By Abraham Ghattas
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, represented us in all aspects savor sin. He is our supreme example and embodies what humankind should strive to become in all aspects. Amidst his time on earth in the flesh, our Lord encountered many struggles, turmoil, and difficulties. From his flight to Egypt as an infant, till his crucifixion; always on the move and no place for him to be at rest:
“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58).
There are many moments which our Lord suffered besides his ultimate sacrifice on Holy Friday. One of the most significant moments which our Lord suffered was the anguish he felt in the Garden of Gethsemane, where his sweat became like drops of blood (Luke 22:44) and falling to the ground in prayer (Matthew 26:39). Although hours away from a death like no other, our Lord in that evening in the Garden gave us one of the greatest examples of how to manage anguish and stress during trying and excruciating times. This article seeks to turn us to the Garden in which our Lord, amidst great emotional agony gives us the example of how to cope and manage stress during difficult times.
A mystical night after the initiation of the Eucharist and the pending betrayal by Judas, our Lord leaves the Last Supper with praise and hymns. “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Mark 14:26). Hymns and praises of God are the beginning and end of our journey with the Lord. Saint Augustine says, “A Christian should be an Alleluia from head to toe,” constantly in praise and singing hymns to God. Saint Paul says,
“Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).
Saint Augustine also states that “He who sings prays twice.”
Our Lord starts his evening of anguish with praise, teaching us that before any obstacle or trial we are to begin with praising God and singing hymns. During hardships do we praise God immediately? Or do we delay praising Him? Do we turn to praise him only after the hardship has passed or do we praise him well before it begins? Here our Lord teaches us that in order to enter hardship and carry our struggle with him, we must start with hymns and praise of Him. Our Holy Church teaches us this as she begins every service with psalmody, whether Matins, Vespers, or the Divine Liturgy.
Secondly, our Lord in the Garden was not completely alone but rather brought with him Peter, James, and John. He wanted them there for their edification and for ours; teaching us that through difficult times it is good to have close support from our friends. Our Lord himself viewed the disciples as his friends when he said, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you”(John 15:15).
As St. John Chrysostom said,
“A friend is more to be longed for than the light; I speak of a genuine one. And wonder not: for it were better for us that the sun should be extinguished, than that we should be deprived of friends; better to live in darkness, than to be without friends.”
Of course, we know that all the disciples forsook and fled from him, however it was evident that our Lord wanted them to pray and to be there during this difficult time; His inner circle that He loved. Do we call on our close friends and family during difficult times? Are we there for our friends in times of need? Do we forsake those that need us in times of peril? God forbid that we become unto others “Evil company which corrupts good habits” (1 Cor. 15:33) and do more harm than good to our friends when they struggle. Do we invite unhealthy things during difficult times to cope that eventually cause us more harm than good such as drugs, alcohol, or temporary needs?
Look how our Lord not only brought his friends with him but also wanted them to pray with him. Imagine the beauty of reaching out to your friends during times of struggle and praying together knowing that when two or three are gathered in His name He will be in their midst (Matthew 18:20).
Thirdly, our Lord teaches us the value and importance of prayer and seclusion from the world during difficult times. As Scripture, the Fathers, and the Psalter always teaches us that prayer and silence are the keys to speaking and listening to God respectively. Oftentimes amidst an acute struggle we look to everything for a solution except turning to God in deep prayer.
Our Lord was longing for his friends to pray as well but found them asleep, a testament to their weakness at the time. Sometimes we may pray for a certain struggle to be removed from us as well. However, our Lord teaches us the epitome and goal of what prayer should entail, and that is for one to submit fully to God’s will during the most difficult times. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). From the Life of Saint Macarius we read,
“Abba Macarius was asked, ‘How should one pray?’ The old man said, ‘There is no need at all to make long discourses; it is enough to stretch out one’s hands and say, ‘Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy.’ And if the conflict grows fiercer say, ‘Lord, help!’ He knows very well what we need and He shows us His mercy.”
From this submission in prayer, great blessing is received as God’s presence comes swiftly to the person’s side for strength during times of despair. “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him” (Luke 22:43).
Stress, problems, and adversity will occur to all of us as our Lord said, “In the world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Our Lord’s own personal struggle in Gethsemane teaches us many things during times of hardship. Firstly, to begin every encounter with hymns of joy in praise of God regardless of the circumstance. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). Secondly, to surround yourself with close friends and a healthy support system during times of difficulty to pray with and comfort you. Thirdly, turning to prayer and submitting to God and his perfect will regardless of the scenario; the result of which leads to God’s grace strengthening you. May our Lord’s time in the Garden give us an example to follow when we ourselves are faced with difficult circumstances and are in need of His life-giving peace.
“The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
Glory to God in all Things.
Abraham Ghattas is a Coptic Orthodox Christian who practices psychiatry in Houston, Texas. He is on faculty at Baylor University College of Medicine Department of Psychiatry as an Assistant Professor. He also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in religious studies. He has given lectures on anxiety, depression, substance use and the overlap of mental health and spirituality to youth, adolescents, servants, adults, and parents. He enjoys spirituality, philosophy, patristics, and the writings of the Desert Fathers.