Prayer “too deep for words”

Although parents get tired of hearing it, a child’s cry is a miraculous way God helps us figure out what he or she wants.  Crying is how children express their longings, how their deepest desires come to the surface of their lives.

But wouldn’t it be easier if they just told us in plain words what they wanted?

I’m sure that if they could talk, and we asked them what they wanted, they would sometimes simply respond, “I don’t know–I just need to cry for a few minutes!”

Even we adults need to cry every now and then.  I know that after an unusually stressful work week, my wife will tear up and tell me to give her space–“Give me a minute to myself!”

Truth is, like children, we have longings and desires that we can’t seem to fulfill.  Sure, we purchase bigger televisions or faster cars, thinking that those things will finally fill our wishes and longings.  Yet, it’s no sooner that we make that big purchase that the big void returns to our souls.  We are at a loss for words and we don’t know why our eyes fill with tears.

In Romans 8:18-31, Paul tells us that we all have longings but that we are not alone.  In fact, all creation longs for something deeper than the mere commodities and frivolities of our earthly life.

There are three movements in this passage that get at this longing.  In the first movement (8:19, 21), Paul states that creation “waits with eager longing . . . to be free from the bondage of decay.”

Paul’s beautiful language, poetic in its structure, gives life and voice to creation.  He animates creation so we can sympathize with its helpless plight.

When Adam disobeyed God in Eden, God “cursed the ground” because of sin.  Creation didn’t sign up for this particular job of putting up with humanity’s sinful nature.  Then, we have the audacity to exploit the earth at it’s own–and our own–peril.  Creation longs to be free from this involuntary burden.

The second movement is Romans 8:23 in which Paul moves on to humanity, who “groan inwardly” and long for redemption along with creation.

I recall my first hospice visit.  It was with a senior citizen whose life was coming to an end.  Her courage and hope was so inspiring, her longing and groaning to be with her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ so profound, that I asked her to pray for me.

Here I am–the chaplain–and my job was to pray for her.  Her longing for redemption resonated so deeply in my heart that I couldn’t help but seek a blessing from her in her last days of life.

Paul’s third movement is the most encouraging:  When we have reached the end of our rope and our words fail us, when our longing and that of creation’s fail us, when we are at our most vulnerable, then the Spirit takes over “with sighs too deep for words” (8:26).

It is in the midst of darkness–in our weakness–that we move beyond words and the world and look to God.  Episcopalian priest and author, Suzanne Guthrie, in her book “Grace’s Window,” puts it best:

“The secret weaving of faith in the soul occurs in the deepest part of the night.  Fog coming in from the ocean in the dark, bringing cool and life-giving rain to the hills, is like the hidden divine presence coming into the soul.

“The roots of faith strengthen and swell unseen. . . Prayer becomes unconscious and hidden.  We pray when we do not know that we are praying.”

So whether you are one of those folks who yearn and long and groan after God, or someone who doesn’t understand a word I’m writing about because prayer is prayer and why make it so complicated in the first place, we can place our trust in the work of the Spirit and acknowledge a bold fact:

“If God is for us, then who can be against us” (Rom. 8:31), even if it means crying for no reason every now and then.

Published by Joe LaGuardia

I am a pastor and author in Vero Beach, Florida, and write on issues related to spirituality, faith, politics, and culture.

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