We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as (children), the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:22-23, The New International Bible) Lately, I find myself groaning more. I must do more stretching when I wake up in the morning and it’s really hard to stretch without groaning! I groan when I find I have more work to do or that something unpleasant must be faced or even when I have to wait for what I want. Perhaps it’s age or impatience, but it could be that I have just come to a season of groaning. There is no rational reason for this, as far as I can see. I am content with my ministry and my life in general, but the season is upon me and I think I will just have to moan and groan until I am through it.
Life is often marked by seasons of groaning. There are times when we live spartanly because we are getting a degree or training for a career and money is tight. There are times when we sit by the bedside of someone dear to us, or bear with them in their own season of groaning. There are times when we long for and yearn for and hope for someone or something that probably will not come to us. There are times of discontent that are hard to explain, and so, even harder to do anything about. Groaning times all.
It’s odd that Paul would, in Romans 8, the great linchpin of his treatise on freedom from the law, wallow in some self-pity over the state of creation. Everything has been in a constant state of groaning, he says, waiting for what God will do next and just having to cope with it as best it can. If we keep reading, we find that the contrast is also groaning, but it is the groaning of the Spirit (presumable also expressed by us as we pray) interceding for us with “groans that are too deep for words.”
Advent begins on December 3 and I have begun to think of it as a season of groaning. Yes, I have more work to do and I thoroughly detest Christmas shopping and decorating with lights and trees and garlands is getting more tedious each year, but it goes deeper than that. I know people who will feel the grief of loss more keenly in this season. I am aware of those who cannot afford the kind of Christmas Madison Avenue portrays. I feel the pain of those whose loneliness is amplified by the conversations of festive parties and family gatherings. I groan, inwardly, if not audibly.
But groaning can also have an upside. Sometimes we groan after hard work that generates a lot of good. Sometimes we groan in sympathy with someone who needs us by their side. And sometimes, even though it is hard to see at the time, our groaning is a sign that our spirit is being stretched or strengthened for the day when we will step into the shadows of someone else’s groaning with a light of hope and understanding for them.
Maybe the trick is to embrace our groaning without giving in to the fatalism that would have us believe it will always be so. If Paul can find reason to hope in the midst of all of the persecutions and opposition and rejection he and his followers faced, maybe I can wait for a hope that I can’t yet identify. Maybe I can tolerate the groaning of others as the signal to me that it is time to show compassion and support. Maybe I can groan in my prayers, both as an expression of my discomfort and as an outpouring of God’s Spirit that speaks when my words fail.
I invite you to join me in a season of groaning. Amen