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  • Writer's pictureJeff Conway


It starts deep in the soul. Rooted, grounded in the pain; not trying to escape pain’s hold but using it to move forward. Beginning at the diaphragm, it meanders its way to a guttural rumble in the lower throat. As the noise escapes the closed or open lips, it can be heard as a low, quiet, rattling gnar. Groaning. I find myself, particularly in the middle of the night, using the groan as a spiritual practice drawing me closer to God in the midst of pain; using the torment to allow a singular focus on God’s presence.

Slow deep breath. Groan. Slow deep breath. Groan.

With Patti sleeping next to me, I push the button to raise the back of the bed to ease the pain and pressure on my neck and back. I glance to my right to make sure I have not contorted her into a too uncomfortable position; somehow she sleeps on.

Slow deep breath. Groan. Slow deep breath. Groan.

Being a Jello-and-pudding kind of guy, groaning always seemed a bit like whining: an unnecessary vocal complaint or judgement. But, as many times in my life, I continue to learn and listen. Though I don’t naturally lean towards the negative, there are plenty of reasons in our world where a vocal groan is appropriate and hopefully moves one to action.

Slow deep breath. Groan. Slow deep breath. Groan. God please help me move with this and honor you with my action and moving forward.

Living in pain twenty-four hours each day has led me to a deeper understanding of the preciousness of life. I cannot say that I took for granted skiing down the powdery slopes; hugging a child in the slum in Nairobi; walking through the Sistine Chapel; taking the picture of thirteen smiling boys in Jallalbad, Afghanistan; lounging on a beach chair on Nauset Beach, Cape Cod; playing soccer with youth in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I knew then and know now that life is a precious gift from God. And not just for me, but for all humanity. So I care for people close to me as dearly as I care for humanity throughout the world. Which brings the groans when hurt-people hurt people.

Slow deep breath. Groan. Slow deep breath. Groan. Jesus, make us strong to stand against the injustice, near and far. Give us the courage to begin by tearing off the first piece of the loaf of bread of injustice where we can begin to make our first practical difference.

How should I be living my life? Should I be mad all of the time? Should I continually lash out at others or completely shut them out and remain secluded in my own bubble of misery? I used to be the main cook in the house. Picking up a pan is now difficult. It burns my tiny biceps. Using a knife to slice has become a clumsy adventure (thankfully not so clumsy that prep work ruins the meal). When I tear lettuce, my poor dinning partners end up bringing the large part of a plant to their lips. (I’m on the Cape as I write this. I used to love to come back early from the beach and cook a feast for all that were gathered. Today I stayed in bed a read a great book.)

Should I be mad? Should I rage at the machine? Should I feel cheated? Because I don’t. Three different psychiatrists have done full checkups on me over these neuromuscular years and affirmed that I am handling my life in a healthy and realistic manner.

But there is still twenty-four-hour pain. So, what do I do? I groan. Quite surprising to me. I’m not whining or complaining. I’m groaning, and it is bringing me closer to knowing that I am precious to God. Somehow the low rumble soothes me and relaxes me. I, being Jello-and-pudding, never imagined groaning would become an important part of my spiritual practices. The low rumbling groan recognizes the pain but helps me listen more intently to our Loving God. It gives me space to hear that I AM precious to God, loved.

Slow deep breath. Groan. Slow deep breath. Groan. Aaahhh.

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About Jeff


I've always been a fish out of water (and I love fish). From being an artist in a sports family, to a Christian who leans into the mystery of God while still trained in a Word-centered mainline tradition, and now a person in a wheelchair amongst able-bodied hikers, my life has perpetually been outside the box (or bowl). 

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