When life hurts, we want to move away from it. A job that drains you of energy, time, and relationships hurts. The thought of the stress and long hours at work makes us just want to take sick days and stay in bed. A nagging sinful desire that will not go away hurts. We can easily become confused or frustrated with ourselves and with God.
In the past several months, God has brought two men for me to walk with who are in seasons of great groaning. One man groans under the weight of a 70-80 hour work week and difficult clients. The other groans that his struggle with same-sex attraction would just go away. I struggled with how to give hope to these brothers. How do I communicate gospel truth without ignoring the reality and significance of their pain?
God showed me through Romans 8:18-25 that the pain we feel in this life can be a starting point for hope. In this passage, Paul defines genuine hope as a hope that eagerly groans to be with God enjoying full redemption (v. 23). This hope deals honestly with this life, and it can increase through the brokenness we see in this world and in ourselves.
Paul describes this hope using the realistic metaphor of “labor pains.” His picture of a pregnant woman delivering a baby connects the two realities of significant pain and a coming incomparable glory. Our groan for redemption takes all the agony we experience and organizes it around our hope not in what is seen, but what is unseen.
Therefore, as I listen to those who are hurting and struggling, my goal is more than just to accept and validate their experience. I want to enter their story with the gospel and use their experience of pain to grow their hope in the glory that is to be revealed.
How do we help them get there?
Here are a few practical steps to grow genuine hope:
- Affirm that life under the curse is broken. It’s right for them to look at an eighty hour work week standing in the way of time with family and say, “This isn’t the way it should be.” It’s right for them to look at their same-sex attraction and say, “Something feels completely off.” As J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “We all long for Eden, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most human, is still soaked with the sense of exile.”One way we can help those we counsel to understand this groaning hope is by showing them Psalms that turn these painful groans into songs of honest hope. For example, Psalms 31, 55, and 142 demonstrate how the sufferings of this world can actually be used to draw us near to God. Thus we can share with our counselees that their pain tells them something vitally true, that they’re not home yet, so their hope can shift away this world and onto Christ.
- Explain the necessity of groaning for the health of the church. Within the church, we all suffer affliction, though perhaps in different seasons and to differing degrees. I remember hearing a pastor at a conference ask the speaker, “What should pastors do when their life has no suffering?” The speaker’s answer was spot on. “Just wait. Suffering will come.” But I would add, “While you wait, look around, suffering is always part of individual lives within your church.” It’s vital for our hearts to groan all the time. Thus groaning for redemption should be a mindset that we pursue by walking with those who are hurting. When we stop groaning, we lose touch with reality and lose sight of our only hope in this life.How does our groaning relate to the health of the church? Ecclesiastes 7:2 (ESV) says, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” Often we just feel like an unnecessary burden to the church when we are suffering. But our personal burdens and struggles, when shared with others, can actually contribute to growing their hope as they lean on Christ with us and understand more deeply how great a Savior He truly is. Thus, we can give hope by telling those who are hurting that their groans are essential to helping the church live dependently on Christ and in light of eternity.
- Make Christ the object of the groan. While our sorrows and struggles do help us look forward to completed redemption, they should also help us look back at what Christ, “the man of sorrows,” had to experience for our sake. As we persevere under the curse, we must remember that Christ became a curse for us in order to give us the hope of redemption (Gal. 3:13). The more we help those we counsel to consider the price that was paid for such a hope, the more they will endure with thanksgiving as they see each “labor pain” under the curse as a reminder of what Christ endured to save us and adopt us into His family.
Join the Conversation
Our groaning hope helps locate us in God’s story of redemption. This is a life of waiting in the middle, a life longing for home. This honest hope allows us to move and live together, to participate in each other’s suffering, and most of all to remember the pain our Savior bore in order to bring us this hope. As we continue to think about this together, what questions would you ask to evaluate the groans of the people you walk with? How would you help them move toward Christ in the midst of pain?
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien: A Selection, ed. Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2000), 110.