A Closer Look at Gethsemane: How Are We Measuring Up?

Over the past couple of months, I have been working through The Gospels – the first four books of the New Testament.  Specifically, I’ve been examining the responses of Jesus toward any situation or circumstance He faced.  Although there are so many things to glean from those four books, I’ve been most fascinated with the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Because I want to capture the full account of this story, I’ve taken the liberty of combining Scripture from Matthew and Luke so we can see a more complete picture of what occurred after the Last Supper with His disciples in the Garden.

Luke 22:39, 43-46 and Matthew 26:36b-39, 42-45

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and His disciples followed Him.  And He said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray”. 

He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee (James and John) with Him, and He began to be sorrowful and troubled.  Then He said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.  Stay here and keep watch with Me.”

Going a little farther, He fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me.  Yet not as I will, but as You will.”  An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him.  And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. 

When He rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, He found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.  “Why are you sleeping?” He asked them.  “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may Your will be done.” 

When He came back, He again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.  So He left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. 

Then He returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting?  Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise, let us go!  Here comes My betrayer!”

Before we can look at Jesus’ responses, I’d like to take some time to really zoom in on His current circumstances – what He was going through, what He was experiencing in each moment, the emotions He must have felt.  Keep in mind as we examine this passage that Jesus was, at this time, 100% God and 100% human.  He went through many of the same things that we go through.  1 Peter 4:1 states that “Christ suffered while He was in the body” and Hebrews 4:15 states, “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses since He had the same temptations we do, though He never once gave way to them and sinned.”

So what WAS going on?

Matthew 26:37-38 – Jesus “began to be sorrowful and troubled”.  His soul was “overwhelmed with sorrow”.  The word “sorrow” here refers to both physical and mental pain.  We see a couple of things here – inner turmoil and dread is one, and second, the grief from bearing the weight of other’s sins…the sins of the whole world.  Think for a moment about a time when you felt the most burdened about a sin you’d committed, or maybe it was just a sinful thought.  Or try and remember a time of immense grief where you couldn’t eat and you couldn’t sleep.  You just felt ill. The emotional agony of the situation was just too much to bear.  Now imagine the weight of your one situation multiplied by the burden of the sins of the whole world!  Can you see it in your mind’s eye?  I don’t know if we can ever begin to comprehend the weight of the burden that Christ was feeling that night, but we’re going to try.

His burden – His cup of wrath He was to drink – was so huge that we see in Matthew 26:39, the severity of the stress he was under.  He prays, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.”  He was under so much stress of knowing what was to come that He actually pleads with His Dad to not make Him have to go through with it, to please take this horrific life sentence away from Him.  Jesus, in this very moment, shows His full humanity.  He knows what it’s like to go before the Father and beg for His situation to be removed from Him.  We can only imagine how He must have wept privately here.  He was under so much pressure and so much grief that when you skip to Luke 22:43-44, it says, “An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him.  And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”  He was in so much physical and emotional anguish over what He had to do, that an angel had to come and strengthen Him.  Scientists say that when a person is under that much emotional turmoil or grief, the capillaries in the human head can actually pop, causing a blood-like sweat as we see here.  Can you imagine a grief so great?

Looking back to the text in Matthew 26:40, 43, and again in verse 45, they state “Then He returned to His disciples and found them sleeping.  ‘Could you men not keep watch with Me for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation’.” “When He came back, He again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.”  “Then He returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting?”  Here Jesus is on arguably the most difficult night of His entire life.  We know He is already in severe distress and anguish – physical and emotional agony – and His closest friends, who He asked to stay with Him in Matthew 26:39 – “Stay here and keep watch with Me”, fell asleep on Him…repeatedly!  Try to envision for a moment the extreme loneliness and abandonment He must have felt.  He was beyond overwhelmed with sorrow and grief.  This was the time He should have been surrounded by His closest friends, comforted by them, having them be an alert, wakeful, and sympathetic presence, knowing they would be praying for Him, consoling Him, but they let Him down…big time. They completely ignored His request.  Have you ever been let down by somebody who was your closest friend?  The abandonment and loneliness He experienced here would have been so much worse of a blow because it provided a glimpse, a foretaste, of what was to come – from the imminent abandonment from His friends when they deserted Him after His arrest – to the cross, where even His Father would turn His face away from Him.

