Within the passages of the Old Testament strikes a chord of real human relatedness. Suffering and aching. All people can relate to that. We experience life and all it has to offer us, such as joy, love, as well as pain and suffering. The scripture refers to the point where we are reduced to as groaning. All people, at some point in their lives, experience these moments, such as losing a loved one or facing financial ruin or personal safety. The authors bring such groaning before God.
Do you groan?
Dare we all groan, or can that be considered an act of unfaithfulness? Should we not live happy, with a smile on our faces, despite all hardship? Or perhaps we feel that our sufferings are not worthy of groaning. That somehow God would deem someone else’s suffering as greater.
Scripture tells us to accept and be honest with our feelings, and that we are actually invited to groan. This creates an intentional and divine relatedness that we dance with the Trinity and as one face all the problems in our lives. This groaning becomes a holy gift to God.
But groaning is not whining. Groaning is during the times of deep, personal suffering in which we lose our ability to form words and can but only inwardly sigh. We cannot form the words to pray. All we can do is sit there in our feelings.
The author of Job verbalizes Job’s sufferings to the reader, and shares an honesty about how he is feeling with us. He suffers to the point where he even suggests the desire of confronting God and demanding answers:
“Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
That I might come even to his dwelling!”
Job cannot see God in his suffering, and is feeling alienated and alone. Later, Job reveals that wherever he looks he cannot locate God, and so that all he can do is sigh inwardly.
Psalm 22 again reveals suffering by the author:
“O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.”
The psalmist goes on to say that Israel cried out to God and was saved, yet the author cannot comprehend that the psalmist can be saved also by God. It really does feel like that, in those moments of great agony, and we cannot see passed the pain. We cannot find the words to pray. At times we cannot even allow ourselves to; we bundle up the emotions and bury them deep within ourselves. But God knows us and sees us to our core:
“And before him no creature is hidden,
but all are naked and laid bare
to the eyes of the one whom we must render an account.”
So, as we are naked before God, the Holy One sees through us to our core and knows our groaning even if we try to hide it. Groaning, therefore, is honest and part of what makes us human.
As is invited through the scripture, such as in Job and Psalm 22, we are invited to groan. But what does that mean? We know that during times of such gut-wrenching pain words fail us, and we don’t know what to say or ask let alone what answers we desire. Romans chapter 8 verse 26 offers us insight into what groaning means.
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know
how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with
sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart,
knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit
intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
So, we do not need to know what to say ourselves, for one of the very faces of God, the Spirit itself, will lift our suffering to God as prayer. It is within this relationship with the Spirit that aids us with our communication with God when all words fail us.
It is also within this participatory idea of relationship that helps us through these hardships. In his book The Divine Dance, Richard Rohr says that “God is not watching the suffering from a safe distance. Somehow, believe it or not, God is in the suffering with us.” Indeed, Colossians chapter 3 verse 11 states that “Christ is all and is within all.” This universal Christ, an aspect of God dwelling within us and being part of us, experiences everything that we do in this world.
Jesus of Nazareth also experienced the flesh reality that we all share in. Perfectly divine and perfectly human, Jesus experienced great suffering during his time on Earth as a human. Indeed, he invited us to groan when he quoted the psalm “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Love, joy, temptation, and suffering—all these things God experienced as Jesus. We need to be free to feel our groanings, but also know that God experiences all that we experience. Trust in God to relieve those pains in that knowing and shared experience.
Groaning is a reciprocal relatedness. Relating to God and God relating to us, with the Spirit interceding with words on our behalf. In or to relate and have relationship, we need to be honest with our feelings and offer our groanings to God as a holy gift. Just as Job and the Psalmist did. We do not need to be in control all the time; we can simply let go and feel with God.
Is groaning part of your faith journey?
Do you allow yourself to groan, and what kinds of things do you groan about?
What does groaning mean to you?
Holy groaning is a freedom offered and given to us as a way to express our faith and human experience. As God experiences our lives as we live, and as demonstrated by Jesus, our groanings are a deep, relational way to communicate with God. One of participation, vulnerability, and deep honesty.
May we be intentionally honest with ourselves and with God, to sigh inwardly at those times when words fail, and offer that groaning to God.
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