Sing a hymn, pray more earnestly, and expect the comfort of an angel...
Blessed Fulton Sheen, the beloved priest and popular 1950s TV personality, once expounded on what Jesus faced in the Garden of Gethsemane; how we see Our Lord’s two distinct natures (human and Divine) expressed that dark night in profound ways:
One can dimly guess the psychological horror of the progressive stages of fear, anxiety, and sorrow which prostrated [Jesus] before even a single blow had been struck. It has been said that soldiers fear death much more before the zero hour of attack than in the heat of battle…
Now if you’ve ever struggled with the emotions listed above — fear, anxiety, and sorrow — you’re probably familiar with the hurtful comments often made by well-intentioned friends.
“Have faith,” has always pained me most, even though I’m certain it’s never been offered with the least bit of unkindness. Still, this “consolation” infers that my anguish stems from a lack of faith; or that if I’m gifted with the perfect amount of faith, my anxiety will somehow go away.
That’s why I’ll never forget the vindication I felt years ago during a 3 a.m. meditation on Jesus’ agony in the Garden: Jesus had perfect faith! I thought, He knew the resurrection was just around the corner, yet his pores still oozed blood!
But how can I compare Our Lord’s anguish over his impending crucifixion to my own trials? Jesus’ agony was obviously unlike any other. Yet St. Paul describes the life of a Christian as being “crucified with Christ;” he also talks about “sharing in Jesus’ suffering and receiving his comfort.”
So go ahead, take some tips on managing your anxiety from Our Lord on the night he was betrayed:
First, sing a hymn: There’s only one Scripture passage where it’s mentioned that Jesus sang a song, and it’s right before his friends abandoned him: “And so they sang a hymn and went out to Mount Olivet [Gethsemane]” (Mark 14:26). Scholars today might be able to give us a good idea what Jesus would have sung, based on the Jewish ritual of the Passover Meal. Like the Jewish people, I find the Psalms are the best hymns of comfort. “As the deer pants for the water so my soul longs after thee….” is the one I’ve latched on to. I always hum it at the first hint of nervousness, silently when other people are around, but super loud when I’m alone in the car. St. Augustine said, “a prayer sung once is said twice,” and I promise that having a “go-to” hymn for anxious moments is a powerful, steadying anchor.
Next, pray ‘more earnestly,’ especially to accept God’s will: If we are really to “pray without ceasing,” there must be many different levels of prayer. I talk to God all day long, often while washing dishes or folding clothes. But nothing soothes my soul and sets me up for a better night’s sleep than spending 15 to 20 minutes in a deeper form of meditative prayer each night. That’s when I’m usually plagued with sadness about the past and experience racing thoughts about the future. In these moments, I often think of Jesus in Gethsemane, that “…in his anguish, he prayed more earnestly.” (Luke 22:44).
For this reason, I’ll hide away from my family behind a closed door. I’ll get down on my knees and talk frankly to God in my own words, listing out every single dilemma that’s plaguing me. Then, after shutting my mouth and listening to him in silence for a while (because prayer is more often about God changing our minds, than us changing his), I’ll conclude by saying the rosary, always with the intention of being given the grace to accept God’s Divine will: “…My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39
Lastly, expect God to send an angel to comfort you (go ahead and ask for one): There’s a famous painting by the 19th-century artist Carl Heinrich Bloch entitled Angel with Jesus Christ Before Arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. This painting depicts Luke 22:43, where God has sent an angel to comfort Jesus. I love so many details about this illustration, but my favorite part is how the angel is supporting Jesus’ hand, lifting it in prayer.
“Send me your angel!” I begged Jesus the other night, specifically requesting the same one who comforted him. Right away, I imagined two powerful arms encircling me, just like in the painting. The moment was a bit of a breakthrough, even though I’m pretty sure anxiety is a cross I may carry all my life. But like Jesus, I don’t have to carry it alone. And with the help of his grace, this burden grows lighter each day.