I’m in the middle of watching a movie called The Music Never Stopped. It’s based on a true story about a man who suffered brain damage and is unable to form new memories. Most of the time he is apparently absent, talking very little and unable to carry on a normal conversation. However, when his favorite music is playing, he comes alive. For a time, he becomes himself again, expressive, thoughtful, and articulate, revealing the hidden reservoir of his delightful personality. The movie reminds us how little we understand about the workings of our own minds. In contrast, when our conscious minds sustain a never-ending, unbroken stream of thoughts all day (as they normally do), we find it easy to assume that they are running the show. We even tend to identify with our thoughts. “I think, therefore I am.” Our simple, noisy thoughts belie the profound complexity of who we actually are.
Don’t get me wrong. Our thoughts are important, even transformational. We are taught in the New Testament to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2) and to “take captive every thought” (2 Corinthians 10:5) and to “repent,” or change our minds. But sometimes, no matter how diligently we choose our thoughts and how steadfastly we affirm them, inexplicable things happen. We wake up with a deep sadness. Or we become unaccountably angry. Or our love seems to drain out despite the ongoing, sincere, devout opening of ourselves to God. Something deeper within us overrides our thoughts, making a mockery of them. We learn that the depths of our own being are far beyond our understanding. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” (Psalm 139:6)
I am experiencing an inexplicable dry spell myself. Although I continue to write and teach and coach people in reportedly effective ways, I am not really feeling it. Here’s the song that’s been running through my head:
Don’t let my love grow cold
I’m calling out
Light the fire again
Don’t let my vision die
I’m calling out
Light the fire again
Despite my pervasive optimism (hallelujah!), there’s a certain numbness and a desire to feel more passion. I’ve been through this before, at much more extreme levels. Though I’m far from being depressed right now, I’m also no longer afraid of it. I’ve learned that depression has its uses. I’ve learned that those unaccountable inner rumblings are purposeful and I can trust that something new is afoot, that something inside is trying to make its way out even though I don’t yet know what it is.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.
This was never more true for me than on April 16th, 2012. I sat at the top of the stairs to my office waiting to begin the day’s work. Will this cycle never end? I see no way out. Each week, each day has less meaning than the last. I’m so tired. That’s when my mind checked out and I gave in to moaning, then groaning. It seemed to open the door to the full darkness of my depression. No longer mediated by my mind, no longer put into words, it descended upon me in full. Had I been thinking thoughts, prayer would have been the furthest one from my mind. Not only did I not know what to pray for, in that moment I had given up on prayer altogether. Even so “the Spirit helped me in my weakness.” I now see God’s presence in those wordless groans of mine. It wasn’t predicated on my attention or even my belief. God knew exactly what I needed. My estrangement needed to become complete. And from that place of darkness, death, and despair, I began to find my life.
And so for today too, on a much less extreme scale, I trust in the wisdom of the Spirit that lives within my body. Seen from this perspective, it’s actually exciting. It takes the pressure off my having to “figure it out.” Yes, I’ll continue to attend to my thoughts, focusing on what I know is true. But among those thoughts is a reminder to set my thoughts aside and make room for the Spirit to intercede on my behalf. Meanwhile, “I” will be waiting over in the corner, watching with curiosity and anticipation.
What “inner rumblings” are you experiencing? Are you working with all your might to keep them at bay? Staying as positive as you can in hopes that they’ll go away? Try something counter-intuitive. Welcome the feelings and trust that they are working for your own good. Set some time aside to empty your head and be in your body, allowing the wordless groans to express themselves. Something new is being birthed in you. You do not yet know what will unlock your healing, but the Spirit within you does. As you let it bubble up, it will first sound wild and cacophonous, but let it flow and it will transform into the most beautiful music you have ever heard, bringing you “into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21)
I leave you with an image of the bigger birthing process of which you are an integral part. This is Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Romans 8:22-25:
All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.
(Romans 8:22-25, The Message)