Looking back at Matthew 26:42, Jesus prays the second time stating, “My Father, IF IT IS NOT POSSIBLE for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it…”  He prayed the first time in Matthew 26:39 asking His Father to take the cup away from Him.  We can deduce from here that the reason He was in great anguish and needed to be comforted by the angels was because He received an answer to His prayer that He was not wanting.  He knew by verse 42 that God was not going to take this cup of wrath away from Him.  He was going to have to endure it.  Have you ever received an answer to prayer that you weren’t hoping for?  Maybe you just assumed God didn’t answer your prayer because what you asked for wasn’t allowed.

In Matthew 26:46 which states, “Rise, let us go!”, we see that Jesus faced his own, imminent death – literally.  Many of us haven’t had to go through that just yet, but I can’t help but think of numerous friends and family members we know who have had to do exactly that…possibly through a terminal illness diagnosis or failing health.  There is not one thing that we will go through that Jesus has not already experienced.

And finally, this whole story of the Garden of Gethsemane has Jesus surrounded by betrayal from one of His closest friends.  Jesus called it in Matthew 26:25 at the Last Supper: “Then Judas, the one who would betray Him, said, ‘Surely not I, Rabbi?’.  Jesus answered, ‘Yes, it is you.’” and immediately following the garden’s story, we see Judas do exactly what Jesus said he would in Matthew 26:48&49 – “Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.’ Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed Him.”  There’s nothing quite like betrayal – but it’s so much worse when it comes from a close friend.

So how DID Jesus respond to all of these things?

First of all – look back at the very first verse of the bolded passage.  “Jesus went out AS USUAL to the Mount of Olives…”  When Jesus was in the area, this is where He went to meet with God.  He had a special place set aside just for prayer.  That’s actually how Judas knew where they were going to be that night…because Jesus made it a regular habit to meet with His Father there in prayer.

When His sorrow and anguish was too great to bear, when He felt the most alone and abandoned by His closest friends – leaving Him to deal with His burden by Himself, Jesus chose to pray…and he kept returning to His only source of comfort – His Father.  Notice that at His loneliest time, God was still present through prayer.  Jesus’s prayer life was well-established long before a difficult situation ever arose in His life.  What are your prayer habits like?  Do you wait until a hard time comes up before going to meet with the Lord in prayer or do you have a regular prayer life already established so that prayer is your first response to everything and anything?  One other item I want to point out here is Jesus’s posture in Matthew 26:39 – he laid, face flat, on the ground.  It’s worshipful.  But it’s also a position of a servant’s cry to His King.

Jesus chose to receive help from the angels.  He chose to not get angry with His friends even though they completely ignored His request to stay awake with Him.  He chose to trust His Father totally, in full surrender.  You see this through the way He ends each of His prayers: “not what I will, but what You will”.  Just think about that for a moment!  What is the biggest thing you have ever prayed for, cried out to God for?  Did you ask Him just for what you wanted or were you ready and willing to embrace His will?  If not, what was it that held you back?

He also chose to face His death with courage and obedience – with total surrender and acceptance.

When faced with these kinds of situations or difficulties in life, how do YOU respond?  Is your response self-seeking?  Self-loathing?  Clothed in self-pity and self-servitude?  Or is your response more like Christ’s?  With humility.  With grace.  With obedience.  With trust.  With total surrender to the Father’s will.  As we prepare for this Easter season, may each one of us surrender ourselves totally to the authority of our God.  May we do as the Psalmist says in Psalm 139:23-24 and truthfully ask, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  May we daily choose to humbly and gracefully surrender our will to His, to fully obey, and to fully trust Him.

Main points to remember along our journey toward Home:

Step 1 – Ensure that you have a consistent and meaningful prayer life established before dark or difficult times arise.

