In The Garden

Have you ever had a revelation that rocked your whole understanding of life? Something that changed the way you see the people around you, or even yourself – like, “Darth-Vader-is-my-dad” level of realization?

I love these moments. As one inclined to immense introspection, I tend to dive deep into my psyche in search of them. If I don’t have at least a couple of them every week, I start to get concerned. (Whether this enriches life or cheapens revelation, I am not yet sure, but I lean towards the former.) Sometimes these moments are painful, though.

In past months, I’ve been slowly digging, trying to deepen my understanding of vague things like fear, vulnerability, courage, etc. A few days ago, I struck gold (or I struck something, at any rate – maybe a nerve?): I don’t think I really trust people.

Before you write me off as a bad person, hear me out. This distrust is different than external, interpersonal actions of trust (though these actions might stem from it). It’s true that often you just have to “act your way into feeling”! In this case, that might just be the definition of courage – acting despite such fundamental fear, despite not feeling trust. It takes courage to speak directly and authentically if you don’t believe you will be heard. Rather than a reason for writing people off, this distrust is an opportunity lean into courage.

Jesus’ time in the garden of Gethsemane is a favorite story of mine. Last night – Thursday evening – I had the opportunity to actually go to a garden (okay, it was more of a park, but close enough) and reflect on the account of this story in Mark 14:32-42. Jesus’ humanity is shockingly evident in this emotional evening before his trial and crucifixion. Still, I didn’t expect to find it… relatable.

“They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’”

In the garden, Jesus invites his disciples, his friends (one of whom had already left their company to betray him, and one of whom would soon disown him); within that group, he asks those closest to him to remain even nearer as he prays. With this inner circle of sorts, he shows greater depth of emotion than he had before, entreating them to stay engaged and watchful for him.

“Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’”

Now physically removed from his friends, Jesus prays. He knows what his future holds and speaks directly to the Father. “Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” I wonder how long of a pause he left in between these sentences, or how he was able to hold these conflicting wills in his heart at the same time!

“Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Simon,’ he said to Peter, ‘are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’”

Twice more, Jesus retreated to solitude to pray and returned to find his disciples sleeping. Each time, he must have felt increasingly alone in this trial. Jesus felt the unwitting rejection of friends who could not remain with him in the intensity of his suffering. Following his third and final return from prayer, Judas – one of the Twelve – entered with a crowd of soldiers to betray and arrest him. In the subsequent hours, under fear of suffering similar to Jesus’, Peter denied and disowned him three times – just as Jesus knew he would, even before the conversation in the garden. (Luke 22:61 says that, at the crowing of the rooster and the final denial, Jesus turns and locks eyes with Peter).

Jesus had every reason to distrust people, to be wary of vulnerability with even those closest to him; despite all this, he doesn’t withdraw from or cut off the untrustworthy. Knowing the purpose the Father has for him, he leans into courage, trusting in Him. Jesus knew the rejection of his friends and died for them all the same.

In John 15:9-13, Jesus speaks to his disciples before his prayer in the garden: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

In chapter 2 of his gospel, John writes “Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.” (At the very least, this is assurance that I haven’t messed up too badly with regard to the fundamental lack of trust. Phew.) Laying down one’s life is not an act of trust in people; it’s how we love like Jesus loved us. We can only give ourselves to others fully – in friendship, in community, in the world at large – when we put our trust first and foremost in the Father. Only when we’re rooted in relationship with God will we have courage to respond to the inconsistencies and uncertainties of others with love.

Some music to go with your reading:
Reckless Love - Cory Asbury
You Stepped Into My Egypt - Cory Asbury
Nothing Else - Cody Carnes

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