rising from despair

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Jill Carattini
Slice of Infinity
October 2, 2003

In the Garden of Gethsemane the disciples had fallen asleep when Jesus had asked them to stay awake; they turned their heads away when he had asked them to pray and keep watch. They felt the heaviness of their eyes instead of the heaviness of the moment, though Jesus repeatedly tried to stir them. It was a day of failings. Peter emphatically denied that he would deny Christ three times before morning as Jesus had predicted, until the rooster crowed and Peter knew what he had done and wept bitterly.

What do you do with despair? What do you do when you know that you have messed up, when you know that you have missed an opportunity, when it seems that all of your shortcomings are written in large print on your forehead and there is no going back with an eraser?

It is a common human tendency to walk away from a ruined moment thoroughly defeated. But where do you go? And how long do you remain in your defeat? Are you one who throws up her hands and stops trying? Do you mentally beat yourself up? Do you carry your guilt as if paying penitence? Are you, in the words of George MacDonald, housing a conscience which does its duty so well that it makes the whole house uncomfortable?

Christian author Joni Eareckson Tada knows intimately what the face of despair looks like. Injured in a diving accident that left her paralyzed, she has often referred to her wheelchair as her “crown.” But she did not always have such a perspective. When she first became disabled, Joni explains that she was convinced she had missed God’s best for her, and that God was now forced to go with some divine Plan B.

Do we, in our assailings or failings, hold a similar perspective? In the regret of a missed opportunity, the guilt of a failed moment, the despair of an irreversible situation, it is understandable that we sometimes sink into the hopeless thought that it is all over. It is easy to beat ourselves up, to despairingly ponder what it means to have missed God’s best, and to believe that somehow, with a frown, God must now come in and adjust His plan for our lives.

How significant, then, are Christ’s words to his despairing disciples, and to those of us who have ever felt the sting of regret. To those who had fallen asleep, Jesus said, “Rise, let us be going” (Matthew 26:46). To Peter who had denied him three times, Jesus said, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:17). Jesus offers two commands, neither asking them to sit in a corner and think about what they’d done, nor asking them to carry their sense of guilt for a time before thoroughly moving on. He simply said, “Go” and asked for their obedience.

For the disciples, it was a day of failings. For God, it was the fullness of time, the moment in history when the floodgates of heaven were opened, and failed days and missed moments and broken lives were forever offered a hope that does not let us down. There are days that we can never get back, words we can’t take back, and times when we have certainly failed. Yet in Christ, all is never lost. But all is gained. For in Christ we are accepted, redeemed through his blood, forgiven of our sins. In Christ we are adopted, received as children of God, loved as heirs of the promise, according to the riches of His grace, the purpose of His will. Do not despair. Go and follow.

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