This last weekend I had an opportunity to attend a convention where I heard Tiger McLuen speak about handling the storms of life. It was an excellent presentation with good biblical insights and practical application. One concept, however, has struck in my mind and given me pause for contemplation and consideration. Mr. McLuen referred to the story of Jesus and disciples in Gethsemane. These moments in the garden are an example of the “perfect storm.” Our human finite minds cannot begin to comprehend the struggle Jesus was enduring in His spirit as He dealt with the temptation to forego the cross and escape the shame and suffering of the crucifixion. For this suffering would not only include physical torture of an extent we cannot imagine, but it would also be emotionally devastating as his closest friends all fled or denied him. Even more brutal than the physical and emotional suffering would be the spiritual abandonment as Jesus’ Father had to turn His back on His Son when Jesus bore the sins of humanity. It has occurred to me that perhaps, these moments of intense suffering are holy spaces in which we can encounter God in a profound, life-changing way. Into this painful, holy space Jesus invites what Mr. McLuen calls His “garden friends.” Let me explain what he meant by that.
In John 14:32-33a we read, “They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him….” He invited his “garden friends” to join Him in His most trying hour. True, the disciples weren’t the help they could have been, but let’s not focus on that now. Let’s focus on Jesus’ example of inviting those few close, trusted friends into the holiness of our deepest suffering. We were created to be in community. Just as the Father, Son, and Spirit are one “community,” we are to be connected to them and to each other. We were never meant to try to deal with our pain alone. Nor were we meant to share it with those who may do more harm to our vulnerable, tender spirits. We need “garden friends.” Friends who can be trusted with our fragile hearts and emotions. Friends who neither judge nor condemn. Friends who will empathize and give value to our feelings (no matter how irrational they seem). Friends who won’t try to fix it, but will point us (and perhaps carry us) to the cross of Jesus Christ who can make all things new and work all things together for our good and His glory. Friends who validate our worth and value. Friends who cry when we cry and rejoice when we rejoice. Friends who will have the patience to walk through those dark valleys as we process our grief and try to adjust to our new reality. These “garden friends” are a priceless gift from God and a huge blessing. We need to be intentional about cultivating and appreciating these type of friends who are a true gift of grace.
The storms you and I face will never compare in magnitude to what Jesus endured, but Jesus reminded us in John 16:33b that we will all face storms of some intensity: “In this world you will have trouble…” So when the storms of trouble assail us, we need to humble ourselves and invite our “garden friends” to walk with us. Let’s open our arms wide to receive the comfort, hope, and strength we can receive from faithful friends. Who are your “garden friends?” If you are blessed to have such people in your life, take time right now to express your appreciation for the blessing they are to you and be intentional about not taking those precious friendships for granted. If you don’t have people in your life who you feel you can trust to enter into the holy moment of your suffering, ask God to raise up people who will earn the right to be trusted in your hour of deepest need. Boldly ask God to give you “garden friends.”
Even if you don’t have “garden friends” you are never alone in your time of trials. There is one more companion Jesus had in his garden of suffering – His Heavenly Father! While our friends are profoundly important, nothing is as important as making God our number one source of comfort, hope and strength. He is the only one who will never let us down. He is the one who will always understand. He is the one who has the power to bring light to the darkest places. He is also our Father! His love for each of us is far beyond our understanding. He longs for us to run to him as a toddler runs to their daddy knowing there is safety and refuge in daddy’s arms. Let’s commit to not only having the faith of a child, but also the trust of a child and run into our Daddy’s arms and pour out our pain, confusion, depression, lament, disappointment, and all the other painful emotions that take us into the garden of suffering. In His arms we will rediscover who we are – beloved, precious children of the most High King. We will be assured that we have great value in His sight, that He has a significant role for us to play in building the kingdom, and that we will always belong to Him because He will never leave us or forsake us.
So as you enter into seasons of life that take you into a garden of suffering, I encourage you to invite your “garden friends” to join you as you run into the arms of your Abba. And know that this Jesus who suffered so much in the garden went on to overcome the world. Let your suffering be a holy place where you can be molded and made into a clearer image of the Overcomer and then commit to helping others to be overcomers, too.