Have you ever given blood? I used to try to donate blood whenever the Red Cross had a donation spot in town. I have to confess that I have gotten out of the habit. I think it is an important thing and I like doing it because of the good that it does for others. However, I don’t particularly like the actual experience.
It has been awhile since I have donated, but I remember during the intake process they have to prick your finger with this spring loaded pin. The puncture is really small, just enough to get a finger’s drop of blood. The poke also happens really fast. But, I always had a little anticipation anxiety before the actual prick.
After the intake process is finished you get to go sit in a pretty comfy reclining chair. They alcohol swab and iodine your arm up before stabbing you with the needle. The bigger needle. The one that actually draws the blood and collects it in a little pouch hanging beside your comfy recliner. Most of the times I have went, the Red Cross nurses have been really good at finding my veins and making the procedure as quick and painless as possible. I still get anticipation anxiety. I still get a little psyched that they are about to jab that metal needle into my arm. One time they did miss the vein and moved the needle around under my skin. It wasn’t a pleasant sensation to say the least.
I Am Adverse To Pain
I really don’t like pain. I avoid it at all costs. I don’t even like hearing stories of people’s crazy accidents involving physical pain. It’s not just physical pain though. I don’t like any form of pain. I don’t like emotional pain either. I hate experiencing it, and I hate when others experience it too. I feel sorrow for them. Sometimes I even psych myself out by trying to empathize with them to the point that I have anticipation anxiety that pain or suffering is coming for me.
Sometimes within my Christian circles I have heard people talk about suffering and pain in ways that made me feel like I had little faith. Pain and suffering builds our character (Romans 5:3-5). In fact, we should take joy in facing trials because it produces perseverance (James 1:2-4). Jesus suffered for us, therefore we should want to suffer for him (1 Peter 4:13). I remember hearing stories of the sufferings that missionaries have experienced, the challenges of persecuted Christians in other countries, and the deaths of Christian martyrs throughout history. These stories were often followed by a question like, “How much would you endure for Jesus?” or “Do you really love Jesus enough to suffer and die for him?”
Even as a kid in my little Christian school chapels I remember thinking, “I don’t know… I want to love Jesus… but I don’t know.” The Columbine shooting happened when I was in elementary school and the story of Cassie Bernall’s death gathered a lot of attention. In the face of death, when asked if she was a Christian, she said “yes.” I remember being asked the question, “If there were a gun in your face and you were asked to deny Christ, would you?”
Now, I want to be clear, these sorts of questions were sometimes asked with good intentions. Other times the questions felt quite manipulative. My point at the moment is that I often felt like a Christian with little faith because, if I were honest, I am adverse to pain. I don’t want to suffer…even if it’s for Jesus.
I Want a Different Drink
I have been thinking a lot about a passage in Matthew’s gospel that I read a few months ago in my Scripture reading. After Jesus and the disciples shared in the Passover meal, they go to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. The disciples don’t know it, but Jesus is about to be arrested, tried, and crucified over the course of the next couple of hours. As far as they know, they are just following Jesus to go somewhere and pray like they have probably done countless other times over the course of the last three years.
Jesus intends to go to a specific spot further into the garden than the rest of the disciples, but he invites his three closest disciples: Peter, James and John. Most people focus on the reality that Jesus asked them to stay awake with him to pray on three different occasions and they just couldn’t do it. They fell asleep. Real “spiritual” of them right?
What captured my attention a couple of months ago, and has just kept coming to mind since, is the words Jesus shares with Peter, James, and John before praying and the words of Jesus’ prayer that Matthew’s gospel records. Jesus tells the disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” The words he uses are intensely descriptive of his emotional state. He is “overwhelmed” and sorrowful to the point of death. The NLT translates this verse this way, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.”
When he goes to pray, the first time Jesus prays he says,
Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.
The second and third time he prays, he says,
Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.
I have been thinking a lot lately about how Jesus felt before facing the suffering of the crucifixion. I find a great deal of comfort that Jesus didn’t want to face the suffering that was before him. Even though he knew the resurrection would be the outcome and even though He knew his death would ransom sinners, he pleaded with God three times for the cup to be taken from him.
I find comfort that Jesus was grieved and overwhelmed by the suffering. He was adverse to pain too. He was distressed. Yes, he submitted to the will of the Father and went to the cross. But, even the perfect Son of God wrestled with the cup of suffering ahead of him.
I am encouraged because this means we can wrestle with God about the cups of suffering that come our way in life. We can be overwhelmed and grieved. And, that doesn’t mean we have little or shallow faith. We can actually not want the cup that life brings us. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus stands in solidarity with us and in that place he is overwhelmed by the suffering he must endure.
I think that is why the author of Hebrews reminds us that “…we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses.” Every place we have ever struggled or will struggle, Christ is already there. He has already carried in His own body the brokenness and suffering and consequences of sin, and he has redeemed them.
So, you can go to Jesus with your fears about suffering. He understands. You can go to him when you are overwhelmed and grieved. He understands. You can go to him and even ask Him to take away the circumstances before you. He understands. Sometimes He does the miraculous, but all times He is there. And where He is, there also is a reminder of resurrection hope. Sorrow will give way to joy. Despair will be overcome by hope. Death will give way to life.
 Matthew 26:38
 Matthew 26:39
 Matthew 26:42
 Hebrews 4:15