Luke 22:39-46 (CEV)
39 Jesus went out to the Mount of Olives, as he often did, and his disciples went with him. 40 When they got there, he told them, “Pray that you won’t be tested.”
41 Jesus walked on a little way before he knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you will, please don’t make me suffer by having me drink from this cup. But do what you want, and not what I want.”
43 Then an angel from heaven came to help him. 44 Jesus was in great pain and prayed so sincerely that his sweat fell to the ground like drops of blood.
45 Jesus got up from praying and went over to his disciples. They were asleep and worn out from being so sad. 46 He said to them, “Why are you asleep? Wake up and pray that you won’t be tested.”
Why Are You Asleep?
It was the middle of the night on the first cool September evening of 2000. I rocked gently and slowly through contractions, moaning and breathing with the pain of active labour.
On the bed beside me – the bed that I planned to deliver on – my husband Trevor was fast asleep.
It was a big night – the birth of our firstborn child was two weeks’ overdue and now imminent – and yet he slept.
I had woken him not once, not twice, but multiple times, and every time I stopped actively waking him up he was right back asleep again.
I felt abandoned, but it wasn’t like I had much choice in the matter. I couldn’t opt out with a little snooze. So I kept going, grateful for the company of my midwife to get me through the long night but frustrated for the snores that continued beside my labouring form.
This story came up when Trevor and I were talking about today’s section – in fact, it was Trevor who drew the parallel (and gave me permission to share the story).
Because these guys were young, healthy folks, just like Trevor as a 24-year-old first-time dad. They were mostly in their late teens or early twenties – guys used to working the night shift, full of energy and full of life. But they – like him – were terrified.
Everything was changing.
Everything was happening.
I think it was finally sinking into their thick heads that something was about to go down – our passage says that they were “worn out from being so sad” – but I think they were also probably paralyzed with fear.
Sometimes it seems like we fall asleep because we’re bored or comfy or tired, but other times our fear mechanism takes over and shuts us down. It’s like an extreme ‘freeze’ response, and I see this sometimes when I’m coaching folks – we get too close to something that’s really painful or difficult for them and they start to fall asleep.
It’s what happened to Trevor that night that Nel was born, and it’s my best guess as to what’s happening here with the disciples.
I was in the throes of active labour – and he slept.
I felt like he was abandoning me – but he was too terrified of the responsibility and change headed our way to be able to function.
Jesus is praying with a level of work and effort substantial enough for him to sweat drops of blood. This is intense work. It’s like labour.
And so he wants his friends to wait up beside him.
It doesn’t matter that they can’t do anything.
It doesn’t matter that he wants to be a few paces off.
He is in spiritual agony, and the one thing he wants is to not be left alone with this pain.
But his friends are just starting to wrap their heads around what’s coming next, and they are so sad and afraid that it’s sent them off to sleep.
All they could see was a future of violence and death and pain.
All they knew was panic.
So they shut down.
And I wonder how often we do this.
I wonder how often we curl up in a ball in response to an important moment.
I wonder how often we miss the things we’re supposed to pay attention to because we get too sad or too afraid or too overwhelmed to be able to take it in.
To those of us missing out on the moment, Jesus says, “Why are you asleep? Wake up and pray that you won’t be tested.”
- What’s leaving you sad these days?
- What are you afraid of?
- What are you feeling overwhelmed by?
- How is that showing up in your day-to-day life? Have you cut yourself off from community? Do you find yourself sleeping more than usual? Are you choosing to kill the pain through substances or activities or Netflix binge sessions?
- What would it look like to wake up and start to pray – not just with your words, but with your actions and your awareness and your presence – that you won’t be tested?