Let’s talk about despair.
Whether it’s Finals Week and you’ve used an entire block of sticky notes making to-do lists (I’ve done that), or you’ve been trying to figure out what to do with your life and all you’ve gotten from God is the agonizing three dots of someone composing a text message on the other end of the line, there’s no denying that despair is a part of the Christian life.
I think a lot of times we want to think of a relationship with Christ the way Instagram portrays it: a cup of coffee next to an artfully-annotated Bible or a smiling photo accompanied by a verse about joy. Simple, sunny, clean.
But what happens when following Christ is more like being in the Garden of Gethsemane?
We see it in the Gospels: Jesus takes his Apostles with Him to the Garden in the middle of the night. He asks them to sit with Him while He prays. He then chooses three of them to remain close to Him, allowing them to witness the anguish and pain of obedience to what the Father is asking Him to do.
I can relate. I have felt the times when Jesus has brought me to the Garden with Him. I have cried out to God in confusion, begging Him to tell me what to do next at the crux of a decision. I have cried to Him in sorrow, experiencing the pain of broken friendships and loneliness. I have prayed Jesus’s prayer: if there is a way around this, Father, I want it; but still, I will do what you ask. I have at times felt the darkness of the Garden so deeply that Jesus is hidden behind it, and I can’t see Him there with me.
What do we do in those situations? How do we have hope when what we’re going through doesn’t make sense, when the sun is overcome by darkness?
The Gospels show us the most basic truth about being in the Garden: Jesus is there.
Jesus knows the Garden. He has been there Himself, and He returns with us each time we are there. Every moment that we are kneeling in that darkness, so is He, even if the shadows have hidden Him from our eyes and ears. He never falls asleep on us, like the Apostles did; He never leaves us there alone.
The Gospels show us that the key to dealing with despair is reminding ourselves of this beautiful truth, this truth that is full of hope. We can do this in a couple of ways. The first is by clinging to Scripture.
God makes promises to His people all throughout the Bible; and in times of despair, I find myself crying out to Him to keep them. One of my favorite pieces of Scripture that speaks of God’s promised love to us is in Psalm 91: “’Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue Him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.’” In times of despair, I cling to God’s words of rescue and protection, knowing that He is a faithful God who keeps His promises in the course of His time.
Another way to remind ourselves of Jesus’s presence in the Garden with us is to allow Him to feel our hurt. At a FOCUS conference this last January, I found myself in a Garden. I was feeling hurt by some of the people in my life and feeling the stress of trying to prove myself as a “good” missionary my first semester on campus. One afternoon, one of the speakers challenged us to take our wounds and our hurts to the cross, to kneel before the crucified Jesus, and to put our wounds into His side.
So I did. The last day of the conference, I knelt in adoration, pictured Jesus, tortured and beaten, before me on the Cross. One by one, I put my frustrations and hurts into His pierced side and handed them over to Him. When I was done, I held my hand over the cut in His side and looked into His eyes.
“When you hurt, I hurt,” He said to me. And I knew, in that moment, that He had not forgotten me. Somehow, the knowledge that Jesus felt my pain made it bearable, and strengthened my trust that He had a plan that would make sense of the pain. He wasn’t leaving me to suffer needlessly, because He hurt when I did, and my pain was always on His mind. That’s how much He loves.
So, in the inevitable Gardens in our lives, when all we can see is darkness, we must remind ourselves of this love by going to Scripture and giving our hurt to Jesus. When we do this, despair becomes a bit more sweet, a bit less heavy. It becomes a precious chance to sit alone with Jesus and to be reminded that He would go back into His own despair for a chance to sit with us in love.
In Christ’s abundant love,