In our chapel, the entire back wall showcases a beautiful stained-glass window depicting Jesus’ final hours of freedom, praying in the garden of Gethsemane. Overwhelmed with sorrow, Jesus hunches over a large rock, praying, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) A little way away, Jesus’ disciples succumb to sleep, despite his desire that they pray for him. As if no amount of human willing could witness Jesus’ desperate wrestle with God’s will that lead him to his crucifixion. Our stained-glass window symbolizes this struggle through the brilliant red in Jesus’ robes and red filigree encircling the scene. Submission to God’s will.
“The heart of our journeys as Christ-followers lies in learning how to surrender our wills to God’s will. Jesus models this surrender in the verse above, and this is what Jesus invites us to do as well. In his earthly life, Jesus shows us what single-minded and wholehearted abandonment to the will of God looks like.” (Pauses for Lent: 40 Words for 40 Days. Trevor Hudson) During Lent, we fast or serve to remind ourselves that surrender of our will to God’s will is at the center of our lives.
Residing in a Senior Living Community: An Act of Surrender
If that’s the case, then residency at a senior living community is a Lenten act of surrender. In general, nobody plans on moving into a senior living community. We envision ourselves living out our final days at home. So when most people move into a senior living community, they grieve the loss of their independence, home and their way of life.
Lenore told me, “I didn’t want to move in here. But my kids are worried about my safety, and they feel like I need help.”
David said, “My wife can’t take care of me at home. I fell several times, and my wife wasn’t strong enough to help me up. She had to call 911 to get help from paramedics.”
For the first several months, residents struggle with acceptance. As the Serenity Prayer states, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” (Reinhold Niebuhr). Accepting a different life and home from what you planned is a difficult journey. And yet, most people move to acceptance, and then even surprising enjoyment, as community life brings new friendships with other residents and staff. People’s gratitude increases as they accept compassionate care given by staff. As in the season of Lent, we begin in mourning and ashes but move to resurrection and life.
As I look again at our stained-glass window, I notice the artist depicted Jesus’ unity with God through a brilliant beam of yellow, slanting down as if from heaven and washing across Jesus’ face. God and Jesus are one. As Jesus tells his disciples, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” (John 14:11) So Jesus isn’t submitting to the Father’s will. God isn’t asking Jesus to sacrifice his life on the cross for us. Jesus himself is equally committed to sacrificing his life on the cross because of his love for us and his love for God. What we see in the Garden of Gethsemane is not Jesus submitting to the Father’s will. It’s Jesus rediscovering his own will and love.
Will of Love
This Lent, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we have an opportunity to rediscover our will of love as Jesus rediscovered and recommitted to sacrificial love in the Garden of Gethsemane. Spend time in prayer using your imagination to see the larger picture of your life: wrapped and intertwined with God’s goodness and love, even in the midst of challenges.
For me, mindful breathing helps me sharpen my eyes of faith and see goodness and love at work around me and in me. (A good primer for that is Thick Nhat Hanh’s Peace Is Every Step.) Then I am refreshed to choose again to be God’s agent of change and love in this world.
What practices help you to move from mourning to dancing? This Lent, focus on our unity with God and our journey of love to re-energize your journey of faith and love.