Over the last few weeks, our world has changed and there is an eerie, surreal feeling in the air. It’s everywhere and it seems inescapable. Just go for a drive around town and observe the empty streets and see the restaurants with chairs on top of their tables. Notice the people at the grocery stores with masks on their faces and the empty shelves. Our way of life feels off and things seem uncertain. We all want to feel safe and when our safety is threatened, several things typically happen: We lose perspective, our true values are revealed, and our lack of faith is exposed. We are confronted with hard questions like: Will I lose my job? How will I pay the bills? Am I in infected? Have I infected someone else? Will I lose someone I love? Even deeper, are questions about our faith: Is God really who he says he is? How could God let this happen? Can I really trust Him? Anxiety and fear reveal so much about our character. When we feel fear and anxiety creeping in we are presented with an incredible opportunity for growth.
It’s times like these when we must turn to God and to each other. Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, provides a beautiful and powerful model for how to confront our fears in a way that realigns us with God and His will for our lives.
Mark 14:32-42 reads:
32 And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. 34 And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.”[a] 35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? 38 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. 41 And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
*See also see Matthew 26:36-46, Luke 22:39-46, John 18:1-2
The Gethsemane Model: Share, Pray, Rise, Repeat, Rise
- When faced with the most difficult time in his life, Jesus was not alone. He remained connected to God and others. Jesus doesn’t turn away when faced with trials, he turns towards and we can do the same. Jesus expressed his sorrow to Peter, James, and John. Mark tells us he became “greatly distressed and troubled” and that he asked his disciples to remain with him. He then expresses his sorrow and troubles to God. Jesus demonstrates to us that it is not only OK, but it is helpful to reach out. We are not meant to deal with life’s difficulties alone. I’ve found relief, comfort, and perspective by reaching out to the loved ones in my life and to God. When I let people in, I see that I’m not alone. Even in this period of social distancing we must make efforts to remain socially and spiritually connected.
- We also learn that dealing with fear is a process. Jesus reached out to his disciples and God multiple times. I find great comfort in reading that this was not a one and done deal. The distress Jesus experienced did not instantly go away. As he felt distressed, he returned to God three times and God comforted him. When we pray and when we reach out to others, our circumstances don’t magically change. That’s not necessarily the point. The point is to remain connected with God and with others. COVID-19 continues to spread and we are in a state of uncertainty. By returning to God and others, we are given the strength needed to continue forward. It’s to be expected that there will be moments when feelings of distress rise up in you. It did for Jesus. Each time this happens to me, I notice it and express it, just like Jesus did. After doing this, I’m able to rise up and continue on in a way that allows me to be present and open to what God is calling me to do.
- We see that when Jesus returns to his disciples, they have fallen asleep. He tells them, “Watch and pray so that you won’t fall into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing but the body is weak.” Try placing yourself in the disciple’s shoes. You’ve just heard Jesus express his deep trouble and distress. I’m sure they also felt distressed, anxious, confused, uncertain, and scared about what was happening. We all have our breaking point. The disciples turned towards sleep. Others many turn toward things like food, drugs, video games, gossip, pornography, and alcohol. Jesus speaks to this. He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).” Jesus shows us the answer. He gives us permission to bring our burdens to him. He is big enough to handle it.
- Jesus says, “Rise, let us be going, my betrayer is at hand.” Jesus is able to boldly move forward in both confidence and assurance. Jesus leaves the garden of Gethsemane fortified and grounded in truth. Although great suffering lies before him, he is able to embrace his calling and fulfill his purpose as he goes onto his death, burial, and resurrection. He knows who he is and what God has called him to. We can do the same by remaining firmly grounded in God’s promises.
I am clinging to the model Jesus demonstrated at Gethsemane and I encourage you to do the same. As Christians, the presence of God is in us (1 Corinthians. 3:16) and with us (Joshua 1:9). Although COVID-19 surprised us, it did not surprise God. We can lean on the truths found in Scripture and rest in the fact that we worship the Alpha and the Omega (Revelation 22:13). When you turn toward God, you are turning towards something sturdy, unshakeable, and unchanging (Hebrews 13:8). When you turn towards others, you see that you are not alone and God provides others to help carry your burdens (Galatians 6:2). You can follow the model Jesus laid out by confronting your own personal fear and anxiety, remaining connected to God and others, and rising up with a renewed perspective fortified with hope and truth.
Tyler Stacy, LPC