I had the privilege of visiting the Holy Land this past January. It had been a lifelong dream, but as I have discovered in times past, the realization of a dream is often not the way we envision it.
A Dream of Israel
When I first began planning for the pilgrimage to Israel over a year ago, my seminary classroom teemed with excitement: study-tour hopefuls considered what it would be like to walk where Jesus walked and see with our own eyes places in the Bible we had only before imagined. There was giddiness in the air as we considered that this experience was really within our grasp.
A year later, our group assembled to hash out the particulars of our travel and expectations for our time in the Holy Land. As I stood there on the brink of a dream realized, my excitement was masked by pain. My daughter was battling an illness that wasn’t there when I initially planned the trip. Had it been, traveling to Israel would have been the last thing on my mind. But there I stood at this familiar place of a dream possessed laced with a painful reality I had not envisioned. After much coercion from my husband and no few sets of detailed plans established, as well as medical and prayer support summoned, I was finally off to the Holy Land.
A Walk in the Garden
One of the places we got to visit was the Garden of Gethsemane. The friendly chatter of the group quieted as we entered the space. The reality of where we were was louder than the clamor of our budding friendships. This was the place where Christ agonized over the fate He was destined to suffer on the cross. A two-thousand-year-old olive tree stood at the edge of the garden as the only remaining witness to our Lord’s tearful agony. Written on a placard nearby were the words: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”
Instantly the pain of my heart was brought to the forefront as I considered how persistently I ask the Lord for another way—one less painful, one that doesn’t involve my child, one more comfortable. I knew He understood, because the depth of His pain pressed Him to seek an alternate route, perhaps one that didn’t involve horrific pain, humiliation, and isolation.
The words He would say after His big ask were the words that would give me life in that very moment: “Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” These words reminded me of Christ’s humanity and gave me permission to be fully human. Not human with a veneer of faith that says ‘it is well’ when everything is far from well. His words gave me permission to be fully human—full of pain yet full of faith—and for one reality not to diminish the other. Christ’s “nevertheless” allowed me the freedom to release my frail grip on my perfect plans knowing that the path ahead has the promise of uncertainty, discomfort, and pain.
When that pain seeks to arrest my zeal for moving forward…When the thought of one more step is too excruciating to consider…When my soul longs for a route different than the one that has been ordained…For those moments, I pray that the Lord would give me a “nevertheless” in my spirit that remembers that each painful step has purpose far beyond the moment. Each cry of my heart is heard; every groan is pitied. The hand that was nailed to the cross in agony holds me up in compassion, empathy, and victory. His Spirit empowers me to stand on days when I have no stand left.
So does this mean that I have completely resigned myself to being more welcoming of pain? Probably not. I’m finding that my capacity to surrender is progressive and never as absolute as I would like to think. I’m sure I will continue to ask for alternate routes where it seems appropriate, drawing upon the Lord’s great mercies towards me. I have resolved, however, that when a place of pain is clearly what He has allowed…“Nevertheless.”
Vanessa Hawkins is the Women’s Ministry Intern at the Kirk of the Hills, PCA in St. Louis, MO where she enjoys teaching and discipling. She is currently pursuing Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Counseling degrees at Covenant Theological Seminary. She is married to her high school sweetheart Marcus, and they have three daughters: Kayla, Sydney and Chelsey.