by Jennifer Michael
I was scrolling through Facebook the other morning, and one of my friends shared a photo of a prayer. It began, “Dear Jesus,” followed by a jumble of letters. Then, “Amen.”
The caption on the photo was Romans 8:26: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that the very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”
This picture spoke to me. I realized that all the jumbled-up letters mirrored my jumbled-up thoughts in these days of the pandemic. I could see myself beginning my prayers with “Dear Jesus,” but then having no idea of what to say next.
If you are like me, then you too might find yourself at a loss for words to add to your prayers. My heart, at times, feels so heavy I do not even know where to begin.
But that’s where passages like this one from Paul to the Romans can have a calming effect. The message that Paul gives us is one of hope in the midst of despair.
Theologian and Gather Bible study author Audrey West writes about this passage. She says, “For Paul, hope is not pie-in-the-sky optimism that disavows the reality of sin and suffering, as if one simply needed to stop worrying and be happy. True hope is born out of the assurance that what we see and experience–the groaning reality all around us–is not the end of the story.
“This is hope as a woman in labor hopes: breathing through the pain, holding tight to a companion, looking ahead to what cannot yet be seen, trusting that a time will come when this pain is but a memory.”
Pain is but a memory
It is easy to lose hope when news of deaths and new “hot spots” surround us. Those stories are then juxtaposed with reports of job loss and food insecurity. Sometimes I wonder if I will have any strength left to endure what is still ahead of us.
…for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that the very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.–Romans 8:26
But then I hear words of scripture like these from Paul to the Romans. Paul tells us that when we struggle to find the words; when we feel incapable of expressing the most profound needs within us, the Spirit intercedes on our behalf “with sighs too deep for words.” The Spirit offers us the prayer we cannot speak.
We know that the Holy Spirit is always among us, and we are not alone. We know that God is present in our greatest need. This is the Good News–that even in this time of uncertainty–God is with us giving us confidence and hope that a time will come when this pain is but a memory.
The Rev. Jennifer Michael is pastor at Saint Peter Lutheran Church, Battle Creek, Mich. She was president of Women of the ELCA’s executive board from 2011-2014. Pastor Michael originally wrote this as a FaithChat video message for her congregation.