Just after his final meal with his closest followers – including Judas who would betray him and Peter who vows never to deny him – Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. It’s one of his holy places and he needs to connect with his Father whose nature he bears while, at the same time, he bears the nature of those who follow, betray, and deny him. The fact that he goes apart to pray, at this pivotal time, stands out for me. I can see myself pacing around anxiously. I can see myself desperately trying to find a way to escape the struggle. I can see myself focusing in on the problem and what I needed to do about it. But would I go apart to pray? Jesus seems to get to that place of letting go much faster than we do. So he goes to his holy place to pray.
I’ve always been surprised that Jesus takes the disciples with him. Going apart to sort things out, ponder, and eventually let go in prayer is intensely private work. Why take the group along? Wouldn’t they just get in the way? Jesus seems to lead a life of going back and forth between prayer and action, between solitude and community. Here, on the night before he will die, he combines solitude and community. He prays privately but he asks for company. Is this so that they can learn something? Does he need their help in some way? It’s never really made a lot of sense to me, yet here they all are together in some ways but very different too.
In Matthew’s account (26:36-46), Jesus is “deeply grieved” and goes further into the garden while asking the disciples to “remain here, and stay awake with me.” Then, in a prayer that for me crystalizes Jesus’ nature, he asks for the pain and suffering he is facing to be taken away if at all possible, “yet not what I want but what you want.” That prayer, including the asking for it all to be taken away if at all possible, has sustained and encouraged me all these years. Jesus feels what he is feeling, bears it honestly and openly. He doesn’t rush ahead to God’s will; he takes a while to deal with his own human will.
The path to God’s will begins with our will. We either admit what we are feeling – what we want and need – or we suppress that. While we may think that our wills – what we are feeling and needing and wanting – are things we shouldn’t have, the fact remains that our wills and feelings and needs are here. Never to admit them is to be ruled by them. Before we can move forward into embracing God’s will for us, we have to admit our own feelings and fears. This moment in Jesus’ life is very much like the cross: instead of going around the pain, he goes right through it. He admits his own fears first.
As we admit our fears and face them, as we name what it is we would like to have happen in a given situation, then our hearts can open and we can trust that God’s will for us is a more solid place. Like the shadows that Carl Jung teaches about, our feelings and our wills are things that will rule us until we name them honestly. After naming them, they lose their power and then we are free to move forward into that which must be.
“Not what I want but what you want.” This is the yielding point, the place of trust, the moment of turning it all over, the place where true strength and peace can be received. Instead of trying to become the strength which will defeat the struggle, Jesus yields to the struggle and to God’s ability to save in whatever way God chooses. There’s a big difference between self-confidence and true confidence. True confidence is not in our ability to solve things. True confidence is in the power and peace that comes from somewhere else. After we give up and let go, then that peace and power can come to us. Then the will of God can truly lead us.
While Jesus is being so honest with his Father, admitting his own desires, and yielding to the will of God, he asks for his disciples to stay awake with him. They fail, of course, three times. Their inability to remain awake is contrasted with the remarkable wakefulness of Jesus. He is totally aware, fully present, honest and purely focused on who he is and who God is.
That wakefulness stands as an invitation to us. It is our potential. The more fully we are awake and aware, the more Christ-like we become, the more able we are to know and accept God’s will. The wakefulness is also that which lies beyond our abilities. Only God is fully awake and aware at all times. We catch glimpses of that nature in our own journeys. And then we fall back asleep. The invitation to wakefulness is not a secret formula for gaining individual power. The invitation to wakefulness is a process where we can learn to trust and know God’s will more fully. The invitation to wakefulness reveals our own nature – the vast potential and severe limitations alike. The invitation also reveals the unlimited nature of that which holds all of life together, the great Triune God.
Enter into wakefulness more fully this day. There we find the presence of God who holds all of life together. Accept that you cannot be awake and aware perfectly. Ours is the smaller part. The grace of God is the larger part and God’s grace will guide us into the kingdom.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.