When our son Matthew was in college, he and some friends decided to encourage another friend, Andrew, as he ran in the St. Louis Marathon. Each painted on his own exposed torso one letter of the runner’s name, so they could spell it out together and cheer him on as he raced by the half-way point. Marathons are lengthy, however, so they began to pass the time by seeing how many words they could spell with their animated alphabet. When Andrew ran by—grinding out the distance on his own—his would-be cheerleaders were completely distracted and unprepared. It was actually Andrew who got their attention as he sped by, “Hey, guys!” Peggy and I laughed as Matthew related the story, and we asked him, “What were you spelling when he ran by?” “Nothing!” he exclaimed. It was for these merry collegians a short course in attentiveness, if they let it be, and one gained at virtually no cost.
Life lessons aren’t always so mercifully learned. It was Jesus enduring the distance that dark night of Gethsemane, “very distressed and troubled … deeply grieved to the point of death”1 by the punishment and abandonment which lay immediately before Him. He’d schooled the disciples in the importance of watchfulness—remaining attentive over time—and now asked it of them as He implored the Father for mercy and strength. Yet every time He sought their support, Jesus found his friends asleep and Himself alone. His frustration might be tallied (but not fully measured) in exclamation marks: “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”2
“Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy,”3 wrote a very sage Solomon. It is true, we can never truly experience the depths of another’s pain or the fullness of one’s gladness; only God can, and only God does. Yet it is inestimably vital that we be there amid cries for help, be they spoken or, more often, silent. “Sit here while I pray,” friends may say, or “Stay here and keep watch,” they fear to ask. Together, then, may our lives spell out, “WATCHFUL,” for the assurance of our presence makes both bitterness and joy a far less lonely place to be.
Father, it is so encouraging when others share my joy and pain, yet I tend to shortchange the value of my presence in their life. Send your Spirit; make me attentive to those who, like me, need someone to be there in the moment with them. In this also, be glorified. In Christ, I pray. Amen.
1 Mark 14:34, 35
2 Mark 14:41, 42
3 Proverbs 14:10