Praying Through Fear
Praying Through Fear
April 14, 2017 Good Friday Maple Grove UMC
I grew up in a church where the big stained glass window was ofure of Jesus praying in Gethsemane. His body was gray, his face had an anguished expression, and to my child’s eyes it always appeared that a sharp rock was poking him in the side as he prayed. You’d think I’d have grown accustomed to this Bible story. But I have not. It’s a shock every time I hear about Jesus in Gethsemane—about Jesus throwing himself on the ground, about him repeatedly pleading with God to avoid the cup of death, about his friends not being able to stay awake with him even one hour, how Matthew says that Jesus was grieved, even unto death. It’s still a shock to me. It’s kind of like seeing your parents being afraid for the first time. You mean, even you get scared, Jesus? Yeah, even I get scared.
I want to share two ways the story of Jesus in Gethsemane can help us address our fearfulness. One is this: not even Jesus tried to face his fear alone. He took with him to Gethsemane all of the disciples and asked them to sit nearby while he prayed. And he took three of them—Peter, James and John—a little ways apart and asked them to stay near him, to stay awake, while he prayed. I know that they all fell asleep. But they were there. Not even Jesus tried to face his fear alone.
After our daughter Rachel was born, Carolyn had emergency surgery for internal bleeding. The surgeon came out just for a moment and I asked him, “Doctor, is she going to be all right?” And he said, “If she makes it through tonight, she’ll probably be okay.” And then I just sat there in a waiting room, no one else around, for hours. I tried to pray but I couldn’t really. I’d never been so scared. Finally, I knew what to do. I called Laurie Clark. I don’t know where she was or what she was doing. Maybe she was already in bed. But she came to Riverside Hospital, and sat with me, and prayed for us, and after a while I began to feel like I could face it.
Whatever it is that you are afraid of, you do not have to face it alone. Not even Jesus tried to face his fears alone.
Here is the other thing I want to say about how Jesus in Gethsemane can help us face our fears: prayer is one of the ways God gets us through our fear. You might even say that fear is the way God gets us through our fear. Ann Lamott wrote: “courage is fear that has said its prayers”1 One kind of prayer is asking God for things, telling God what we want and need. Jesus did that: “Father,” he prayed, “if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” Surely we all do that: God, heal my mother’s cancer; God, keep my son sober; God, keep our family together.
But there is another kind of prayer—simply asking God to be with us if we don’t get what we want, praying for strength to do whatever we have to do. Jesus prayed this prayer too: “yet not what I want, [God,]but what you want.” This can be seen as submitting one’s will to God’s, and maybe it is—I know some people struggle with that idea. But for sure, it is praying that the relationship with God go on, that God will continue to be our loving Father, even if the worst happens. And that prayer is always granted.
In our Lenten study book, Rabbi Kushner says: “When I pray, I don’t think of myself as asking God to intervene and change things. I pray because invoking God’s presence helps me to feel less alone.” Martin Buber said, “When we pray, we don’t ask God for anything. We ask God for God.”2 We don’t often get around what we’re afraid of; Jesus didn’t. By we can get through what we’re afraid of--and we don’t have to do it alone, and we do it by praying.
In one sense at the end of the story of Jesus in Gethsemane, nothing has changed: Jesus is still going to die. But in another sense, everything has changed: Jesus is now prepared to die. He had prayed his way through his fears.
Not even Jesus had to face his fears alone.
And even Jesus had to pray his way through his fear.
I expect those things apply to us as well.
1Ann Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (New York: Anchor Books, 1999), 239.
2 Harold S. Kushner, Conquering Fear: Living Boldly in an Uncertain World (New York: Anchor Book