Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and He said to His disciples, “Sit here, while I go yonder and pray.” And taking with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, He began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then He said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with Me.” And going a little farther He fell on His face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”
Matthew 26: 36-39
I heard a reflection recently on a podcast I listened to that reflected on Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane which He offered shortly before His Passion. First, to set the scene, Jesus had the Last Supper with His Disciples, in the upper room of a house in Jerusalem. He had instituted the Eucharist. He had given His disciples a long discourse (which is recounted in John 13-17), and He had prayed for them. Then they all departed the upper room and went to the Garden of Gethsemane, which was nearby. Jesus wanted to pray, and He took three of His disciples with Him to “watch with Him” while He prayed. He offered His prayer alone, but He wanted the three disciples to be close by to “watch with Him” so that He would not feel alone. They would not be able to feel His pain, but their presence was meant to be a comfort to Him. (As an aside, it is important that we be there for friends so that they know they are not alone. Many times, when we feel alone, we feel comfort in the presence of others who watch with us. They may not be able to take away our pain, but they take away our sense of loneliness. Many times, we want to help a friend who is in pain. And merely being present will provide comfort. It may not be able to take away the pain, but it can provide comfort. And many times, all that is needed, or all that can be offered is to be present. Many problems and circumstances in life have no answers. And there shouldn’t always be pressure to find answers. Many times as friends, we try to manufacture answers when all we really need to do, or should do, is be present.)
Jesus went on by Himself to pray. He was the one who was about to be arrested, tortured, falsely accused, condemned, and killed. We know that Jesus was fully human and fully God. In the fullness of His humanity, He felt the fear and uncertainty that comes with death. He felt the fear that comes when one is about to feel immense pain. He felt nervous at the things that are uncertain, just like we all do.
There were two elements to His prayer, two important elements that belong in prayer—honesty, and trust. It is always okay to be honest. It is always okay to be honest with God. First of all, God knows our thoughts anyway. There is no way to lie to Him. Second, God can handle our honesty. Let’s say that we are angry with God. We can tell Him. He can handle it. He’s not going to cut us off if we get angry with Him once in a while. Third, think of any important relationship you have in your life. If there is no room to be honest in that relationship, it probably isn’t a real relationship. In any relationship, there are going to be times of conflict. If someone says that they never have any kind of conflict, they are not being truthful. All relationships have conflict. In fact, to some degree, conflict is healthy. So, we can have a conflict with God. Even Jesus did. He prayed to God, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” Jesus knew that pain and suffering were right around the corner. He knew it. And like any of us would be, it scared Him. He prayed for it to go away. In our lives, we may (or sometimes we may not) know that pain and suffering are coming. We’ve been diagnosed with a medical issue that requires surgery, or we’re sitting in the crosshairs of a hurricane, or our company is about to go under, etc. And we’ll beg God to take it away from us. That’s honest. I can’t think of anyone, even the most devout Christian that would pray, “Please God send a problem my way.” Quite the opposite, we pray for problems to go away from us. And that’s good. We need to be honest in prayer.
What Jesus does that is so remarkable in His prayer is that right after His statement of honest fear, He prays to God, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” In other words, the four hardest words of prayer, “Thy will be done.” Submitting to God’s will is one of the hardest things for a Christian to do. Because we have to totally let go of our hopes for a good outcome and place whatever outcome it is into the hands of God. I don’t believe that God wills bad things to happen to people. But sometimes He allows bad things to happen (tomorrow’s reflection is going to discuss this topic). Why that is is a question for which there is no sufficient answer. God does sometimes use bad things for good. But let’s leave that topic for another day.
Faith is trusting in what we cannot see or comprehend. Faith in God means trusting in Him even in difficult circumstances, especially in times when we do not understand what is going on. In this case, Jesus knew what was coming. He knew it was part of God’s plan. He knew this very bad thing about to happen to Him was for a specific reason, and so in the end, in great faith, He placed Himself in the hands of God, trusting in God’s plan for Him and ultimately for humanity.
It is sometimes hard to be honest in prayer. It is also sometimes hard to have faith that our prayers are heard, that unfavorable outcomes can still lead to a favorable life, or still point us towards salvation. Prayer is also something that we have to continually learn. As we continue to learn to pray, let’s remember to be honest in prayer, but also leave room for God’s will as we offer our needs to Him.
Lord, sometimes it is difficult to pray. Life gets hard, and it is hard to trust You. In what seems like our own insignificance, it is sometimes hard in prayer to feel that we can be honest with You. Please Lord, help me to be able to come to You in joy, and if I can’t come to You in joy, help be to bring my honest hurt and pain to You. Help me to have faith and to grow in my faith. The phrase “Your will be done” is something that is very hard to say with honesty and conviction. As I go through my life, help me to not only say these words, but to pray them, to mean them, and to trust You with my life. Amen.
Be honest in prayer. And may prayer help each of us to be more trusting towards God.
Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
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