Finding Hope in the Garden
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.
When I arrived at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital on Monday and looked into the eyes of Mike, and Katy and Eleanor, I said a prayer through gritted teeth, asking, actually begging, God to please help me find some glimmer of hope at this edge of despair. Over this week, I have floated from hospital to the Dieckhaus home to the funeral home, to Radnor Lake, to the church, to on my knees beside my bed, and back again. I have been searching in people’s eyes, in gestures, in conversations, in music, in nature, in red bows on mailboxes, in the eerie quiet listening for any word from God of hope that I could give to Katy, to Mike, to Eleanor, to their family, friends, the Covenant community, to the Nashville community, to myself. If you know me, you know that hope is my life’s mission. I see myself as a hope seeker because I love people and I also know how this world can break our hearts. My greatest fear is that something would happen so grave that you or I would lose hope once and for all. Only Good Fridays, No more Easters.
This week has shaken my soul and I know yours too.
On Tuesday, I pulled out my hand-written list of what I believe as a person of faith. This is where I place my hope. I wondered would they hold true in the face of this tragedy, with Evelyn’s sweet face permanently etched on my heart, standing next to Katy, Mike, Eleanor and their family and friends under the cross.
You know them but hear them again.
God has us whatever happens. We are never alone. Love will always have the last word. Jesus is God’s gift to us so we would know how to live, love, suffer, die, and wondrously transcend. God gave us each other to bear our pain together. Hope is real and God promises if we hold fast to it, it will not disappoint. We are human, but more we are of God. Within us, we have this remarkable soul that will never turn to dust, but live on. Henri Nouwen said we belong to God from eternity to eternity. Evelyn is in heaven. She is surrounded by a court of angels who only know how to smile. She gets to look directly into the wonderful face of God and feel that glow fill her every cell. She now knows Jesus’s voice and could tell us something about what it feels like to be in his embrace. She now lives in the province of joy where there is no weeping, no hurt, or brokenness…only beauty and perfect love. Heaven is our promised future.
On Wednesday, driving home from anointing Evelyn’s body with oil and prayers alongside her family, I could feel the anger and disappointment smoldering in my voice.“Dear God, Why?” “How is this possible?” “Where are you?” “How do you expect us to go forward?” “Is it even possible to find hope with enough muscle to keep our hearts beating, to keep us from turning our backs on You, to keep us from giving up on hope once and for all?”
And then I remembered the Garden of Gethsemane.
The crux of our faith, the gift really, is that Jesus willingly, purposefully, experienced every single thing we do here on earth, both the brutal and the exquisite. He knew love, and joy, and how incredibly sacred this world can be. But he also knew the ugly side. Betrayal, murder, too early deaths, unfairness, poverty in body and spirit.
Throughout his ministry on earth, Jesus never wavered. He was absolutely certain love was everything and that it would prevail.
Until he found himself in the Garden of Gethsemane, in the darkness of human despair.
It’s the place none of us want to go. It’s a scary, dark, and hopeless place, where you are afraid, angry, and worst of all, disappointed in God. Spirit-Gutted. Doubting everything you believed to be good and true and trustworthy. You find yourself wondering, “Will the Darkness win?” In Matthew, Jesus confesses in the Garden, “This sorrow is crushing my life out.” “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” In Mark, we are told “Jesus sank into a pit of suffocating Darkness.” Jesus said, “I feel bad enough to die.”
Jesus was in disbelief that this was his reality. He was tormented, about to fall off the edge of despair. But this is where he found his hope.
Today we are in our own Garden of Gethsemane. And this is where we are going to find our holy hope too.
Jesus bravely, vulnerably, authentically goes to the edge of despair for us so we would know what to do when we have to go to the edge of despair. He knows what it feels like to have your heart ripped from your chest. To wonder where God is. We see him teetering in his faith. He literally begs on his knees for God to stop this, even sweats blood. In the Garden, similarly to Jacob, Jesus wrestles with God. He’s not going to lose his faith without a fight. Turn away from his Father or trust him? Abandon ship or double down on hope? So much easier to choose despair then and now. Thomas Merton said: “Perfect hope is achieved on the brink of despair, when instead of falling over the edge, we find ourselves walking on air.”
Something tremendous, miraculous, happens in the Garden of Gethsemane.
One sentence in the Gospel of Luke and I found my glimmer of hope. Listen. “At once, an angel from heaven was at his side, strengthening him.”
Jesus couldn’t do it alone. The Dieckhaus family cannot do it alone. We can’t do it alone. It’s too much. So God sends an angel to strengthen him. And suddenly the scent of hope falls again over the Garden.
In uncertainty, heartbreak, despair….Jesus, with the help of an angel, finds the courage to trust God with everything he could not understand, with his pain, with his broken heart, with his fear, with everything that he loved. He makes the decision to hope over despair. He decides to trust Love. We hear his incredible confession of faith: “Papa, my Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may Your will be done.” And you know what happens next. Easter. God is offering us Easter too— today, tomorrow, and as promised, on our final day.
I have good news. My hand-written list is true and it can be trusted, even in the Garden of Gethsemane. God has us, whatever happens. We are never alone. God sends angels.
Where there is love, there is hope. This is by Divine design. God will come through for us. We can stake our lives upon it. Love is eternal. God loved Jesus. That is why He sent the angel. God’s Love conquered death for Jesus and gave him life everlasting.
When we know we are loved and have loved, anything is possible. We too can survive the Garden of Gethsemane. We can heal. We can resurrect! I am asking you today to trust in Love.
For the entirety of our lives, we will fight to hold on to our faith. And God will send angels. God will crown us angels for other people. This is how God’s providence of love works. If you are struggling for a way forward, for answers to all the impossible questions on your heart, for courage to keep holding on, become a hope seeker with me. The job is not easy, actually it’s really hard because we live in such a broken world and our hearts are tender. But I believe we are braver than we think and God promises if we go looking for hope, we will find it.
“Thank God I do” by Lauren Daigle has been a balm for my soul this week. I hope it will be for you too.