Step 2 – Don’t blame God – even though He may be allowing the pain you’re experiencing.  Choose not to blame.  Choose to trust.

Step 3 – Go to Him in prayer and humility even though that might be the last thing you want to do – when everyone else is distracted and sleeping – go to Him…repeatedly.

Step 4 – Even if God doesn’t take                               away, obey.

Minivans, Vomit, and Frozen – What They Taught Me About Fear

I must have only been 10 or 11, but I clearly remember sitting on the floor of a friend’s van (we could do that 20 years ago if the seat belts were all occupied) and one of the children wouldn’t stop crying.  I didn’t get it.  We had just left his cousin’s house, not far from his own.  He could visit anytime he wanted; he could see them again the next day.  WHY was he crying?  Let me re-phrase: Why was he SCREAMING?  He happened to be sitting on the seat directly parallel to my spot on the floor, so my left ear received the full extent of his piercing, screaming sobs.  My eyes were wide.  I stared straight ahead, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why this 4-ish year old wouldn’t shut up.  In only a matter of, I’m sure, a few seconds, I could no longer hear my own thoughts, and I lost it.

“(Insert child’s name), SHUT UP!”  I shouted.  It only seemed logical to shout so he could hear me over his own screaming.  Immediately, both his mother and my mother shouted my name, scolding me.  It’s somewhat humorous looking back on the situation now, but it also serves as the earliest memory I have of “too much input”, a phrase my psychiatrist terms, “ADHD”.

A large part of ADHD, for me, is the complete inability to process my current surroundings/situations in the same manner or at the same rate that most people can.  For example, most people I know can drive a car and listen to a screaming child in the backseat, simultaneously.  Heck, some people can even do it while carrying on a conversation with another adult or listening to incessant, repetitive, and very annoying children’s music.  But I can’t.  No, really!  I’m incapable of processing those things.  My brain turns to fuzz.  Imagine, if you will, using the old “bunny-ears” antenna and the channel you wanted just wouldn’t receive or come in clearly.  The channel would be an annoyingly loud, scratchy sound and the screen would flicker a black/white/grey mess.  That is what my brain does when more than 2-3 things are happening around me at once.  I don’t “recept”, or process.  I shut down.  That’s when anxiety takes over.

Skip back to age 8 or 9.  My head hung over the toilet bowl while I vomited.  No stomach flu.  Just “nerves”.  I knew my dad was on his way to come pick me up for the 9 hour drive to his parent’s acreage for the week…over the Christmas holiday…yet again.  It wasn’t that those visits were terrible; sometimes they were OK.  But let’s just say my fondest memories of those visits were the late night cups of tea and endless games of Skip-Bo (or Scrabble) I played with my Gramma.  To this day, I don’t know why I was so nervous for those trips, nor do I care to over-analyze the “why” behind it, but I believe that trip in particular accounts for my earliest recollection of anxiety.

Fast-forward to today.  I have good days but lately, it seems, that the bad days tend to be more often than not.  “Bad days” are the ones filled with anxiety.  So much so, that the simple thought of driving to the city (only 20 minutes away) is enough to keep me at home.  Even when we are out of the grocery essentials, we stay home.  And what if the kids don’t behave picture-perfectly while in public?  We should stay home.

Let me paint the picture clearly for you:  My children do get along sometimes, but for the most part, each wants what the other has and when they can’t have it, a melt-down begins, usually by both children, crying or screaming at each other.  Hair has been pulled, faces have been hit, skin has been pinched, tears have rolled.  On a good day, I can process what is happening and put a stop to it immediately.  But on the bad days, all it takes is for that one blood-curdling scream to be voiced, and mommy loses it.  Again, the only logical thing to do is shout over the noise in order to be heard.  “STOP SCREAMING!  STOP PINCHING! DON’T PULL HAIR! STOP PUSHING! PUT IT BACK! LET GO, NOW!”  My almost-daily vocabulary.  It’s exhausting…and loud.  When you stay at home all day, every day, shouting the same things over and over, you tend to get…anxious.  To keep my sanity and to keep the peace (and quiet), I have allowed (too much) t.v. and screen time over the past few weeks.  Let’s just call that a coping method.  But you see, in today’s society, you can’t allow your kids to watch even a small amount of television without feeling some measure of guilt, because every mother knows (and has probably been told a few times) that the “American Academy of Pediatrics strongly urges parents to strictly limit screen time…It will fry their brains, they aren’t ready to handle it developmentally”, bla, bla, bla.  Yes, we know!  So even in our attempt to get some guilt-free sanity, there’s still an inkling of guilt.  It never really goes away, so neither does our insanity…or anxiety.

