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SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS | A groaning of spirit can become a place of prayer

The experiences that lead to groaning can become pivot points, places where we turn our hearts toward Jesus

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

“Lord, listen to my groaning.” These words from Psalm 5 are the refrain of the psalm for Monday this week. They capture the sense we carry away from the first reading: King Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, conspires to murder Naboth because Ahab wants to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard. We can imagine Naboth groaning at the injustice; so do we when we read about it!

That same kind of groaning is very much our experience of the world these days, isn’t it? Maybe it’s something as simple as the St. Louis Blues losing their playoff series on a goal with five seconds left in the game. Maybe it’s something much deeper, like the recent murders in Buffalo and Uvalde. Whatever the occasion, it’s a common experience to find ourselves groaning over the state of the world. It’s helpful to know that experience is reflected in the psalms!

It’s also interesting to think about what St. Paul says: “The Spirit, too, comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes with inexpressible groanings” (Romans 8:26). Could the groaning we experience be a doorway into something deeper?

If we push a little deeper, we’ll find this same thing in Jesus. For example, when Jesus heals the deaf man, the Gospel of Mark says: “Then He looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’ (that is, ‘Be opened!’).” A similar thing happens when Jesus is brought to the tomb of Lazarus. A common translation says that Jesus “became perturbed and deeply troubled.” The literal translation, however, is more startling: “He snorted in spirit.” It’s a variation on the same reality: a groaning too deep for words.

Whether it’s an email, phone call, family situation or something in the news, the world often brings us to that place of groaning. But often, we don’t know what to do with that experience or where to go with it. So we groan, and that’s the end.

We can learn something from the fact that we see the same experience in Jesus, and St. Paul tells us that the same thing can be a gift from the Spirit.

What do we learn? That that experience of groaning can become a place of prayer. Left to itself, the groaning is simply the experience of having the wind knocked out of your sails. But that experience can also become a pivot point, a place where we turn our hearts toward Jesus.

If we turn our hearts toward Jesus in that moment, we’ll find a remarkable thing: When we open our hearts to Him, He opens His heart to us. Then, rather than finding ourselves alone in the groaning, we’ll find that we can draw strength from Him to bear it — not because we have the strength ourselves, but because He lends us His strength.

To be able to draw on the strength of Jesus in the midst of all the things that make us groan — what a gift that would be! And what a gift it would be if we, having experienced it ourselves, could turn around and offer that strength to the world!

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