A dozen years ago I had the great privilege of spending time during Lent in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem. In the Easter story, Jesus’ time in the Garden is one that pierces my soul every time I think of all He encountered. So it was especially poignant to be there amongst the olive trees and in the shadow of the Church of the Agony.
Gethsemane means ‘pressed down’ and that’s exactly how Christ felt in that night of his betrayal.
- He goes through the whole range of emotions as He first tries to bargain with God for ‘another way’ (Have you ever tried to bargain with God?),
- He cries out for friends who aren’t there for him (Have you ever felt abandoned by those you’re counting on?),
- Finally, He surrenders with great peace to the will of God, the One who knows and loves Him best and created Him for this very moment (Have you ever finally said to God, ‘nonetheless not my will, but Thy will be done’ and really meant it?)
As I observe Christ’s obvious peace in the midst of agony (that church is most aptly named), I realize that Jesus’ whole life was preparing Him for this moment and the way He was able to stand in it was in direct correlation to how He spent His days.
I want to be more like Christ — it is a longing of my heart. And so I simply must do what Jesus did.
Here are four practices God continues to use in my life in all those agonizing moments of struggle:
- Embrace Silence – listen to God’s ‘still small voice.’
We read in God’s Word that Jesus withdrew from others and prayed often to his heavenly Father. In recent years God has literally opened up whole new vistas of prayer for me by teaching me how to embrace silence. It is a growing discipline of mine to begin morning devotions by having 3-5 minutes of complete silence and listening for God’s still small voice. You would not believe what I have heard in those times. Silence and solitude go against the grain, but offer great benefits for those who seek them. “As we remain in the silence, the inner noise and chaos will begin to settle. Our capacity to open up wider and wider to God grows. The Holy One has access to places we don’t even know exist in the midst of the hubbub. Lean into God, trusting that being with Him in silence will loosen your rootedness in the world and plant you by streams of living water.” (Adele Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines)
- Incorporate prayers of the church in my devotions.
I am a firm believer in praying extemporaneously. But I have also increasingly learned to appreciate praying the prayers that have been around simply for ages and ages. Prayers by King David found in the Psalms. The Lord’s Prayer. And prayers by many, many followers of Christ through the centuries. It’s not the fact that a prayer has been written down before that can occasionally make it seem ‘rote’ or ‘meaningless’. It is always what is in the pray-er’s heart that affects prayer. If you truly embrace words such as these, then your prayers are definitely heartfelt, even though what you are doing is aligning yourself with prayers of fellow believers centuries before now.
- Keep short accounts – forgive easily, offer grace, accept God’s mercy.
Some of us attended an Ash Wednesday service and received the ashes in the form of a cross on our foreheads while hearing “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” I am always reminded of my own mortality and how fragile life is. Are you? If so, then how important to keep short accounts with others, to not let the sun set on our anger. To reach out in love and friendship both to those we know and those whose path we cross unexpectedly. I am daily grateful for God’s grace to me and this season I want to be a grace giver to others. Offering forgiveness quickly is one way to do that. But also, we must learn to accept God’s forgiveness of us and therefore live each day under His mercy.
- Surrender…Relinquish… Lay it/him/her at the foot of the cross.
Finally, I hope we can all learn from Christ in the Garden that the place of surrender is truly the place where our wills meet God’s will. During Easter, believers gathered all over the world in places of worship and lay their concerns at the cross of Jesus. Did you know that we can do that daily? Even folks like me who have a hard time letting go of anything. But I’m aiming for surrender and relinquishment this season and I hope I can do it as Christ did, with great peace and serenity “Not my will, but Thy will be done.”
Jeremiah 6.16 reminds us to “Ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Yes, the Easter holiday is now over, but we are Easter People who celebrate the Resurrection every Sunday because of what Christ did. Even in those agonizing moments…
“Heavenly Father, Forgive those things we have done which have caused You sadness, and those things we should have done that would have brought You joy. In both we have failed ourselves, and You. Bring us back to that place where our journey began, when we said that we would follow the way that You first trod. Lead us to the Cross and meet us there. Amen.” (unknown)
May God make known to you His presence, power, and peace, Lucinda
“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”
©2021 Lucinda Secrest McDowell www.LucindaSecrestMcDowell.com
Lucinda Secrest McDowell is a storyteller and seasoned mentor who engages both heart and mind while “Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity & Strength.” She has authored 15 books including “Soul Strong – 7 Keys to a Vibrant Life” and “Life-Giving Choices – 60 Days to What Matters Most.” She writes from “Sunnyside” cottage in New England and shares encouraging words at LucindaSecrestMcDowell.com
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