For Those Who Can't Find the Words to Pray
Written by Kacie Drake | ChattHOP Staff
Open browser. Over 7,000 dead in Nepal. Seven. Thousand. 14,000 others injured. Homes destroyed everywhere. See headline “‘Lord of the Flies’ Comes to Baltimore.” Fatherless communities. Political unrest. Protests. Some peaceful. Some not. Racism. Complication. Gang violence. Police brutality. Cancer. Drug addiction. Alcohol. Climb the ladder at all costs. Workaholics. Divorce. Lonely children. Bullying at schools. Suicide. Mothers and fathers in nursing homes, staring at walls, waiting on phone calls. Rape. Bad decisions. “In the wrong place at the wrong time.” Freak accidents. Car accidents. Drunk drivers. Drunkenness. Daddy won’t come home. Mama can’t pay the bills. Hungry children. Starvation. In every corner of the globe. Hunger. Thirst. Desperation.
I find myself – all the time – groaning. Instead of words, I only have this internal growl, low and deep and savage within my spirit. A war cry and a whimper – all at the same time.
I’m trying to re-learn what prayer is. For so many months, I had convinced myself I’m a terrible pray-er. I wrote in my journal, “I can only cry or cuss. I have no words.” Eventually, I had so many emotions and so little words that I went a couple months without writing at all. I had hoped that during my growth in the Lord, I would have increasingly eloquent prayers – or at least those that mirrored the prayers of Moses and David and Mary and John and Jesus. But instead, I show up to my journal or a prayer meeting, and all I have to accompany me is this groaning and growling within.
But then, Paul writes this: “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” Romans 8: 26-27
I do not know what to pray for. I do not know how to even begin praying for gang violence or the families of 7,000 dead who have lost their homes all at the same time. I do not know how to pray for unity among believers or the restoration of families.
But I am learning that the growling within is a pleasing offering.
If you have attended a church with any liturgical slant, you are most likely familiar with the sursum corda — where your pastor or priest says: “Lift up your hearts!” and you have probably responded: “We lift them up to the Lord!”
This opening to the church service is found throughout the Psalms and Lamentations. For example, David writes: “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God.” Or “Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.” Several times this language is used – lifting ourselves to the Lord. And several times throughout Scripture, God’s people are commanded to “arise.”
The Christian life is one marked by rising.*
Even so, in the groaning, in the frustration and anger and grieving, we can lift our minds and hearts towards him – no matter their condition – and our groans become prayers. This is a wonder: that the Spirit of God – who lives in us – translates the groans of our growling hearts into prayers that actually reach the ears of God, and work for us in accordance to his will. (And all the while, he testifies within us that we are God’s children!)
You may be groaning and growling within, heavied by the weight of deaths and droughts and disasters. (Even if they aren’t happening to you!) You may have silenced yourself towards the Lord for lack of words, or anger that you have felt forsaken or abandoned.
In Lamentations, the angry and mourning author says to Jerusalem, “Arise, cry out in the night… pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint from hunger at every street corner.” Lamentations 2:19
Cry out in the night.
The rising and the growling aren’t separated. So often, we read “arise” and translate it to mean we must wipe away the tears and get up and get on with it. But this author knows different: he says to get up and cry out.
Let the cries go up to the Lord! Get up and cry out! Lift up your heart – no matter how mangled or angry or confused it is – for in the lifting is the prayer. Silent prayers. Growling prayers. But prayers that reach the ears of the living God!
When we let the groans and cries within us heavy our hearts to the point of not being able to arise – we have given into despair. But God, lifting us out of our despair, does not always lift us out of our situation – he just directs our tears and groans toward himself. He directs us toward himself, and this – this opening our hearts towards him – is where prayer has its power.
This is the strength of the pray-ers: to arise and cry out. To lift our hearts toward the Lord. To lament and cry out and grit our teeth over the fact that “things are not okay,” and taking all this to the One to whom we can say:
“In you alone do I trust.”
*Of course the Lord meets us where we are, even in the lowest of places, but when he meets us, he always tells us to arise. Get up. Take up your mat and go home. Arise and shine! Talitha Koum: Daughter, get up! This is his grace that works so powerfully in us, that he meets us in the lowest of places, and out of his grace and power and mercy works powerfully in us to arise, to endure, and to walk boldly into his presence by the power of Jesus’ love that cloaks us.
*This photo is a piece of art by Penny Bragg, who is one of the most inspiring and remarkable people I know. If you’re interested in seeing more of her art or hearing her story, go here.