Over the past year, the world has changed and there is an inescapable, surreal feeling in the air. The once routine act of going to the store became a minefield where shopping for fruits and vegetables had potentially life-threatening consequences. With the Delta variant surging, people are experiencing a heightened level of fear and anxiety. When our sense of safety is threatened, several things typically happen: We lose perspective, our true values are revealed, and our faith is challenged. We are confronted with hard questions like: Am I infected? Have I infected someone else? Will I lose someone I love? Will I die? Even deeper, we are confronted with questions about our faith: Is God really who He says He is? How could God let this happen? Can I really trust Him?
We have all scrambled to adjust in order to take care of our families, others, and ourselves. In order to remain effective, we must continue turning to God and each other. Scripture tells us it is possible to experience distress without getting lost in fear and anxiety. For example, Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, provides a beautiful and powerful model for how we can confront distress in a way that realigns us with God and His will for our lives. My prayer is you would be encouraged, comforted, and empowered by Jesus’ example.
Mark 14:32-42 ESV reads:
And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (Mark 14:32-42, ESV)
The Gethsemane Model: Share, Pray, Rise, Repeat, Rise
When faced with the most difficult time in his life, Jesus was not alone. Jesus did not turn away when confronted with trials; instead, he turned towards God and his disciples. Jesus expressed his sorrow to Peter, James, and John and then voiced his troubles to God.
Jesus demonstrated to us that it is not only OK, but it is helpful to reach out. No one is immune to the distress caused by this pandemic. When we let people in, we are reminded that we are not alone. Even in this period of social distancing we must make efforts to remain socially and spiritually connected.
Confronting our distress is a process. Jesus reached out to his disciples and God multiple times. It’s comforting to know that this was not a one and done deal. The discomfort Jesus experienced did not instantly go away. He returned to God three times and God comforted him. When we pray and reach out to others, our circumstances don’t magically change. That’s not necessarily the point. The point is to remain connected with God and others despite our circumstances.
COVID-19 hasn’t gone away and we remain in a state of uncertainty. By following the example set by Jesus, we are given the strength needed to move forward as we work to instill hope for those who are suffering. It’s to be expected that there will be moments when feelings of distress rise up within you. It did for Jesus. Each time this happens, try noticing and expressing it, just like Jesus did. After doing this, rise up and continue on in a way that allows you to be present and open to what God has called you to do.
When Jesus returned to his disciples, they had fallen asleep. He told them, “...The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38, ESV). Try placing yourself in the disciple’s shoes. You’ve just heard Jesus express his deep trouble and sorrow. From the context, we can gather they felt anxious, confused, uncertain, and scared about what was happening. We all have our breaking point. The disciples turned towards sleep. Others many turn towards things like food, drugs, video games, gossip, pornography, and alcohol. Jesus addresses this in another area of Scripture. He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30, ESV). Jesus showed us the answer. He gave us permission to bring our burdens to him. He is big enough to handle them.
Jesus said, “Rise, let us be going, my betrayer is at hand” (Mark 14:14, ESV). Jesus was able to boldly move forward in both confidence and humility. He leaves the Garden of Gethsemane fortified and grounded in truth. Although great suffering was before him, Jesus embraced his calling and fulfilled his purpose as he went onto his death, burial, and resurrection. He knew who he was and what God called him to do. We can do the same by remaining firmly grounded in God’s promises.
I am clinging to the model Jesus demonstrated at Gethsemane and I encourage you to do the same. As Christians, the presence of God is in us (1 Cor. 3:16) and with us (Josh. 1:9). Although COVID-19 surprised us, it did not surprise God. We can lean on the truths found in Scripture and rest in the fact that we worship the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 22:13). When you turn towards God, you are turning towards something sturdy, unshakeable, and unchanging (Heb. 13:8). When you turn towards others, you see that you are not alone and God provides others to help carry your burdens (Gal. 6:2). You can follow the model Jesus laid out by confronting your own personal fear and anxiety, remaining connected to God and others, and rising up with a renewed perspective fortified with hope and truth.
Tyler Stacy, M.A., LPC, works at Cornerstone Counseling in Oxford, MS. He is married and has two children. He received his Master’s degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.