So as a holiday/Easter gift to me, she's promised not only to come with me to church this week, yes with Adam in tow, as they've gotten back together, but next Sunday too. Nice gift.
Yahoos in the Garden of Gethsemane
This is often the week that we focus on the last days of Jesus, his last words, meal, his crucifixion and resurrection.
I’m not really interested in any of that. I want to focus on his friends, and how they reacted when they saw Jesus in the garden, in deep and terrible grief.
Often, the 4-5 disciples that camped out with Jesus that night are criticized for falling asleep while Jesus debated about whether to duck and run or stay the course- yet I think there are deeper lessons to be learned besides tut tutting about their behavior. This story can teach us important lessons about friendship through trials and crisis that often get overlooked.
The scene teaches us about how friends should and shouldn’t react when faced with a loved one going through pain. Extreme pain at that. I would like to point out that the group WAS in the garden and managed to stay awake, at least for the first part of the night. There is a great comfort of friends showing up, even tho you might not have all the answers, or the fixes for the situation. They could have chosen to go to Bethany, or find shelter somewhere in Jerusalem, but they chose to stick it out with Jesus, who in their eyes, was acting stranger more desperate by the minute.
So the first lesson: show up. Call, or heck, reach out through texting if you must. But do reach out when you find your friend or family going through a turmoil – be it death, a cancer diagnosis, job loss, a kid going out of control with drugs or behavior , mental illness (one of our own forms of leprosy in our society today) or another severe trial of the soul.
There was one scene in The Passion (although as a whole, I thought the movie was a mess) that especially struck home with me. Christ was begging in the Garden for his father to stop this journey now, to offer another way beside the trial, torture and cross. He was crying, pounding the ground, pulling his hair. His disciples were looking on. They were afraid, because they’d never seen Jesus this distressed and out of control. The group stayed their distance, rather than getting a nearer to this situation.
Another lesson that links into the first. Show up, and get close, even if it’s scary. And believe me, it will be scary to get near someone in great grief, with a problem that can’t necessarily be fixed. When I lost my youngest daughter, Sara, during a late term miscarriage at 6 ½ months, I went to the hospital to take her body out of me, when the surgery went awry and I almost died. There were many, many many friends who visited and sent flowers and magazines. So many showed up that I was stunned. I was also surprised at some close friends who never showed up, never called.
The same thing occurred with a friend who lost her child to meningitis a few years ago. The bacteria claimed her son within hours, and she was prostrate with grief that day, keening on the floor in a fetal position. Many came away from that experience understandable shaken, and feeling helpless. Some stayed away entirely.
My friend told me later that one of the more comforting things that she remembers from that day was friends who showed up, and got close, literally covering her body with theirs in a group hug on the floor, and let her cry, and cried with her.
A third point. Show up, get close, and this applies especially to men. Don’t try to fix things. Many times, there’s no fixing the situation. You need to experience the grief and witness to it, which will provide its own comfort. Now, that’s not to say don’t offer help - if real help is to be given - but realize, there’s nothing in many cases of deep grief that’s going to make the pain go away, at least initially. And please, please, please, aside from the urge to “fix” things, leave behind the platitudes that may make you feel better “It’s god’s will” “God has a plan” “It’s for the best.” Or in my case. “Oh, you’ll have other kids.”
Well, no I didn’t and I knew that then. And my relationship with God wasn’t great for about 5-6 years after Sara’s death. When I did pray, it usually ended with a “by the way, fuck you, God.” Anyone that pitched Bible verses at me were likely to be asked to leave or met with a tight-lipped stare. Most in deep grief, if they are people of faith know that yes, God probably does have a plan for their life. But that’s now what they need to hear then.
However, if you have gone through what your friend or family member has gone through, share your story, it will provide more comfort that you can imagine, even if it means opening an old wound, like I did with my friend when she lost her son. Share how you felt and still feel.
I commented to her in a letter that it was perfectly okay to be furious at God and tell him to go fuck himself for awhile. She told me later- brought her some much need laughter in those dark, dark days right after his death.
Finally, let’s look at the end of Jesus’ garden experience. He’s finally accepted he’s going to die, and it’s not going to be pretty, and there will be no supernatural cavalry sent his way. His friends have fallen asleep in a huddle. He can probably see the lights of the soldiers coming nearer.
An angel comes to help him. I read this again in Luke, I believe, to make sure I had this right. One angel. One angel only. I imagine that while the disciples were scared, wondering what was going on with Jesus in this side, the angels were looking down, a bit nervous themselves. Perhaps playing their own version of “no nose goes.”
Not to be crass, but we all know the rest, and it wraps up pretty quickly over the next 72 hours. Arrested, tried, whipped, convicted, crucified. And then of course, new life. For many of us, the events aren’t that tidy.
Years may go by before child turns their life around; a dead child is never coming back, and no meaning to the death is ever revealed, the cancer continues to grow, the divorce comes despite counseling, an alcoholic never quite gets to a 12-step program. Someone struggling with mental illness goes off his meds again.
Again, I say show up. Even when all the casseroles are gone, the cards are recycled and the flowers mulched. People have paid their respects, but have moved on, and wished you would too. Be that friend, who sticks with it and asks, really, through the days, and even the years “how are you?”
I can’t tell you the relief I felt when one day, my sister in law turned to me and said, “Can I talk about Sara. I grieve for her. And how are you??” This is not even a topic that my husband and I can discuss 9 years later, and it was a relief to know that someone remembered her.
Follow your gut. Listen to your intuition and the Holy Spirit. You might be that one brave angel, or yahoo, that sticks with it, shows up, and helps your friend wait through the darkness, until the dawn breaks.
And oh yeah, if you do show up, try to stay awake.