I am thinking a lot these days about groaning. Not whining, but groaning. And I am thinking about how deep within I must go to honestly groan.
Groaning is hard work. Real groans emerge from the gut. They come forth on their own. You cannot fake a groan.
I found myself groaning lately. After ten days of imagining that a ferocious chest cold was getting better, I finally admitted that it was actually getting worse.
“What if it’s pneumonia?” I groaned.
The Scriptures are full of groaning. The Israelites groan in their slavery. Job groans under God’s heavy hand. The poor, who are plundered and needy, groan to the Lord for relief. The Psalmist groans, weeping and drenching his couch with tears.
In fact, the Psalmist does a good deal of groaning. “My life is consumed by anguish, my years by groaning,” I read in Psalm 31. “I am feeble and utterly crushed,” the Psalmist moans in Psalm 38; “I groan with anguished heart.”
And in Psalm 79: “May the groans of the prisoners come before you; with your strong arm preserve those condemned to die.”
Not consoling at all, I read in Proverbs 5: “At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent.”
I could go on, with passages from Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel.
In our time, the Earth groans. The nations groan. On cold winter nights I hear the groans of people sleeping fitfully on their mats on the floor of the church social hall.
I may feel shock at the image of a little refugee boy’s body washed up on the shore Or at the image of men crucified in my day. But then it’s time for a commercial break. I lose the thread.
Real groaning takes time, solitude, and sober reflection. The mature soul groans because it senses the moral weight of things. If we are paying attention, we should be groaning.
And groaning is the start of prayer. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8: “For we do not know how to pray as we ought.” Or, “We do not know how to groan as we ought.” To feel the soul move in ways that move God. Or to feel God actually moving in the soul.
Jesus knew this kind of prayer. In Mark’s Gospel he looks up to heaven and groans as he heals the man who is deaf and unable to speak. And the man is healed. Jesus’ groaning is not an expression of despair but fruitful intercession.
Paul continues: “But the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the One who searches hearts knows the intention of the Spirit.”
What makes me groan today? What makes me put my head down on my kitchen table and weep? What causes the Spirit within me to groan?
I will tell you what causes the Spirit within me to groan: the pernicious and pervasive indifference of the human heart to the suffering of others, to the suffering of creation itself. An indifference as much within me as out there in the world.
Pernicious, I say, meaning deadly. And pervasive, because everything, it seems, urges me to be distracted from deeply and urgently paying attention, distracted from conversion to a way of life that blesses others, that blesses creation.
These groanings are dangerous expressions of the soul. They break open those carefully guarded defenses. They topple the silos of elusive security and self-sufficiency.
Weeping and groaning rip away my perfectly reasonable excuses for not getting involved in the complex, messy, stinking injustices in my world. Injustices that always have a logic. It’s just not the logic of the reign of God.
I don’t like thinking these thoughts. But here they are. The Spirit is up to something. I cannot dodge the urgency of my anointing to be the presence of the risen Christ in the world I touch.
Mary Sharon Moore writes and speaks nationwide on
the nature of God’s calling in our times.