A few years ago I found myself terrified about the impending birth of my son. I’d had a few other kids and rather than feeling like an expert at child birth, I knew too much about transverse labor to smile and say, “Come what may.”
It wasn’t just the baby’s delivery that had my nerves frayed. I’d gone through two NICU stays with two of my other infants. Each stay was a month long and each took a major toll on my family. With even more kids at home, I had more responsibilities on my plate and imagining another NICU stay while I tossed and turned at 3 a.m. seemed like inevitable practical planning, and not pointless worrying.
I remember carrying my anxiety to an older, well-intentioned Christian woman, a priest and a few other close friends. Their sentiment was all the same:
“Have faith,” they said, “God delivered you in the past. He’ll deliver you this time too.”
They didn’t realize it, but their words stung and loaded me down with guilt for my “lack of faith.”
Because you see, I understand now that my problem wasn’t a lack of faith, although I could — like anyone dressed in flesh — always use more.
My problem was that I didn’t realize where I was. Though mine and Christ’s sufferings are incomparable, I now look back on that time as my own Gethsemane. I was in a place of choosing to sacrifice for the good of another. And I wasn’t alone.
Jesus was beside me the whole time, but I didn’t sense his presence until a few days before my son was born. I’ll never forget that moment in the early, dark hours of morning. I was praying the Rosary and by the time I finished meditating on the Agony in the Garden, I was overwhelmed with comfort by the thought of Jesus keeping vigil beside me. I remember studying the art in my prayer book. Our Lord is portrayed sitting and leaning over a large rock. His head is in his hands and he’s weeping. Scripture tells us that while he asked three times for “this cup to be taken from [him],” he submitted perfectly to the Father: “Yet not my will but Thine be done.”
Jesus could have run from Gethsemane, but instead he turned into the pain — he hunkered down and wept and sweat until he bled. It wasn’t a “lack of faith” that led to his suffering. He knew the certainty of Easter. No, it was the reality of his humanity — a humanity he chose freely out of love for you and me.
Jesus’ friends could have quelled his loneliness and offered him comfort — not by saying “have faith,” but by keeping him company and praying with him. Regardless, the Father sent an angel to strengthen the Son because God provides, especially when friends and family fail us.
How can I help a friend deal with suffering?
The author Jay E. Adams speaks about Gethsemane in his book Overcoming Evil: “Often it hurts to love. Love meant going to the cross through the garden of Gethsemane. Christ did not feel like dying for your sins, Christian, but He did so nonetheless. The Scriptures teach that he endured the cross while focusing on the subsequent joy that it would bring.”
So where’s your Gethsemane (and where’s your loved one’s Gethsemane)? Perhaps it’s exactly where you are right now — beside your mother’s hospital bed or your learning-disabled son’s desk. Perhaps your Gethsemane is wrapped up in choosing to love your spouse or teenager even when he or she is unlovable. Your Gethsemane is wherever you are choosing to love even though it’s making you sweat blood.
Take heart, brave one, your pain is not simply a symptom of a lack of faith — although asking for more never hurts. Your pain is a symptom of your humanity in the heart of a trial. Ask for help from your Maker — ask for more hope and a vision of your own Easter resurrection in regard to this particular circumstance.
But above all, understand where you are and know this — you’re never alone.
The healing of memories as part of the Christian journey