“Because of the sound of my groaning, my flesh sticks to my bones. I am like a desert owl, like an owl among the ruins, I stay awake; I am like a solitary bird on a roof” (Psalm 102:5-7) There is a sleep related condition called catathrenia in which a person makes a groaning sound that can last up to 40 seconds in one exhale, ending in a sigh or a grunt. It is not related to snoring (an inhale issue) and it doesn’t interrupt sleep, except for the person with whom the groaner is sleeping.
The Psalmist, however, depicts a circumstance in which his groans were the result of deep suffering and affliction accompanied by an inability to eat or sleep. In addition, he felt isolated and alone, much like an owl whose very appearance seems downcast and who seeks habitats of desolation. While we do not know the situation which generated the writing of this Psalm, v.18-20 may provide a hint, “that He (God) looked down from His holy height…to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die.”
Perhaps the writer had a Dostoyevsky-like experience where he was rescued at the last moment from a firing squad. Whatever the circumstance, the beauty of his lament is in its focus on the eternity and faithfulness of God. Though the earth and the heavens will wear out like an old garment, God will remain the same, “and your years shall have no end.” This has led someone to say that we can only truly praise God when we can trust him with our lament.
When was the last time you groaned before God? Maybe you were facing bitter disappointment (a Seahawks fan perhaps?), enduring chronic or acute pain, or enduring personal struggle or tragedy. Such situations tend to isolate us and make us feel like barn owls while everyone around us seems to be happy, healthy, and successful. Such is a value of the Psalms of Lament: “They reduce the sense of isolation that grievers might feel as they realize they are in concert with a long line of sufferers.” (Terry Smith) The Psalms of Lament also give us a framework so that our sadness does not become a barrier but a bridge to God who loves us, but who also allows evil to exist so that he can use it for his good purposes.
Let me suggest that you investigate some of the Psalms of Lament: 4, 10, 12, 13, 44, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, 90, 102, 123, 126, 129. Pray through one these out loud and use it as the sound of your own groaning. When you do this, you will realize that you are not alone in your lament; you will join a vast host of saints throughout the ages using this very Psalm. It will also be an opportunity for you to affirm the character of God that you see revealed therein and revel in his love for you in Christ.
Through your groaning, the Holy Spirit will also articulate your deepest needs to the Lord Jesus Christ who will intercede for you before the Father. (Rom. 8:26, 34)
“Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).