March 7, 2010
The Groaning Heart
“I am weary with my groaning;
All night I make my bed swim;
I drench my couch with my tears.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
It grows old because of all my enemies”
There is such a thing as good grief. It is not good because it is pleasant, but because it opens up our hearts more lovingly to God.
When we groan in prayer, perhaps hurting so deeply that we can scarcely find any words to say, we are experiencing something that we desperately need to experience: the unavoidable realization of our need for God. Thus while we look forward to praying the prayer of joyous thanksgiving, it is the prayer of downcast sorrow that pushes us more strongly down the path of inner growth. Perhaps it shouldn't be true, but it is: it's when our blessings are withdrawn that the Source of those blessings means the most to us. The groaning heart is the one that clings to its God.
The same wise man who said, “[There is] a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4) also said, “[It is] better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4). Although it seems to be written in the laws of our culture, it is nowhere written in the laws of the universe that unpleasantness is an unqualified evil. There are times when groaning deeply within ourselves is the exactly right response to what has happened.
So all things considered, which would we rather have the “opportunity” to pray: the prayer of thanksgiving or the prayer of groaning? If we live a normal life span, most of us will get a fair amount of experience with both. But while it's natural to hope that the times of gladness outnumber those of grief, let us not despise the purity that can come out of grief. And when our hearts hurt so badly that words fail us as we try to speak to God, let us not be afraid simply to shed our tears, if they will come, and to let our groans be a sufficient prayer. The God to whom we make our plea not only hears what we say, but God feels what we feel.
“The best prayers often have more groans than words” (John Bunyan).