Matthew 26: 36-46: Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if this is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again he went away for the second time and prayer, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Again he came and found them sleeping for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
Jesus knows he’s headed for trouble. He feels that the end is near. He knows that Judas is about to betray him; he knows Peter is going to bail. He knows that pain is coming, that he’s going to suffer. This is his dark night of the soul. He heads to a quiet place. We can assume that since Judas knew right where to find him that maybe it’s a spot he’s gone before. He pulls aside his best friends and asks them to just keep watch with him. All of his disciples are with him, but he pulls aside those he is closest to; the ones he had his initial coming out to, the ones who had (up to this point) stood by him through everything. He asks them to stay awake while he struggles.
He goes off by himself and has some words with God. He’s agitated and upset. He’s grieving over what is to come. He begs God to let the cup pass from him. He begs God to make things different, to let there be another way. But even in the begging he is resigned to the fact that he might not get what he wants. After a time of intense prayer he goes back to find his friends sleeping. He chides them and tells them that they need to stay awake; that they should be praying for strength because they might not be able to withstand what’s coming next. Then he goes off and prays some more.
The second time he comes back to find his friends sleeping he lets them sleep. I can imagine him being annoyed that they couldn’t remain awake, but there is also a gentleness there; allowing them to sleep, not getting angry. He goes off to pray for a third time and says the same things. Then he wakes up his friends and gets ready to face what’s next.
I think that many of us can identify with this passage. The “dark night of the soul”. The moments where we wonder why we’re going through a trying time, we wonder what God is thinking. We beg God to make it better, to make it hurt less, to teach us the lesson in any other way.
Before I began my transition there were definitely times when I wanted things to be different. I wanted to be able to live as a woman, I wanted to be happy in my own skin. I begged God to let me be okay with myself. I was worried about what I would face, worried about losing my family, worried about losing my partner. I was worried that I would still be unhappy, or that transitioning wouldn’t be enough. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to find a job, that I would lose friends, that I would be considered a freak. I didn’t know how I would afford all of the costs related to transitioning and I worried about the pain of surgery. Basically I was asking God to let this cup pass from me.
There is another interesting part of this passage; Jesus’ interactions with his friends. It’s easy for us to understand why he would be upset with them for falling asleep. Didn’t they know what was coming? Why couldn’t they support him in this? Weren’t they paying attention when he told them what to expect? There were definitely times throughout my transition, especially in the beginning, where I felt like I wasn’t getting the support I needed from my friends or my partner. Looking back I realize that it wasn’t their fault, they were supporting me the best way they could, but sometimes it was too much. My transition was all encompassing. It took up all of my thoughts and consumed me. I was obsessed with counting every new hair, devastated when I wasn’t perceived as male. I needed them to be a support that no person could really be. I’m sure there were times that I railed on them, “can’t you just listen to me for one more minute?” What I love about this scene with Jesus is that he yells at them the first time, but then he lets them sleep. He seems to understand (in a way that I couldn’t) that they needed time to recharge, to not have to deal with my transition. They needed to talk about something else. They needed me to have fun with them that wasn’t about me or about transitioning. That’s a lesson that I understand in hindsight but that was really difficult to understand at the time.
I think it’s important for us transfolks to realize that sometimes our support systems need time to sleep. To rest up. They need to have their own outlets and support groups. They need to have fun. They need to have conversations with us that don’t revolve around our transition. While I realize that essentially a lot of transition is a very introspective and personal time, the world doesn’t stop for our partners and friends. They still have their own problems, concerns and fears. We need to give them time to rest.
In the end what came of my conversations with God was an understanding that transitioning was something I had to do. I knew that there was no other choice when I got to the point where I realized that even if I lost my family and my partner; even if I couldn’t find a job or my life was difficult, I knew that I needed to transition and I was willing to take whatever came with it. I knew that for God’s will to be done in my life, for me to be all that God had intended me to be I needed to transition. I needed to walk the path to Jerusalem. Sure there was a part of me that wished I could just skip the path to Jerusalem, go right to the resurrection. There were times on my journey that I desperately wanted to skip ahead, get to the good stuff, forget all of this pain. But in the end, the walk to Jerusalem is what made the resurrection worthwhile (but we’ll get to that part later).
Jesus needed the time in the garden to steel himself for what was ahead. His friends needed that time in the garden to rest up so they could be a better support system for Jesus. We all do the things that we need to do to get through. Wrestling with God in this way doesn’t make us less faithful or somehow unwilling, it just means we’re being honest about how hard it is to follow the will of God sometimes. I think God invites these conversations.