Saturday, June 23, 2012

When the Answer is "No"

"Gladly endure whatever goes against you and do not let good fortune carry you away; for this can destroy faith." - Clare of Assisi


It's been a bit of a difficult week for me. Nothing major, but interior difficulties that don't really bear repeating, yet contribute to a general attitude of discouragement.

Yesterday, as I pondered a familiar scripture passage in the book I'm reading (John: 90 Days with the Beloved Disciple by Beth Moore), I read it as if I had never heard it before. There was a kernel of truth in it that took me completely by surprise, and gave me a gift of encouragement.

The passage is Matthew 23: 36-46 (you can read it by clicking on the link; I like to read parallel versions to get more out of the passage, and two of my favorites are The Message and The Amplified Bible).

Matthew is telling the story of Jesus' night of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is the story of his earnest request that he NOT have to go through what he knew was coming. He asked his friends to watch and pray with him as he went through this intense interior struggle; here is the part that shook me awake:

"...he plunged into an agonizing sorrow. Then he said, "This sorrow is crushing my life out. Stay here and keep vigil with me."
 Going a little ahead, he fell on his face, praying, "My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this. But please, not what I want. You, what do you want?"
 ...Again he prayed, "My Father, if there is no other way than this, drinking this cup to the dregs, I'm ready. Do it your way."
...a third time [he prayed], going over the same ground one last time." (The Message)

 The Amplified Bible does indeed amplify, using these words to describe Jesus' anguish:

"He began to show grief and distress of mind and was deeply depressed.
 Then He said to them, 'My soul is very sad and deeply grieved, so that I am almost dying of sorrow. Stay here and keep awake and keep watch with Me.'
 And going a little farther, He threw Himself upon the ground on His face and prayed saying, 'My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will [not what I desire], but as You will and desire'...Again a second time He went away and prayed, 'My Father, if this cannot pass by unless I drink it, Your will be done.' "

I didn't realize that Jesus was so distressed, to the point of "almost dying of sorrow." I never considered his own grief or deep depression. Those words seemed to be beneath him, as the Son of God. But there there are - blazing from the page. Jesus was depressed, distressed, nearly dying of sorrow. All of a sudden, I realized , He knows. He knows what it's like to practically not be able to breathe because of the weight of grief and sorrow.

Then, I realized the biggest news: Jesus, in whose name we often pray for the things we want, did not get the answer he wanted in prayer. He begged his Father to "let this cup pass," to NOT have to go through what he knew was coming, yet God did NOT grant that request. God granted the second part of the prayer "Thy [God's] will be done."

Jesus had the heart of a son, and he was willing to accept his Father's will, but with what pain and anguish he accepted it! God, for His own reasons, said an absolute "No" to the request that Jesus be allowed to escape death on a cross. Yes, He raised him from the dead, but Jesus had to hang from the cross for hours, in agony, until he died of suffocation. God's answer was "No" to Jesus, in a way that became an eternal "Yes" for the world.

But the part that shocked me most - and encouraged me, as well - is realizing that Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane was not unlike our prayers for Katie. The answer we received was also a horrible, painful, "No." But if God could say "No, this is not My way" to His own Son, then perhaps I might be able to see our "No" differently: not as a failure on my part, or anyone's part; not as if our prayers were ignored, or mistaken, or in vain, but as part of a larger universe, where such things happen - even in God's own family. If we are faithful in our relationship with Him, and willing to work with Him, He can continue to bless us in His love, even through (and after) the hardest "No" imaginable.

“Father in heaven, you have given me a mind to know you, a will to serve you, and a heart to love you. Give me today the grace and strength to embrace your holy will and fill my heart with your love that all my intentions and actions may be pleasing to you. Give me the grace to be charitable in thought, kind in deed, and loving in speech towards all." -


christine said...

dear words. hard words. words that have washed over our souls...and ached in places of deep sorrow in our own journeys. I have loved that Jesus understands this and walks our journey close. love you sweet one...

Jennifer Stumpf said...

I read this post over and over, Karen. When life is hard and unfair (as I so often find it to be), I will remember this post.

Kay said...

I'm sorry you're discouraged. It's never easy, I'm afraid. : ( Hugs and love coming your way, my friend.

Busy Bee Suz said...

I'm sorry things are not bright and sunny right now. *sigh*
I know that whatever it is, you will get through it the best you can.

Karen said...

I loved this thoughtful, heartfelt post. The "Nos" of life are difficult to bear, but they teach us much. More than all the yeses, I daresay. It's easier if we stay in the moment and do not look back or forward. God gives strength for each day. Thanks for sharing this. I love that Jesus knows what we feel.

Daisy said...

Thank you for posting this, Karen; encouraging words that help prop us up once more.