Great points. I hope the article doesn’t convey that crying is wrong. If it does, I apologize! I do hope that the distinction between evoking emotion and bringing in the Spirit are understood to be two different operations that may or may not appear together. Have you ever been to a girls’ camp testimony meeting? Have you ever witnessed evangelical preaching? They are both very strong on evoking emotion. I had an investigator tell me she felt the spirit at another church because the preacher made everyone cry, so she decided not to get baptized. We need to be careful with equating strong emotional experiences as spiritual. The world is full of emotional moments but not full of the Spirit. I hope that makes sense.”

Please feel free to leave your comments and insights below.

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10 Comments

  1. Vivien

    I have a strong testimony of the gospel and I can’t help shed tears of joy when my spirit is touched. I have always been very sensitive to spiritual things, I feel so much gratitude, appreciation for the happiness that the gospel has brought to my life. Every time I hear truths being taught or shared those emotions of gratitude take over for me. I can’t help it. I don’t feel that it’s wrong nor a hypocritical. I have seen talks from president Hinckley where he literally cries with emotion. I know that that’s the love he feels for the truths he conveys And what about president Eyring. I have never herd a talk from him where he doesn’t shed a tear or two. Then there is the last testimony of Bruce R McConkie. He made me cry like a baby. His testimony was so powerful, you can feel the love that he has for our savior. That’s there is a powerful witness and I’m happy they can let out their tears. it helps strengthen my testimony even more and I can go on and on with examples, and these are men of God with years and years of extensive study and knowledge. With all due respect I feel yours is a personal opinion. And I do respect it

    Reply
    • Shawnie Cannon

      Vivian, thank you for sharing a beautiful personal perspective. If I were to sum up the intent of the article, it’s to not assume tears in others automatically means it is the Spirit. That can only be confirmed by the testimony to heart and mind. But for yourself, you can tell when the Spirit is touching you or not. And tears are often present to be sure.

      Reply
  2. WestenM

    Super interesting article. I always love your posts and I agree that tears do not equal spirituality. However, here is some insight from somebody who does not want to cry but always seems to have tears get in the way when something spiritual is being said. It is as though my body responds to feeling the spirit by tearing up. I have wished for years that it would not do that. I have silently rejoiced when I have been able to give a lesson or a talk without tearing up and could bare strong and firm testimony without my emotions taking over. So I guess it’s worth noting that just because somebody is crying does not in in many cases mean they are trying to be manipulative with the spirit. I know that this article clarified that And that there are definitely places when our emotions are a part of the spirit we are feeling. But I just wanted to point out that many people will avoid baring testimony because they do not feel they have control of their emotions and wish badly that they could do so without crying. It’s interesting to see the other side of it -that some would think it was intentional and yet the person crying wishes so badly to not have that detract from what they are trying to say. I had never thought of it that way. I had always thought of it as they were perceiving us as being a little bit weaker in our ability to control our emotions. I think sometimes it is a physical reaction to public speaking and managing emotions and with experience it can get better. Probably more of this than actual manipulation, at least with my own experience.

    Reply
    • Shawnie Cannon

      I love what you shared and I agree with you. Sometimes truly spiritual experiences are overwhelming, and our tears are released. I think what the brethren are communicating is don’t automatically assume tears are a manifestation of the Spirit. Both in ourselves and others. They can be called up easily by some and unfortunately some personalities do use them as a way to brand themselves as an ultra spiritual member and that what they are saying is true when this isn’t the case. Fortunately, the Spirit is our guide as well and if we ask for increased discernment, we will experience it. What does that mean? it means I listen for the Spirit and for His confirmation that visits both heart and mind rather than letting emotions guide my understanding.

      Reply
    • Shariefa Spandiel

      Thank you so much to WestenM and to Shawnie for your comments it has certainly cleared up my confusion. I did not want to give my testimony y of fear of being seen as cold and without the spirit because I don’t cry.

      Reply
      • Shawnie Cannon

        It’s a cultural concept that spirituality includes crying. Thank you for sharing an important viewpoint. Most of the scriptural accounts of prophets and their spiritual experiences have no accounts of crying but rather edification, enlightenment and empowerment.

        Reply
  3. Sara MacDonald

    Marvin J. Ashton does mention in his October 1987 conference talk There Are Many Gifts….”some of these less conspicuous gifts” the gift of being able to weep…

    Reply
    • Shawnie Cannon

      That’s a great quote: Here is the full paragraph – “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.”

      It’s such a small sound bite, I’m not sure his intended context for it. I can certainly understand weeping is a gift because sometimes we just need a good cry. I also noticed he specifically did not pair weeping with bearing mighty testimony or teaching, but rather with other gifts of interpersonal and inward attributes. Since Marvin J. Ashton did specifically say that true spirituality is found in our quiet kind acts and services with others – I’m inclined to believe he would side with Howard W. Hunter’s quote.

      However, that’s just me and what do I know conclusively…very little. Only that Jesus is the Christ and that he will come again. Beyond that are simply my learning curves and best understanding to date.

      Reply
      • Linda M. McIntire

        In the context of the above quote about “the gift of being able to weep,” the parallel that came to mind was our promise to “mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” Mosiah 18:9

        Reply
        • Shawnie Cannon

          What a wonderful insight to share. It’s so true.

          Reply

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