I travel a lot. I’ve flown more than three million miles on one airline alone. Suffice it to say, at times I get very tired, but on this particular day, it felt like more than simple travel fatigue. I had the worst headache ever. I had never had a migraine before, but this sure felt like one. It was as if there was an iron band around my head and it was slowly being tightened. I took two Advil and lay down on my bed with the lights off, but the pain didn’t lift at all.
Barry decided to take me to a local drop-in medical clinic. My blood pressure was sky-high, which was a little concerning, but I thought that if I had the flu, that might affect it. When the doctor came in, he commented on my blood pressure, then asked me what my main complaint was. I told him I had a terrible headache, and he asked what I now know to be a key medical question: “Is this the worst headache you’ve ever had?” I told him it was. The next question changed the atmosphere in the room. “Has anyone in your family ever had an aneurysm?”
When I told him that my dad had had a brain aneurysm when he was thirty-four, his body language immediately changed. He stood up and told Barry to take me straight to the closest hospital emergency room. “Tell them you need a CT scan with dye and you need it now!”
We drove in silence to the emergency room. Pieces of my dad’s story flashed through my mind. His brain aneurysm didn’t kill him, but it changed his life and the lives of our entire family overnight. As days turned into weeks, his behavior began to deteriorate. He went from being a loving, kind dad to an angry, unpredictable, and ultimately violent stranger.
Growing up, I would have nightmares that the same thing that hit him like a rogue wave would hit me too. Now, driving to the hospital, it felt as if that nightmare might become my reality.
I wonder if you have been there too? The circumstances might be different, but the impact, the possibilities, are the same.
What do you do when out of nowhere an unexpected wave hits you? What is your first response when your feet are knocked out from under you and you can hardly breathe?
How do we even start to pray in these moments, when the road ahead is pitch black—no lights, no signs to give even the smallest clue? As the darkest days in human history began to unfold, Jesus gave us a blueprint of how to pray when it’s hardest to pray.
If you read Mark’s Gospel, you will see that in chapter 14, it’s the beginning of the end for Jesus.
As the clock continued to count down to His betrayal, Jesus took His friends into the olive grove called Gethsemane.
That night, leaving eight of the disciples by the entrance, Jesus took Peter, James, and John farther into the garden to be with Him. The full extent of what was about to take place washed over Jesus in overwhelming waves. He knew what was ahead, and now it was only a few hours away. I have a hard time reading the next few verses. We are invited into the very private agony of our Savior. If you have ever asked yourself, How do I pray in this place, this unfamiliar, devastating territory? listen in. Jesus invites us into His own prayer.
He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Mark 14:33–36)
I am stunned by Christ’s vulnerability and brutal honesty here. Even though He had set His feet to walk through this hell, there was no hint of bravado, no putting on a brave face. Jesus was honest, crushed with grief to the point of death.
When you are walking through the unimaginable, don’t ever feel that you are required to keep your chin up and be a “good witness.” The perfect Lamb of God made it crystal clear that some things are simply too hard to face, some things we can’t do on our own. Jesus asked His closest friends to be with Him as He prayed. Yet as Jesus fell to the ground and began to pray, it’s clear who He was turning to for strength. He was not depending on His friends for strength but on His Father, His Abba.
Jesus, in His humanity, didn’t want to die. He knew that although the physical pain of crucifixion would be almost unbearable, the greatest pain of all would be that moment on the cross when the sin of the world would be poured out on Him and for the only time in eternity He would be separated from His Father.
Jesus prayed two critical things that we need to understand when we face our darkest days.
First, He begged for a way out. He cried out, “Everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me” (Mark 14:36).
I’ve heard the essence of that prayer from thousands of women over the years in a multitude of ways. God, You are big enough to take this away. Nothing is impossible with You. I have faith in You. I believe You can change this. I don’t want to do this. Please, please take this away. Save my marriage. Heal me. Save my child. You know You can. Please, God, I’m begging You!
If Christ begged to be released from what lay ahead, why should we think we lack faith when we pray the same way? We get to be real with God. We are invited to come just as we are, emotions raw, heartbroken, desperate. Having wept until we have no tears left, no words left, we listen in again as Christ continues to pray.
Second, He prayed for God’s will to be done. I’ve wept with friends as they too have bowed their broken hearts to our God, whose ways are higher than ours, whose thoughts are so far beyond our understanding. Such prayers turn a living room into holy ground. I want my life to glorify You. I know You could change this, but if that’s not Your will, I want Your will. I don’t understand it, but I accept it. I love You, and if this is the way things should be, then I say yes! We serve a loving Father who weeps with us, who collects our tears.
On the day I was so fearful of suffering a brain aneurysm, the Lord reminded me that an answered prayer might give information, but God’s presence gives peace no matter what the answer is.
I remember the traffic being terrible in Dallas that day as Barry drove me to the hospital. It’s usually bad, but that day it seemed particularly slow. I knew he was anxious and worried as he uncharacteristically honked at the car in front of us to move. I was somewhere else. What I needed wasn’t an answer; I needed Jesus. I put my seat back and closed my eyes and talked to my Abba Father.
I don’t know what this is. I’m scared. If there’s something in my brain that’s about to burst, please stop it! I don’t want to do this to my son. It would be too hard. Please help me. Suddenly, the traffic began to move, and before I knew what was happening, Barry had pulled up outside the emergency room.
We walked into a room filled with people—some with desperate looks on their faces and others waiting for answers. Barry told me to take a seat and went to talk to the woman at the check-in desk. I don’t know what he said, but I was suddenly taken back to a room and a young doctor began to ask me questions. Everything seemed to be happening so quickly. I changed into a robe and was taken back for a CT scan within minutes. Things whirred around my head as I was told to lie still and not move. It looked as if I was alone in there, but I wasn’t.
Here we are, Lord. This is scary. I’m so glad You’re with me. So here’s what I think. I’d like there to be nothing wrong, but more than that, I want Your will. I really do. You are my everything. If this thing bursts and everything changes, You’ll still be with me. And You love Barry and Christian more than I ever could, so I’m letting go. I love You, Jesus. When you are right in the middle of the hardest days, Christ promises His presence and His peace.
When the scan was over, I was taken back to the room where Barry was, and we waited and waited. Finally, the doctor came in. He said, “Good news. Everything is fine. You might be working a bit too hard. Take a day off every now and then,” and then he rushed off to the next patient. I got dressed and we left. It was surreal. So much had happened in just a few short hours, but the greatest gift of that day was the peace Christ gave me before I knew what was going to happen. When you are right in the middle of the hardest days, Christ promises His presence and His peace.