It’s been in our “too much screen time” weeks that we have had a re-surge of the movie, Frozen.  Since hearing Elsa’s song, Let It Go, when first released in 2013, I’ve often wished I could be like her.  For the few of you who haven’t seen the film, let me paraphrase:  Elsa has magical powers.  She turns things to ice.  Get it?  Frozen?  Anyway, she can use her powers for fun and for good, but when she uses her powers (or when they escape her) out of fear, damage occurs.  She kept her powers hidden for years until they escaped from her (out of fear) on her Coronation Day, in front of everyone.  So she fled.  When she’s leaving all she’s ever known to be “free”, she willingly uses her powers and sees what she’s actually capable of doing – creating beautiful winter-wonderlands, a magical ice-palace, Olaf (a snowman which comes to life), etc., and all the while, she sings the famous song, Let It Go.  For some reason her words resonate with me:

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen
A kingdom of isolation
and it looks like I’m the Queen

The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in;
Heaven knows I’ve tried

Don’t let them in,
don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel,
don’t let them know
Well, now they know

(Chorus)

It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me,
I’m free

Chorus:
Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don’t care
what they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway

I’ve always wished I could “let it go” when it comes to things that have caused seemingly unwarranted anxiety, worry, or stress, but apparently I don’t posses the same powers as Elsa, nor can I simply run away from my responsibilities, become a hermit, and do what I want, when I want…although I have certainly tried at times.

Recently, I was thinking over how I have allowed my two-year-old (who throws a massive temper tantrum the very millisecond he doesn’t get what he wants) to control my life.  I don’t go into town because I don’t want to listen to the screaming fit that occurs when he drops his teddy bear, gets mad about it, so I almost drive off the highway to retrieve it and hand it back to him, he gets mad, throws it down again, and screams and cries about that fact all over again.  Because…I can’t be in a vehicle with a screaming child.  Therefore, I don’t go to the city.  I don’t dare volunteer at my daughter’s school.  My social anxiety certainly plays into that, but I think the real reason is I avoid it is, chances are, my son would have a tantrum, and we would end up leaving anyway…so why go through the hassle, have the glares or stares of other parents and teachers, just to walk out in shame?

A few days ago, while driving to the city – a situation that causes anxiety to begin with – along with my two children (who were getting antsy in the backseat), I was already incredibly anxious about an upcoming health appointment – the necessary reason for the trip.  I knew I wasn’t processing well that morning and needed to focus on driving (Saskatoon drivers…they’re crazy), so I popped in the only kid’s CD that I can handle, which also happens to be my kids’ favourite (and therefore, keeps them quiet-ish).  The first song came on and immediately the fighting subsided.  They started “seat-dancing” to the beat, and I started singing along (it’s weird…but sometimes that actually helps me to focus on my task at hand).  Then it hit me.  All of my anxiety had dissipated.  It was gone!  My situation hadn’t really changed though.  I was still driving in the city, the kids were still making noise (thankfully happy noises at this point), and I was still going to a dreaded appointment.  What changed?

My focus.

Take a listen.  Seriously!  Do it! (This is the song to which we were bouncing along.)

 

I love Brad’s music (and I’m proud to say we attended the same college years ago) but this song in particular really changes your focus, doesn’t it?  It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, what you’re going through, what you’re feeling, because when you start praising the Lord even in the midst of your circumstances, no room is left for anything else.  It was at that moment that some of Elsa’s Let It Go played in my head, “It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small, and the fears that once controlled me, can’t get to me at all“.  Silly mommy.  My two-year-old hasn’t been controlling me, my actions, or even my re-actions.  It’s been fear.

