Nestled among the many comforting promises in scripture is one of my favorites:
“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.”
When a new mother hears the wails of her baby, she offers care and comfort to her little one. The helpless child, so precious to her mother, can only groan and cry. In the same way, new mothers sometimes do not know exactly what to ask God, or possess the words to express what we feel. We cry out to our loving Father, who understands our wordless groans, knowing our emotions and needs far better than we do. With all wisdom and love, God nurtures us.
What a comfort this picture is, as new mothers cope with a wide range of emotions, extreme exhaustion, and major transitions. When we pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes between our disheartened groans and our loving Father’s listening ears. As the Spirit passes our cares on to the Father, He also reminds us of God’s promises. He points us back to our loving Jesus. He works through a loving family member who texts a poignant psalm, through the grade school memory work that resurfaces at just the right moment, or through a scripture notecard that your husband displays by the kitchen sink. After I had my third baby, I felt the Holy Spirit providing the words I needed—during the joyful moments and particularly during the trying times. As I reflect back on that time, I can also see how He interceded between my groans and my heavenly Father, who listened, comforted, and intervened.
I experienced postpartum depression after my first child was born. The stress of being a new mother and working in an emotionally demanding field fostered an already-present self-doubt. It took several months to feel emotionally balanced again. I groaned out to the Lord for reassurance and for peace, but often did not have the words. My second child was born in April of 2020, mere weeks after the COVID-related shutdowns took place. The social isolation and complex uncertainties of that time contributed to many dark days, again colored by despair. My cries to God were more desperate this time, and it was particularly challenging to find the words to convey my sadness, anger, uncertainty, and hopelessness. However, throughout my third pregnancy, God blessed me with mostly cheerful days. My prayers focused on my baby’s health, and the hope that I would continue to do well emotionally.
After my sweet baby came into the world this January, I was flooded with warmth and gratitude. The rush of oxytocin magnified the overwhelming love I had for my new baby, my two older children, and my husband. Happy and exhausted, I snuggled my newest little boy, also aching to see my other kids so I could embrace them, introduce them, and bask in the beautiful family God gave me. The Holy Spirit interceded to the Father with my grateful groans. The Holy Spirit pointed me to scripture…
“Every good and perfect gift is from above.”
He deepened my desire to have our son brought into God’s family through baptism the following day, and there were no words for my cries of joy. The Lord cares for my baby so much that He adopted him into God’s family, now and for eternity. (Ephesians 4:4-6).
Different groans followed in the coming weeks. A few days after we brought our tiny newborn home, several emotions surfaced at once. I was exhausted, anxious, overwhelmed, and was having difficulty expressing my feelings. I had a terrible cold and had difficulty catching my breath. Suddenly the combination of these physical and emotional factors became intense, as I felt a rush of panic, shortness of breath, and the fear that I would need to be rushed to the hospital. While I did not have the words to convey my desperation, I know that the Holy Spirit felt my terror and alarm. He provided comfort most immediately through my loving husband. The love and safety provided by my spouse reflected Christ’s complete care:
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
In the following days, I experienced foreign rushes of dread and irrational fears. I know that God felt and heard my terror, and that the Spirit translated my groans to the Father. After I shared my experience with my mom, the Spirit used her to remind me of Psalm 23. This part of scripture, so familiar that I often overlook it, was suddenly brimming with reassurance. Jesus was walking through the valleys with me, comforting me, personally guiding me. He is not a far-off, removed God, but one who is always there. He doesn’t always remove the hardships, but he is my steadfast leader and companion through them.
Sometimes I feared that my strongest anxiety would return (a groan that I had never experienced or uttered before). These raw words of Psalm 116 may sound a touch dramatic to a pampered 21st Century American, but they aligned with my fears in these worst moments.
“I was overcome by distress and sorrow…LORD, save me!”
Psalm 116: 3, 4
Within the same psalm, the Spirit reassured me that God hears and understands my groans, and reminded me of God’s mercy. “Our God is full compassion…when I was brought low, he saved me.” God did not immediately alleviate all of my anxiety, but he did something immeasurably better. He highlighted my helplessness. It was abundantly clear that I could not do this on my own. God reminded me that He is all-powerful and all-loving, inviting me to take refuge in his arms. Where I was weak, He was strong (2 Corinthians 12).
The Holy Spirit also answered my prayers in more outwardly observable ways. I was able to calm my mind by taking walks, crying, talking to loved ones, and connecting with a counselor and doctors. When my emotions were steadier, I was able to confront my negative thoughts with the truth: “I won’t always be this sleep deprived and overwhelmed.” “I don’t have to accomplish everything at once.” “I can ask for help.” I also believe the Holy Spirit convicted me on my over-use of social media, and how this fueled my anxious thinking, occasional anger, and comparison to others. He guided me to open to Bible app on my phone instead, meditating on Psalm 62’s reminder to trust in God to provide salvation, rest, and hope:
“Trust in him at all times, you people. Pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge.”
In the following months, my prayers and groans to the Father have continued. Am I a good enough mother? I lost my patience with the kids today…the guilt is strong. How can I provide every practical, emotional, and relational skill to my children? Sometimes the Holy Spirit used song to remind me of Scripture’s truths:
“I think I can’t, I think I can’t
But I think You can, I think You can…
Gather my insufficiencies and
place them in your hands
place them in your hands
place them in your hands.”
For Moments I Feel Faint, by Relient K
I cannot give my children everything they need, but I don’t have to. I can point them to Jesus, who is the source of life and hope. I will fail and fall short, but Jesus more than makes up for my insufficiencies. Even in the dark moments, I can sing, dance, and praise Him.
“In the darkness I’ll dance, in the shadows I’ll sing!
The joy of the Lord is my strength!”
Joy of the Lord, by Rend Collective
In the months since having my baby, God has provided stability, alleviation of the worst anxiety, and countless moments of joy. Challenges and changes also still remain. On this journey of motherhood, I am ever more grateful for the one who does not change like shifting shadows. He is my refuge and strength, whose love endures forever. I am so thankful that he loves me—and my children—perfectly. He hears my groans and gives me comfort. He provides support, perspective, and resources. He gives life and hope through scripture. He gives me himself.
Author, Julie Straseske has also written for Forward in Christ magazine, May 2023 issue.