Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Personal Gethsemane

Many people experience Gethsemane moments. -- Arthur Middleton.

The story is familiar. Jesus goes to the garden to pray, not an unusual thing for him, but this time it was not to recharge his spiritual batteries or to thank God for another day where he could be of service. This time Jesus was facing what he alone could see happening and was asking God to take it away. He had asked some friends to stay awake and watch with him but it was late at night after a full meal and they went to sleep. Twice Jesus woke them up to ask them for support and twice they went back to sleep. The third time, the corner had been turned; nobody got any more sleep and Jesus got his answer from God.

I think of that part of Mark's gospel now as I sit in a sort of Gethsemane of my own. THere have been other moments like this, but each time I have prayed for God to perform some specific thing -- stop the pain, show me which way to go, resolve whatever problem seems overwhelming. They were the "let this cup pass from me" kind of prayers, often accompanied by wild promises to never forget to say my prayers again, go to church every Sunday, be nicer to people, stuff like that. It's a bargain: God, you do this for me and I'll do that for you.  Jesus didn't do that, but I'm not Jesus and not even close to being Jesus. I never seem to have the faith, the trust, the -- I don't know -- ability to put things in God's hands and then LEAVE THEM THERE. I keep taking them back and the anxiety, fear and uncertainty. I ask to have the cup pass from me and sometimes the answer seems to be "Yes," but I don't always remember those last-ditch bargains I tried to use. I'm just glad to have disaster averted.

The past several weeks I've been dreading a medical procedure that is necessary but with frightening implications. I didn't know which I dreaded more -- the possible pain of the procedure itself or the possible diagnosis derived from the procedure. Luckily I had friends to help me keep watch, as it were. We all went through our normal days, but I felt their presence and their prayers. I got through the procedure, the trial, and now I await the verdict. Once again I am in Gethsemane.

As C.S. Lewis put it, “In Gethsemane the holiest of all petitioners prayed three times that a certain cup might pass from Him. It did not.” I've been meditating on that today, off and on, as I try to be patient, waiting for the phone to ring. Last night, in one of my periods of wakefulness, I realized that my prayers this time were different than usual. Instead of asking for a specific outcome I found myself praying over and over, "Lord, please give me the strength to bear whatever comes, and the wisdom to handle it in the best way." This time I don't want to ask for a specific outcome; I'm well aware that it could go either way and I guess I'd rather be pleasantly surprised than crushed if it doesn't work out. Maybe I'm finally learning tha I can't control the outcome, and keeping on taking it back after saying I'm handing it over to God just causes more problems. Oddly enough, even though it could potentially be life-threatening, I am relatively calm (with occasional moments of antsy-ness) and willing to give up trying to second-guess what that phone call will bring.

Jesus asked three times and accepted that it wasn't up to him, it was up to God and that he accepted whatever God decided. I keep asking but this time, I'm just waiting to see what the answer will be. At any rate, I know God will still be there. Gethsemane will end, one way or another, and it's out of my hands as to how that end will come out. So far prayers have been answered, and so I'm grateful. Now it's time to repeat that prayer again, for strength and wisdom, and continue to wait.

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