Anxiety is driven by fear.  Fear of the what-if.  Fear of the what-if-not.  Fear of the can’t.  Fear of success.  Fear of unsuccess.  Fear of the past, present, and sometimes, even the future.

Fear.  It truly is crippling, isn’t it?

The funny part about Elsa is that, only a short while after running away to “freedom”, she found out that she really wasn’t free at all.  When she fled, she left a wake of destruction.  Her hometown was covered in ice and snow.  Her people were freezing and starving.  When told to come back and fix the problem, she refused (out of fear), stating she didn’t know how.  She only knew fear and fear was her enemy.

In the end, she almost killed her sister because of her powers…because she allowed fear to take control.  The only way to break the negative impact of her powers was “true love”…of course, because it’s Disney, right?  But instead of a magical “true-love’s kiss”, only an act of true love was required.  Even though Anna was dying, she used her last ounce of strength to save Elsa’s life…the action of true love.

John 15:13 (NIV)
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

In that moment, the sum of Elsa’s fears stopped.  In that moment, the swirling snow stopped.  The howling winds stopped.  Everyone just stopped.  And Elsa wept.  Her worst fear had come to fruition.  She thought Anna had died.  Only in her burden of grief and despair, in the absence of fear, did Anna slowly begin to breathe, and the world around them slowly began to thaw, because “only an act of true love could thaw a frozen heart“.

1 John 4:18 (Msg)
There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear.

When our focus shifts to be on Him alone, the author of “well-formed love”, there simply is no room for fear.  Focusing on Him creates that distance where everything else, the little matters of life, and sometimes even the big ones, become a lot more clear.  “It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small, and the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all.”

Philippians 4:13 (Msg)
Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.

Granted, there are times when my anxiety will take over, or should I say, fear?  But acknowledging the fear and asking God for His help to take a stand against it, can make a powerful and impactful difference in one’s life.  So that’s precisely what I did.  Even on a “low-processing” day, shortly after having the stomach flu, I was determined that fear was not going to have the upper hand in my life on that particular day.  I decided to pack up the kids, drive into the city, while it was snowing, and pick up an order from the bookstore – a task I had put off accomplishing for days…due to fear.  But, I did it!  And the kids may have screamed at each other for a bit in the back seat, and the snow may have been blowing across the highway, and my son may have had another disastrous diarrhea diaper in the bookstore, and I may have even met my husband for lunch (around naptime), and my son may even have had a massive meltdown when I went to order my lunch, and I may have encountered the stares of fellow patrons, and I may have had to take him outside the restaurant for a stern “talking-to”, and I may have had a crappy lunch when it finally did arrive, and I may have had cranky kids on the way home.  But, I did it. (Insert sigh of relief and slight smile)  I acknowledged my fear.  I took a stand against it, and I would say, for the most part anyway, I kept my cool.  It wasn’t easy.  It wasn’t even enjoyable.  But it was an absolute refusal to allow fear to control my life.  And it was only possible with (my daily dosage of medication, and) a full reliance and focus on Him.  The results were amazing.  My attitude and even my general, daily anxiety had changed for the remainder of that day.  I was happier, more content, more confident, more fully alive.

Anxiety will take it’s toll on me again, I’m sure, and because it is a mental health disorder, there will be days where I will feel completely incapable of controlling the fears that drive my anxiety.  And on those days, I might have to stay home.  But you can be sure that the next day will be met with sheer determination from the moment I awake, to acknowledge the fear, to put my foot down, and take control of it, because my focus will be on Him.  And if you find yourself ever in need of a little help in that area, be sure to crank Brad’s song and get praising the Lord.  It will change your focus from fear to instead, the Perfect Love, Who casts out all fear.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.  Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.

Because He lives…I can face tomorrow.  Because He lives…all fear is gone.  Because I know He holds the future.  And life is worth the living, just because He lives.