Prayer. It’s a critical part of our spiritual lives. It is the subject of books, reflections and talks at retreats. Because it is so essential, it is a frequent topic of discussion, as devout members of the Church ponder how often they should pray and what form their prayer should take. While the answer to these questions may differ depending on one’s vocation and personality, we should all strive to make prayer an important part of our daily lives. Christ teaches us about prayer through his own example. He prays frequently in the Gospels, and in doing so, he shows us how we should pray. As we continue on our Lenten journey and move closer to Holy Week, we can gain insight about prayer by reflecting on Jesus’ own prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Regardless of our age, gender or occupation, we can learn how to pray from Christ’s example in the moments before his passion and death.
After Jesus arrives in the garden with his disciples, he withdraws from them (Lk 22:41). He goes off by himself to pray, separating himself even from his closest companions. Christ’s whole life is a prayer, but this night before his passion is one of several instances in which he isolates himself to pray. Doing so provides an example for us. We should try to live our whole lives as a prayer, but there is still a need for intense moments of deep prayer, where we set aside everything else and focus exclusively on God. This is particularly true when we are preparing for something important in our lives. A big change or decision should always be accompanied with this kind of deep prayer, in which we can take time to seek out God’s will for us and align ourselves more closely with it.
As he starts to pray, Christ addresses God as “Abba” (Mk 14:36). While this term is often translated as “Father,” it is more accurately described as meaning “Daddy.” Abba is an intimate and affectionate term that a child would use for his daddy. It is startling to see Christ, who is God incarnate, using this term in prayer. As he kneels in the garden, preparing to embrace his passion and death, he utters this personal cry of a trusting child to his beloved parent. In the most difficult and frightening part of his life, Jesus throws himself with complete confidence and trust upon the love of his daddy. We can learn from this and apply it to our own prayer. As creatures coming before our Creator, we are approaching a Being to whom we are infinitely in debt, yet the prayer of Christ invites us to address God not as slaves addressing an oppressive master but as children addressing a loving parent. Christ bridges the infinite gap between human and divine, welcoming us into a relationship with God that is not distant and fearful, but rather, loving and deeply personal.
Jesus asks his heavenly Father to “Let this cup pass from me” (Mt 26:39). He is bold in presenting his wishes and desires. He does not hold back, but offers up his requests directly and without shame. We can learn from Christ. Sometimes we hold back, withholding our intentions because we are afraid to ask for what we really want. But God already knows the deepest desires of our hearts. We should not be afraid to ask our loving Father for what we want. We should bring our petitions before the Lord openly and honestly, trusting him to provide.
Of course, along with boldness in presenting our requests, we must keep in mind the next part of Christ’s prayer, “Yet, not as I will, but as you will” (Mt 26:39). After openly making his petitions known, Jesus immediately expresses his acceptance of the Father’s will over his own. He is completely dedicated to carrying out God’s will in his life, even if it is not the path he would have wanted for himself. And the commitment he voices in the garden is confirmed in his actions, as he lives out this acceptance of God’s will. The cup of suffering is not taken away from him, so he drinks it in full, obedient to the point of death. In doing so, he teaches us willingness to follow the Father’s plan even if it does not align with our own. In our prayers, we should ask God for what we want, but we should also fully embrace his will for our lives, trusting him without reservation.
As Christ finishes his prayer, an angel from heaven appears to strengthen him (Lk 22:43). The Father hears the prayers of his beloved Son, and he answers them. He does not take away Christ’s suffering and death because they are part of his divine plan for the salvation of the world. But although he does not give Jesus what he had so boldly requested, he does hear him and answer him. He sends an angel to strengthen Jesus so that he can carry out his difficult calling. In the same way, God always hears us when we pray. He may not answer us in the way that we want him to, but we can be confident that he listens to us. If God in his loving wisdom and providence calls us to suffer, we can trust that he will give us the strength to carry out his will, just as he did for Christ in the garden. We are his beloved children, and he always hears us and answers us according to his divine will, which we can never fully comprehend.
In these last few weeks of Lent, let us keep these ideas in mind as we pray. As we work to constantly strengthen our prayer lives, let us open our hearts to Christ and learn from his example in Scripture, so that we may grow to reflect him in our own prayer.