tears and sweat and heartache
have always been
the most potent ingredients
of a vagabond’s prayer.

And they came to an olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said,
“Sit here while I go and pray.” He took Peter, James, and John with
him, and he began to be filled with horror and deep distress. He told
them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here
and watch with me.”
—Mark’s description of the prelude to Jesus’s prayer in the
Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-34)

After the Passover meal, after breaking the bread and sharing the wine and ushering in God’s new agreement sealed in blood, Jesus took his friends to a quiet place to pray. His grief and horror were so deep he told them his soul was crushed with sorrow to the point of death. Then he asked three of his closest friends to stay alert and wait for him while he went off by himself to pray.

He went on a little farther and fell face down on the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine.”
Matthew 26:39

He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.
Luke 22:44

This scene is so human it makes me uncomfortable. Jesus is so hurting and helpless and desperate, it makes me question things. It makes me wonder if maybe someone didn’t get it wrong when they wrote this stuff down. Could it really be that Jesus wrestled that much with God? Was Jesus really praying in “agony of spirit”?

Apparently, yes.

I know that some Bible scholars have clever ways of looking at this text to make it seem more spiritual or reverent or holy than it appears. It’s almost like they feel the need to rescue Jesus from our misconceptions. But the whole thing seems pretty clear to me. The eyewitnesses tell us Jesus was distressed, horrified, alone, crushed with grief, in agony, sweaty, and crumpled face-first to the ground. And based on Jesus’s comments to Peter, this awful prayer lasted for more than an hour.

It sounds odd to say it, but Jesus wrestled with God that night in the Garden of Gethsemane. He wanted to walk another road instead of the one that led to the cross, but God told him no.

in my heart is a wound
that is bleeding a prayer
one drop,
one word at a time.

torn open by anguish
and drenched in despair,
one drop,
one word at a time.

i didn’t mean to cry
but my tears have escaped
one drop,
one word at a time.

for this journey
has coated my soul with pain
one drop,
one word at a time.

in my heart is a wound
that’s as big as a prayer
one drop,
one word at a time.

In Eden there wasn’t much of a struggle. Adam and Eve gave in pretty quickly to temptation. They chose to go their own way rather than their Father’s. But here, on this night, in this garden, Jesus chose the Father’s way, the way of the cross.

Instead of his own pathway, he made the decision that he would submit to the Father’s will no matter where it led him or what it meant. I have a hard time grasping all of this. Didn’t Jesus know that the empty tomb lay beyond the grave? A bunch of times he’d predicted he would rise from the dead, so he had to be expecting a happy ending. Why was he in so much anguish, then? Why such horror and deep distress?

I think it’s because he was just as human as we are. To save us, Jesus had to suffer for us. And that meant going all the way, taking all the punishment that we had coming because of our rebellion. All of it.

He knew that meant more than just exquisite physical pain; it meant complete spiritual abandonment. And no pain from here to eternity is greater than the pain of knowing God has turned his back on you.

And yet he told God yes. Even if it meant suffering the ravages of hell, he would do it. No matter where it took him. No matter what it might mean. Jesus said yes to God.

I think we all reach the question of the garden at some point in our lives. A moment comes when we have to decide: Will I go my way or God’s? Will I follow my path or his? Will I choose the sensible, practical route of doubt, or is my faith big enough to say yes to God no matter where it leads or what it means? Jesus faced that choice in the Garden of Gethsemane. It wasn’t easy. It was painfully, distressingly, achingly real. But he said yes to the Father.

And he didn’t have to, he chose to: “Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).

Jesus said yes to the cross. Christ didn’t just suffer for us. It’s more than that. He did it voluntarily. He had the power not to suffer, but he chose the path of suffering. That’s the kicker. He chose the pathway of pain—he didn’t simply endure it, he chose it. Why? Love: “We know what real love is because Christ gave up his life for us” (1 John 3:16). Jesus had before him two paths—one of comfort and one of pain. He could run from God or say yes to suffering. His love caused him to choose the second of the two. Hebrews 12:2 says, “He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward.” What joy? The joy of reunion. Of meeting his bride at the altar. Of welcoming us home to heaven.

Because of his love for you, Jesus said yes to the cross.

Then, when his prayer was over, he returned to his friends only to find them fast asleep. He woke them and pointed at the shadows. “Still sleeping? Still resting? Look, the time has come. I, the Son of Man, am betrayed into the hands of sinners. Up, let’s be going. See, my betrayer is here!” (Matthew 26:45-46).

The wrestling match is over, the disciples are awake, and the betrayer has arrived.

touching the unseen

you wrestled with God
that night in the garden.
so you know how it feels.
i wrestle with him too
more than i’d care to admit.
help me to say those words with you:
“your will, not mine be done.”
i need to say them now, pray them now.
unwrap my hesitation
until it becomes a welcome mat
on which you can wipe your feet
when you finally come home
to stay.