Saturday, March 25, 2006

When We Can Muster Only a Groan:

There are times when grief does outweigh hope. Yes, much in our world gives us reason to grieve, but there are few things like death that send ripples of turbulence through us and shake our practice of living by hope so harshly. And the tension tightens, and we find ourselves slipping into real grief that no human should face alone.

Last Saturday, in the early morning, the father of a very good friend from my youth and adolescence passed away. Cancer, as it does, stole his life from him day by day until he had no more strength to fight and, eventually, to live. Unwillingly, he left behind a wife and a son, and his death begs them, and us, to ask the question: how are we to live in a world that is so marked by such cruel occurrences like death?

Three days later, the pastor spoke to the mourners at the funeral, and he encouraged us to grieve but to do so with hope. I must admit that the more I think about it, the more this feels like an awkward request, an awkward request placed on people throughout their lives. Death is one of the more poignant times where we find ourselves off-balance, and any inch our hearts had flowed toward hope they ebb back toward confounding grief, fear, hurt, pain. Now, the temptation does exist to prescribe a set of directions on how to handle the very awkward request of grieving with hope in light of the death of a loved one or simply in light of all that Creation is burdened with. But, I will resist it and turn to what I think, if I’m honest, is one of the only true responses: a groan.

We must respond to a moment like death that calls for strength and clarity, paradoxically, with weakness and confusion—with a groan of prayer, deep guttural groans of uncommon volume, groans that communicate the depth and reality of our confusion and groans that pronounce the rip of our soul. We must respond to something as dizzying as the death of a loved one with a proclamation of our need—our dire need for our King Jesus to enter the awkward process of grieving with hope, of living in light of all that hurts us, and Creation, with hope.

I imagine that this is what the disciples did—prostrate, finger-nails digging into the clay floor of the room they probably were hiding in, throats soar with groans and hearts heavy, hoping that what their friend and teacher told them was true, that death does not have the final word, that death is not the victor, that He would rise.

We, like they, come to the end of ourselves. Unfortunately, we hover in that awkward moment for too little time. Unfortunately, we resist being helpless. We do not like to be out of control, and so we begin explaining, and we begin doing, and we begin to turn from the very person that does give us the very reason to hope—Christ the King.

And the awkward request of the pastor remains, not only at the death of a loved one, but throughout each day as the staggering statistics of poverty and war grow and grow and grow and grow. What are we, as Christians, to do? We must answer the awkward need in which we find ourselves every hour of every day with a groan, a groan of prayer. Let us not find motivation for hope in ourselves, but groan for it from our King. I imagine that if Christians were free to groan, free to express the confusion and fear and pain that is really real in all of our lives, than we would know a freedom unlike any other as we find our home, at the end of ourselves, in true dependence upon our King.

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