Last night I went to a Maundy Thursday service. It’s only the second one I’ve been to in my lifetime (the churches I grew up with and have attended since then have only celebrated Good Friday service.)
There was a small orchestra and a choir and candles, celebrating and also grieving the last night of Jesus’ life before his crucifixion. We reflected on the night Jesus spent in the Garden of Gethsemane, wrestling with the Father until he sweat drops of blood, until he said the words, “Not my will but yours.”
I came back to my apartment and sat on the couch and thought about the past week, where I have been duking it out with God over a heart-wrenching problem that’s made it hard for me to get out of bed or, at times, even to breathe.
There are two closets in my room — one has a bar with clothes hangers and the other has two waist-level shelves for linens.
A week ago, in the bottom of the linen closet, I put a pillow, a blanket, my Bible and several candles and most nights for the past week, I’ve sat in that closet, cross-legged, candles lit, and told God that I would stay until one of three things happened: God and I had a breakthrough, my bladder was about to explode, or I fell asleep.
Each night, either (or both) of the latter two things happened and the first one never did.
So last night, determined again, I went back into the closet.
I sat there until I was shivering, and then, resigned to the fact God wasn’t coming, put on my pajamas and climbed into bed under several layers of blankets.
This morning I woke up to an email from a friend. “Sometimes there are not just Gethsemane nights, but Gethsemane seasons,” he said.
I started to cry.
I can handle one night. Or two or three — in Gethsemane with God, at an impassible moment, waiting for God to break through. But a season? I’m not up for that. A season of those nights will break me before I ever break through them.
I wondered if I should keep going, keep showing up, keeping wrestling with God for clarity and answers, or if I should just give up and lay down.
What’s the difference between wrestling and rebelling? I wondered as, once again today, I got the closet ready for tonight.
What’s the difference between struggling with God and resisting God?
When do we keep going and when, as Jesus did in the Garden, do we lay down and say, “Not my will but yours?”
It’s not an easy question to answer. There’s precedent for both.
People in the Bible prayed for the sun to stand still, for God to open wombs he’d closed, for God to extend lifespans and cure incurable diseases. And Jacob wrestled with the angel all night and demanded a blessing.
And you know what? In all of those cases, God conceded.
So it seems that, to some extent, God is capable of surrendering to us (or, at least, to relenting.)
And yet, sometimes, we have to surrender to God. Like Mary saying, “Be it unto me” and Jesus saying, “Not my will but yours.”
So what’s the difference? When do we know which is which?
I think we wrestle until we know.
I think, like Jacob, we wrestle with that angel and insist and beg and plead and demand and continue until something happens: we get what we were pleading for, or we relent to the God who has other plans.
The difference between wrestling and rebelling is that wrestling always brings us closer to God. Struggling with someone implies intimacy. (In crime shows, when they say there were signs of a struggle, we know that the victim and the perpetrator had close, body-on-body contact.)
Rebellion and resisting imply distance. When we rebel, we run away. The Prodigal Son creates space between himself and his father. He’s no longer face-to-face, he’s kicking up dirt in his father’s face because he’s running away so fast.
So, my friends who are in a Gethsemane day, or week, or season, who are wondering how long to go, these are my words for you. (And, to be honest, these are my words to myself.)
If your pleas and prayers take you closer to God, if your wrestling leads you to tangle with the Arms of Love, then keep going. Don’t get tired. Don’t give up.
If your insistence drives you away from God, if you’d rather run away then surrender, then give up to Grace.
And when the sun comes up, when the night is over, when the day of decision dawns, if Love so demands it, then take up that cross and follow….and let it lead you into Light.