Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. -Luke 22:43-44
The angel strengthened Jesus.. THEN in agony He prayed more earnestly.. and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.
There have been times in this journey when I have wondered at His grace. It wasn’t what I thought it was. Stupefied by the intensity of my grief, I have thrown myself before His throne of grace, cried out in anguish for mercy and, “Please, MORE grace.”
As I read the verses above this week, I felt a little like Job:
I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. -Job 42:5
Now my eyes see Him in His suffering for me. I see that the Heaven sent strengthening preceded, but didn’t prevent His agony. I see that even Jesus’ fervent prayers didn’t mitigate the suffering appointed to Him.
Every breath, every day forward is an act of defiance against my will. Everything in me wants to run back and rescue my Joel, tear out the pages of the story God is writing and rewrite a much happier middle. It is all I want, even when I see with eyes of faith that the redemptive story God is writing is the right story and much better than any story I could imagine.
A few weeks ago I began meditating on:
Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. -Matthew 10:37-39
I have obeyed this verse before. Left father and mother and everything I knew to follow Jesus to the mission field. In comparison, it was an easy walk in the park. It is not a verse that I ever wanted to apply to losing Joel, but one Holy Spirit has been speaking over me.
I had always thought of death as something between an individual and God. In my mind, God numbered your days and when your race was over you were extremely happy to go Home. I rarely gave a thought to the wreckage death left behind.
I prefer to think of Joel’s death in that way, too.. something separate from the wreckage.. as something between Joel and God alone. The moment when Joel entered the joy and rest of the Lord (Matthew 25:23). The moment planned from before Joel was formed in my womb (Psalm 139:16). One of the many moments God was working all things together for Joel’s good (Romans 8:28). Precious in His sight (Psalm 116:15).
The wreckage part.. the part I prefer not to think about.. is that the same good purposes God has planned for Joel in Heaven now require us to live bereft of him. Our callings and purposes are not separate. They are intertwined.
The cross is where you lose your life. In losing Joel, I have lost much of my life.. of who I was.. of who we were as a family. There has been a wreckage.. a dying in me. My deepest instinct is to run back and save my life, to beg God for another way.. to rescue Joel from his appointed promotion to Heaven.
And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” -Luke 22:41-42
There is no running back. There is only forward. There is only “take up your cross and follow me.” My love for Christ.. My desire to follow and obey Him has to run deeper still.. Deeper than my deepest instinct. Deeper than the agony of the wreckage. Deeper than my concern for how God’s purposes for me may effect my mother or father or son or daughter.
Grace has given me eyes to see and strength to obey and endure but it has not removed the suffering appointed to me. There is still a daily “taking up of your cross.” There is still agony, fervent prayers before the throne of grace and there is still suffering.
But I am not alone in my suffering and I am not without hope:
I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. -John 14:18-19
I will see Him.
And because He lives..
I will also live.