“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
Anxiety, I’ve learned over the years, is an enemy always hiding in the bushes just ahead of us. It calls out to us from the future, pointing to what might be. And then it pushes us to fixate on that rather than focus on the blessings of the present or the victories of the past. Anxiety is a future-disorder.
In Struck Down but Not Destroyed I talk about the importance of prayer. Prayer is a life-line, a rope that binds us to an awareness of God’s presence. With every syllable that slips off our prayerful tongue, we proclaim that God is here. He is the God who hears. He is the God who listens. And he is the God who acts.
But prayer, you know, doesn’t always have words. Along with robbing us of peace and sanity, our anxiety can also steal our words. Our teeth can chatter, but our tongue can’t move. What happens then? What happens when anxiety seems to paralyze us? We groan.
A Case Study
Here’s a recent case study.
I don’t like going to the dentist (surprise, surprise). I anticipate what the Novocaine shot is going to feel like as the needle presses into my gums, how the drill is going to shake the nerves beneath my teeth, how I’ll stop breathing and probably pass out in the dental chair (we anxious types are an odd bunch). Dental trips are perfect case studies for the future-disorder of anxiety. They sit ahead of us, calling to us in the present from the haze of the future.
The last time I went to have a crown put in, I raced down the Pennsylvania turnpike with a restless heart. My throat felt tight. It was hard to swallow, and heat was beginning to run through my upper back and down my arms. The internal dialogue ensued.
You've been through this a thousand times! You KNOW that this isn't a big deal. Just focus on the road. Talk to God!
The words weren’t coming. I hadn’t felt this anxious in a while, which was adding fuel to the anxiety. I was starting to panic as I looked for an exit from the feelings.
And then I remembered that vibrating my vocal chords always seemed to calm me down. So, with each breath, I did something very simple. As I exhaled, I made the noise, “Hmmm.” It was like I was agreeing with someone or showing that I resonated with what they had said. But no one had said anything.
Deep breath in . . . Hmmm. Deep breath in . . . Hmmm. Deep breath in . . . Hmmm.
The simplicity was calming in itself. But then Romans 8:26 flapped into my mind like a cardinal flying into heavy brush. “The Spirit groans with us.” He groans. This was the first time I really implemented that verse.
And as I groaned, the Spirit groaned with me in my weakness. A groaning dialogue too deep for words was lifting into the air. God received it as a holy intercession—I’m confident of that. Within a few moments, the symptoms began to subside.
And then there was this moment of clarity. “Oh,” I thought. “THIS is what you meant.”
Some of the most beautiful conversations we may have with God might not involve words. They may be groaning intercessions. They may be divine pleadings on our behalf. Our part is simply to groan . . . and the Spirit will groan alongside us in our weakness.
So, if you’re feeling too overwhelmed to pray with words, pray with groans. Simplify your communion with God to earnest pleadings from your vocal chords. The Spirit will come alongside you for a duet deeper than you can imagine.