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Sunday, April 29, 2012

My Agony in the Garden

This past weekend I drove down to Asheville in a small town called Black Mountain, North Carolina to attend and present at the Charlotte Diocesan Youth Conference.  Last time I was there was two years ago, at a summer seminar workshop for Catholic high school students called Faithful Servant.

It brought me back to a moment I had in a prayer garden.  I had escaped from the group, pretty distressed with my life, and buried myself deep in this garden late one night to talk to God.  I considered it my personal Gethsemane.  A couple weeks later, I wrote to my fellow Faithful Servant attendees, and told them what had happened that summer moment of June 2010...

". . .Before Faithful Servant, I was a wreck.  For the entire summer, and for months I’ve been a broken mess.  You see, last March, my long-term girlfriend and I broke up.  She was the only person I’ve dated I was convinced I was suppose to spend the rest of my life with.  Those first couple months I’ve gone my deepest lows, confused and angry at God.  Why would he take away something that was so good in my life?

After that I was overwhelmed with sadness and mourning that summer, and every day I found myself trying to fill this void in me with empty things.  Think about the empty things we try to fill our life with----wasted time on the Internet, gluttony in food, endless hours of TV, etc. I was trying to fill my void with all of these empty things and more, trying to feel better, or worse, to numb myself so I didn’t have to feel anything.

I got to Faithful Servant, and I was happy to be rid of the computer and everything and let my days be filled.  But the first couple days I was still struggling.  On Tuesday, there was an opportunity to go to confession . . . that night I stepped into the room with the priest and confessed my sins.  Man, did it feel good to get those off, and even better to receive absolution.  For my penance, he told me to say a couple prayers, then to read Psalm 121.  I’ve never heard of or read that Psalm, so I figured I’d get to it when I can.  But for that moment, I wanted to leave. I was just in an emotional moment and I wanted to be by myself, a place where I could get the emotion out i.e. cry. 

I escaped into the prayer garden, but I stayed in the wooded area and walked deeper into the thickness where it was darkest and sat there on the wood.  I sat there for a very long time.  I thought I wanted to cry about my brokenness I’ve been feeling these past several weeks and months, but tears weren’t coming. With the moonlight glowing through the trees, I sat there trying to figure out what I needed.  A priest at Catholic once told me that sometimes we have to kneel to really put our humility and prayer in perspective, to physically show who’s really in charge in our lives.  So I knelt.  Right there in the darkness of the garden, I knelt.  I thought about all the empty things I’ve been filling my life these past couple months, not liking who I was.  And that’s when the emotion came out, with my eyes shut, back bent over, two-handed fist on the cool dirt, forehead on my hands, a whisper inside of me left my mouth: “I need you God.” 

I paused in silence. And repeated.

“I need you God. . .I need you, God. . . I need you. . . God, I need you.  I need you God.”  And I kept repeating it over and over again.  Half of it were because I was realizing that’s what and who I needed to fill my life with, the other half was because I wanted to convince myself that’s what and who I needed to get through my life. 

After a long repetition, I rose up, still kneeling, eyes shut, relaxed my shoulders, and had my palms up, facing the silence.  I read somewhere that silence is needed in our personal prayer, that sometimes it’s only in the quiet moments when we can hear anything from God.  Sometimes I end my prayers saying, “God, if you have anything to say to me, please allow me to hear it.”  And a lot of times I don’t hear anything, and the times that I do “hear” anything, it may be my own voice, but I believe that even if it was, I wouldn’t have heard it were I not praying.  Nonetheless, after a moment, this was my silent conversation with God:

“I will take your hand.”

I had both my palms out, I was confused, and this might sound silly, but I asked, “Which hand, God?”

Again, he repeated. “I will take your right hand.”

Again, I had both palms out and the questions in my head were, “Why my right hand?  Why not my left?  Or better, why not both?”  Yes, I realize I am ridiculous.

But the repeated line I got was. “I will take your right hand.”

I held up my right hand, curled it as though someone was taking it.  OK, God, take my right hand.  Guide me, lead me.  I will blindly follow you.  

I heard people talking from up the hill in Rutland, and I realized, oh, I better get back.  I did a sign of the cross, got up, and walked back up to the chapel.  I saw that Reconciliation was still going on.  I thought, OK, now what do I do.  Oh I know, let me find a Bible so I can do my penance, what was that Psalm again? Oh yeah, Psalm 121.  I grabbed one from the back and sat down.  And I read this:

Psalm 121
A song of ascents.
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—
       where does my help come from?
 2 My help comes from the LORD, 
       the Maker of heaven and earth.
 3 He will not let your foot slip— 
       he who watches over you will not slumber;
 4 indeed, he who watches over Israel 
       will neither slumber nor sleep.
 5 The LORD watches over you— 
       the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
 6 the sun will not harm you by day, 
       nor the moon by night.
 7 The LORD will keep you from all harm— 
       he will watch over your life;
 8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going 
       both now and forevermore.

I laughed out loud.  And read and reread that line over and over again.  “The Lord is your shade at your right hand.”  Did the priest know?  How did he?  I shook my head.  Wow, God.  You knew."


Looking back, that prayer of God taking my right hand has resurfaced over and over again in my prayers to this day.  I feel I constantly still need to take his hand, and follow him blindly in the dark.

And oh yeah, that girl I was crushed about?  We're back together as of this past December, which is a whole 'nother story by itself.  I'm happier than ever with her, and the separation, in hindsight, was needed.  Who knew?  I didn't, but God did.  And I guess that's all that mattered....


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  1. Matt, Thanks for your witness of the great peace and joy that comes with personal prayer. My words are at a loss to explain this awesome movement of the heart toward God, but your words capture it so well. What a gift!

    1. Bobby, you're a kind man. Thank you for your words, they mean so much to me! I truly believe what happened that night was a miracle, and that's the true gift. I'm inspired by what you're doing over there in the seminary brother. Keep it up!

      You're my boy blue!