When I read the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-36), I feel like taking my shoes off. I am standing on holy ground. Here we see Jesus beginning to feel the weight of His impending crucifixion as it bears down on Him. The terrible physical suffering lay ahead, but that did not hold the most dread for Him; it was separation from His Father. By bearing our sin, He would be cut off from the One in whom He had lived His whole life. Jesus went to pray in that garden to find comfort from His Father, but instead found the bowels of hell opening up.
In that anguished moment, He cried out, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (v.36). The cup refers to God’s judgment, a metaphor used by the prophets to speak of drinking the cup of His wrath as a cup of wine. Jesus knew that His Father’s will was to go to the cross, and He was determined to surrender to it, yet even in that agonizing surrender, He addressed God as Abba, the Aramaic term for Daddy. There is no record of any Jewish prayer at that time ever using this term, one that implies such intimacy and love. It would have been considered disrespectful to address God this way. Yet for Jesus, it was the way He felt about His Father.
He learned in the garden to surrender to that will because He had already surrendered to that love.
How does this connect to our own stories? We are all enslaved to our wills, determined to find the life we long for in our own way. Yet in doing so, we all repeat the fall of Adam and Eve. They were seduced into thinking that God was holding out the best and giving them the leftovers. The doubt the serpent put into their minds still reverberates in ours: Is God really good? He’s really holding out on you. If you want anything good out of life, you will have to go out and get it yourself. God can’t be trusted. And so begins the attempt to be gods of our lives. So also begins the tragedy of our lives. Our best attempts become our worst nightmares. We make a mess of everything. But the call of the gospel is a call to surrender back to that will, to the Father whose goodness is utterly delightful. What does that surrender look like?
First, we learn to surrender our wills each and every day. When we do, we begin to discover the terrible lie of the enemy. God is not holding out on us. His will is not something that will make us miserable. He is the Father who longs to give good gifts lavishly to His children. Paul describes that will as “good, pleasing, and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). We find that what He desires for us is what we have deeply longed for anyway.
But the harder surrender is still come—surprisingly, it is the surrender to His love. In all of our lives, there are shameful places we don’t want others to see and patterns of sin that seems impervious to change. It is in these very places that God wants to meet us, not with His plans for improvement but with His very love. Yet He must often sneak up on us when our defenses are down.
Just such a moment happened over Christmas vacation as I was reading a book that contained written prayers based on various personality types. One of the prayers I turned to felt like someone had read my journal and knew of my deepest struggles. At one point, it mentioned the sadness of feeling love toward others much more when they are not present than when they are—something that has troubled me for years but has resisted all attempts to change. In that moment I felt utterly exposed before God and yet paradoxically loved by Him as well. There was no call to be better, just a call to receive the love of a Father for a son unable to heal himself. The tears surged forth, not over my lack of love but over the torrent of love I felt from Him. In that moment I was able to surrender to that love.
For all of us, surrendering to the Father’s will and then to His love will be at times a terrible battle, but in the end it can be a beautiful defeat.
This is how we enter the story that He wants to tell with our lives.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.