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.
Mark 14:32-50 CEB
David M. Schell
If you watch much Christian television, it's easy to arrive at the conclusion that the Christian life is supposed to be all victories and roses and lollipops. Joel Osteen says God made us to thrive. Jeremiah 29:11, the verse about the plans God has to prosper you, can be found on media of all kinds in Christian bookstores. The quote from the book of Joshua about “Be strong and courageous,” connected with the ever-popular Pauline admonition to “Rejoice in the Lord always!” can make a Christian feel downright guilty for feeling bad – which only compounds the bad feelings.
With this emphasis on joy and happiness and celebrating Jesus, it's difficult to be sad in the church. There isn't much space for despair or anxiety, so we are often tempted to hide them from our fellow churchgoers, wearing a plastic smile, for fear they will remind us to “rejoice evermore!” not understanding how difficult or painful our situation is.
But this is not the way of Jesus. With words that would scandalize many uber-happy Christians, Jesus, the God-man, the great teacher, talks to his trusted friends about his hurt. He does not mask his true feelings: “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying.” Jesus is not living the “victorious Christian life.” The disciples, to their credit, don't tell Jesus that God wants him to be happy.
Then Jesus went a short distance further and fell to the ground. He needed to be alone, and he knew it. He physically collapsed under the weight of the awfulness he knew was coming. And then he prayed.
If Jesus was so human, why should we, his followers, try so hard not to be?
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God who joins our suffering,
Thank you for participating in despair and anxiety with us, and for showing us that it's okay not to be okay, and for giving us an example of talking to trusted friends, then being alone, collapsing, and praying.
If you need to collapse and pray, you are welcome to do so now.
David is a former English teacher, former computer repairman, former delivery driver, Film major graduate, future seminarian, and current blogger at davidmschell.com. David is husband to a wonderful and supportive wife. He likes hiking, camping in national parks, and reading almost anything he can find. He didn't grow up around large bodies of water, but after two long walks beside the Pacific Ocean, he decided he very much likes long walks on the beach.