The sunrise was so beautiful this morning, it made me cry.
Well, as it turns out, it wasn’t actually the sunrise. At first I wasn’t sure what stirred my emotions, especially since I don’t usually tear up easily. No matter how beautiful the sunrise (and this one truly was!), sunrises don’t usually make me cry.
But I’ve been trying to pay more attention to the Holy Spirit’s leading in prayer recently. Just last night I’d studied Romans 8:26 with my Teen Community Bible Study group. It says that when we don’t know what to pray for, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words.” The girls really resonated with that. “It’s like when you go to your parents and go . . .” (here one of the girls demonstrated a loud, heart-wrenching wail). “You don’t even say anything to them, you just cry!”
I thought she was pretty insightful. That may be very much like what the Holy Spirit does with God the Father on our behalf. His heart may sometimes be so heavy for us that a groan, cry, or sob may express things best.
So I asked God what my tears were about. Was that the Holy Spirit praying a wordless prayer for me?
Right away my thoughts went to what sunrises symbolize: a new day. Then I thought about people who are extremely dear to me who are moving soon to another country. It’s a new and wonderful experience for them—a new day. But it feels more like a sunset than a sunrise to me. I will miss them a lot. How will our relationship change with thousands of miles between us?
So I cried some more and released grief I hardly even know I had. I didn’t say much—words didn’t seem necessary. The Holy Spirit and I were communicating with Abba pretty well with just our tears, it seemed.
I wonder how often the Spirit prays for me like that? And how often I have missed out on intimacy with God because I haven’t paid much attention to those stirrings deep inside me?
Earlier this week I woke up with an ache—the kind of pain that I’m too young to have. (Yeah, right, who am I kidding?) Anyway, although I try not to worry about getting older, but sometimes anxious thoughts do come. I work hard not to obsess about them—which means I stuff them down and try to ignore them. So I ignored the pain and my thoughts, and headed out to a cozy spot by the fireplace, coffee in hand, planning to dig into Scripture and spend time with God.
I had just reached for my Bible when He seemed to say, “No, not yet. I want you to tell Me what’s on your heart.”
Will it seem strange to you to hear that I didn’t really know what was on my heart? The Oh, I’m getting old thoughts I’d had when I first got up had moved completely to the back burner. My mind had moved on to someplace between Do I have anything to take for lunch? and What am I doing after work today?
But when God asked me to share my heart with Him, a rush of feelings came, all of them aging-related fears. I was embarrassed at first. I suppose I thought maybe He’d chide me for worrying. But God’s quiet presence was strong and welcoming. Sensing His love and acceptance, I grabbed my prayer journal and wrote down a flood of thoughts and feelings that usually go unexpressed. I allowed myself to feel, and invited God to enter into what I was feeling. To my surprise, God met me in with deep, mostly silent, compassion and understanding. My heart grew still and peaceful.
When, eventually, I opened the devotional book I’ve been reading,* I was blown away by what I read. The author, Leighton Ford, said that “the old spiritual teachers used to say that it is very important to pay attention to our tears.” He said that tears are the way God sometimes breaks our hearts open so that He can plant His word inside. For this reason, Ford says that when tears come, we should ask God, “What makes these tears come?”
I’m still trying to take all this in. I’m such a verbal person that praying with silent tears or even loud groans seems pretty foreign to me. But it seems that God wants me to learn this. Obviously, it’s all new to me. Do any of you readers have experience with praying with the Spirit in ways similar to this?
*The Attentive Life: Discerning God’s Presence in All Things, pp. 144-145.