Notice in reading the Gospels that whenever Jesus is facing something difficult, He prays. In one of His most human moments, Jesus struggles in agony in the garden of Gethsemane. Before his arrest, He endures a night of extreme stress that we cannot imagine. He even sweats blood. The One who could calm the wind—who could walk on water—still had to face the terror and uncertainty of death.
Temptation and desperation flood Him at that moment, as he knows the cross awaits Him. This is the same man who after forty days of fasting could stare down any and all temptations. This is Jesus, the Son of God, facing anxiety as we all do, though with more serious and certain consequences. And yet, in this moment of extreme stress, He shows us how to live.
He asks His Father to be spared the coming suffering and for His help. Jesus experiences sorrow and worry and fear. He, like us, is tempted to control what is to come, praying: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
He experiences an all-too-human urge to control the outcome, and surely He could, but he chooses to embrace His Father’s will instead. He surrenders His will to God’s. This is the great “thy will—not mine—be done.”
We too have our dark nights, and we can squirm and worry and let anxiety wreck us. Or we can trust and say, “Thy will be done, God.” We can choose instead to “surrender-to-win.”
There is a passage from the Imitation of Christ that speaks to what drives us all crazy. When we don’t get our way, we try to escape. When our will is disrupted, we flake out.
“But too often some hidden force within, some attraction that meets us from outside, will sweep us off our feet. Plenty of people are influenced in their actions by these undercurrents of self-seeking, without having any idea of it. All seems to go well with them, as long as everything turns out in accordance with their wishes, their plans; but when once their wills are thwarted, they lose their balance and get depressed in no time.” (The Imitation of Christ, Book 1.14, Paragraph 2)
Free will is like a gift and a curse at the same time, and this is one of these interesting paradoxes of the Christian faith. Yes, we are free to make choices but we don’t get to control the outcomes or the circumstances under which we make our choices. Yet, through prayer, we’re given the wisdom and insight to choose wisely and accept all that remains beyond our control.
There was a time when I didn’t pray for guidance in my choices. In fact, I didn’t even believe in God. I was like a mule; I wouldn’t dream of trying prayer until I tried to quit drinking. But I couldn’t do it on my own. I was willing to try antidepressants, relaxation CDs, therapy, exercise, diets—you name it—other than prayer. It was almost like in my consumer mindset I wanted to pay for a product or I didn’t think it could be effective.
But prayer is free, easy, and doesn’t cost us anything. The problem for many of us is that we don’t pray because we don’t want anyone to budge into our “freedom” and to feel “controlled.” The funny thing is that we are shutting out a relationship with a God who doesn’t ever limit our freedom but, actually, expands it.
“The grace of Christ is not in the slightest way a rival of our freedom when this freedom accords with the sense of the true and the good that God has put in the human heart. On the contrary, as Christian experience attests especially in prayer, the more docile we are to the promptings of grace, the more we grow in inner freedom and confidence during trials, such as those we face in the pressures and constraints of the outer world.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1742)
Saint Padre Pio offered a similar insight related to prayer, though in far fewer words: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry so much.” That pretty much sums it up. It seems so simple, and you can even buy a pair of socks with those words on them to remind you to do it daily. I should probably take this as a hint to be briefer. I still have much to learn…
So, with that in mind, I’ll conclude my article with this: Pray, hope, and don’t worry so much.
Peter Flies lives in Rochester, MN with his family. He writes about wayward ways, endurance sports, conversion, and Catholicism on his website Why Did Peter Sink? He is also the author of the novel A Town Called Immaculate.