When Groaning is Enough

Sometimes all we have are groans.
And sometimes, they are enough.

I, like all of you, have been moved by the struggle and suffering found in headlines and newsfeeds this week. Moved by the news of a shooting that left 13 persons dead in the Washington Naval Yard. Moved by the images of flooding in Colorado, leaving eight dead, thousands displaced, and hundreds yet to be located. And moved by how very small any words seem to feel, when offered in the face of such suffering.

When we experience tragedy up close; when loss is real and raw, we have to remember that there is a vulnerability of soul at play within us. A unique tenderness that, for a time, leaves our very humanity open, like a gaping wound.

In those moments…
In those fragile and formative moments, it matters what we do and say.
And it really matters what we don’t do, and don’t say.

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the national conversation moves toward motive and blame and the predictable politic. There is always (and will always be) some agency that missed something somewhere; some professional somebody who could’ve/would’ve/should’ve prevented it, but didn’t catch the warning signs.
Sound familiar?

We’ve heard the talking points before.
We’ve read the ticker at the bottom of the screen.
We’ve seen the tweets.
Nothing new.

So, we suture our woundedness with words. Words about gun control; words about mental health; words about disaster response systems and government responsibility.

Words, words, words.
And yet none of them,
not one word,

And lest I sound judgmental, let me confess my own sin and the sins of my people. We in the faith (especially those of us who do much talking) can be just as unhelpful with our words. Sometimes, our most commonly used phrases, quips and sayings, although offered with the best of intentions, and soaked in the finest theological marinade, simply don’t work.

Not because they are the wrong words; but because they are words, period.
Some suffering is too great for Hallmark.
Some woundedness, too deep for the simple salve of words.

Fortunately, God knows that.

In the 8th chapter of Romans, we read about the reality that some suffering is beyond words. But that, in those experiences when we do not know what words to offer,
…the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Rom. 8:26b)

Wordless groans.
Have you ever thought about the redemptive power of the wordless groan?

It says it all.
Think about the last time someone shared news with you that was so devastating, so real, so raw, that it actually hurt.

While you may have found it a struggle to string a sentence together, you knew immediately in that moment, at a visceral, almost primal level…how to groan.
A groan says I feel with you. I hurt with you. I ache and anguish with you.

A groan is not resignation. Not this kind of groan.
It’s not defeat. It’s not weakness.

This kind of groan; the kind offered in solidarity with the suffering, is the kind of deliberate, purposeful groan that comes as with a woman in childbirth. It comes with the expectation that something better is on the way. It can’t be seen yet. It can’t be held, coddled, felt, just now. But it’s on the way.

Paul put it this way:
All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy. Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. (Romans 8:22-26)

Sometimes all we have are groans.
And sometimes, they are enough.

2 Comments. Leave new

  • Shaun, I picked this up from Allison Kirkland’s post. It really helped me. Thanks for the wisdom.

  • Probably most of us fit into the ‘groaning’ category more than we would like to admit ……we who are followers of the Christ….there is much sadness and disorder in this world. Balancing that between the victorious and abundant life is no small feat….then ‘behold the comforter cometh’. The one He promised, the healer. How blessed are we to have each other in community and love.


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