How do we lift our darkest, most depressed, most lonely moments up to God? How can we pray when we are most deeply alone, helpless and our whole world seems to be collapsing?
We can learn from Jesus and how he prayed the night before his death in the Garden of Gethsemane, in his darkest hour: It was late at night; he had just had his last meal with his closest friends, and he had one hour to prepare to face his death. His humanity breaks through and Jesus finds himself prostrate on the ground, begging for escape. Here's how the Gospels describe it:
Jesus withdrew from his disciples, about a stone's throw away, and threw himself to the ground and prayed. "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, let your will be done, not mine." And he came back and found his disciples sleeping.
So he withdrew again and in anguish prayed even more earnestly, and his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. When he rose from prayer he went to the disciples and found them sleeping from sheer grief. He said to them, "Why are you asleep? Get up and pray not to be put to the test."
Then he prayed a third time, and an angel came and strengthened him, and he rose to face with strength what lay before him.
This prayer by Jesus in Gethsemane can serve as a model for how we can pray when we're in crisis. Looking at the prayer, we can highlight seven elements, each of which has something to teach us in terms of how to pray in our darkest times:
In his book, Stride Towards Freedom, Martin Luther King recounts how one night, after receiving a death threat, he panicked, gave into fear, and, not unlike Jesus in Gethsemane, literally collapsed on the floor in fear, loneliness, helplessness - and prayer. He confessed that his prayer that night was mostly a plea to God to let him find an honourable means of escape, but God asked something else of him. Here are his final words to God in that prayer:
"But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I've come to the point where I can't face it alone." Then he adds: "At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced him before." An angel found him.
When we pray honestly, whatever our pain, an angel of God will always find us.