In my sermon last Sunday, I preached about something strange and surprising that the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Romans. In it he talks about the “groaning” of creation, including we “who have the fruits of the Spirit,” as we await the setting free of the world from its bondage to sin and decay. Groaning is not something we necessarily think of as being a part of the Christian life, but according to Paul, our groans are a natural and faithful response to the brokenness of the world.
In fact, Paul says that God participates in this act of groaning, too. When we don’t know what to say in response to the turmoil and suffering of the world, when we run out of words and feel weak and inadequate, when we simply don’t know what to pray, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness…[and] that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” That is, the Holy Spirit takes our groans and transforms them into prayer. It turns out that sometimes we don’t need to find the “right” words to say, because groaning can communicate better and more clearly our deepest feelings to God, who knows exactly what we mean.
The thing about all this groaning, though, is that it is not an act of despair. When we groan along with the Holy Spirit at the brokenness of the world, it is more than a pity-party, or woe-is-me, or fatalism. It is rooted and grounded in hope, because as Christians we groan for situations and circumstances and people for whom we hope. Hope is all about things we don’t yet see, but believe will come about. Hope is about trusting that what we know and experience now will not last forever. Hope is about having confidence that God will bend all things onto the arc of his good purposes, and that the worst thing will not be the last thing.
Unfortunately, hope seems to be in short supply these days. Earlier this year the American Psychological Association released findings on the rising rate of stress in our society, and it appears we are more pessimistic than at any time in recent history. Hopelessness about the future is growing, and it’s dragging us all down like clothes on a swimmer. The study finds this is especially true for Millenials, who express significantly higher rates of stress than other generations. In related news, Millenials are leaving Christianity behind in droves, and it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to me to connect the two data points. Young adults feel stressed and hopeless about the future, and they overwhelmingly think the church has nothing to offer in response.
Our groaning for the state of the world must stay connected to our hope for the world, a hope that is rooted and grounded in our belief and trust in God. We must not succumb to despair, but rather we must hold fast to that which we believe: “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We must be people of hope, who feel it in the depths of our soul, and who act with patience and diligence as a result.
So groan away. Groan your prayers when there is nothing to say. Groan with hope in the power of the Holy Spirit. Groan with hope and let it lead you out in a world that desperately needs hope, now more than ever.