32 Jesus and his disciples came to a place called Gethsemane. Jesus said to them, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John along with him. He began to feel despair and was anxious. 34 He said to them, “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert.” 35 Then he went a short distance farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if possible, he might be spared the time of suffering. 36 He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible. Take this cup of suffering away from me. However—not what I want but what you want.”
37 He came and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you stay alert for one hour? 38 Stay alert and pray so that you won’t give in to temptation. The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.”
39 Again, he left them and prayed, repeating the same words. 40 And, again, when he came back, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open, and they didn’t know how to respond to him. 41 He came a third time and said to them, “Will you sleep and rest all night? That’s enough! The time has come for the Human One [or Son of Man] to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up! Let’s go! Look, here comes my betrayer.”
43 Suddenly, while Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, came with a mob carrying swords and clubs. They had been sent by the chief priests, legal experts, and elders.
Rome meant for crucifixion to strike terror in the stoutest human heart. Even Jesus shrank from the ordeal. This is Mark’s account of Jesus' prayer struggle in Gethsemane as he faced “despair,” “anguish,” and being “anxious”—parts of our human experience he shared (cf. Hebrews 4:14-16). He asked God, in effect, “Isn’t there some other way?” But even before he said, “Not what I will, but what you will,” his prayer carried a note of trust. Abba was an intimate Aramaic family word, one that conveyed the same trusting sense as our English words “daddy” or “papa.”
Lord Jesus, thank you for promising to be with me always, even during the hard times. Thank you for modeling honesty about life’s struggles for me, as well as hope and courage. Amen.
Create a “prayer pillow” for each family member. Ask each family member to bring his or her pillow, covered in a pillowcase, to a gathering spot. Provide crayons or markers and paper. Invite each person to draw a picture of, or write down a prayer for, every other family member. When everyone has finished their prayers, have them place the right prayer in each person’s pillowcase. Read and share your prayers with each other. Close your time together by thanking God for your family. Ask each person to sleep with his or her prayer pillow. Let everyone know they can continue to place prayers inside each other’s pillows. Also encourage everyone to add their own prayers to their own pillow if they wish.
Even Jesus was stressed out.
In times of elevated or extreme stress in my life, my natural stress behavior is…to nap. Yes, nap. Curl up with a cozy blanket, find my favorite pillow, turn off the lights, and hide from the things inflicting stress on my life. This has been a behavior of mine my entire life. At times of intense challenge, my spirit animal is a cornered, stressed-out opossum.
Don’t get me wrong. After a short nap, I feel refreshed and then ambitiously try to tackle the stress head on…but I sometimes need to retreat and rest from the stress first. I share this because in the scene from the Garden of Gethsemane, I unfortunately find myself relating more to the disciples when faced with stress than to Jesus.
In the Garden, Jesus is really stressed (likely the understatement of all time) and has retreated here with his disciples away from his enemies. Jesus knows his upcoming fate and feels despair and anxiety. Being human, Jesus needs relief from this. Jesus gave his also-stressed disciples one job: to stay awake to keep alert. What they do? They played opossum; they fell asleep!
Jesus, however, the most stressed of all, does not nap in the garden. He prays. Jesus relieves his anxiety by praying and relinquishing it to God the Father. Jesus leaned in and gave control of the challenges he was facing to God. The goodness that came from this was more wonderful than any one of us, even Jesus alone, could have made happen through worry or control. Because Jesus trusted God’s will over his own at Gethsemane, praying, “Not my will, but yours be done,” the result was salvation being made available to all humanity.
Following God does not come with the promise of a stress-free life. But it does come with the promise that God loves us and will take care of us. So I urge you in times of stress to not play opossum. Or at least hand your stresses over to God in prayer… and then take your nap.
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