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JOURNEY TO THE CROSS | Week Three: How suffering points us to Christ

By: Katie Highsmith

person carrying cross

They went to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, "Sit here while I go and pray." He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he became deeply troubled and distressed. he told them, "My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me." he went on a little farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. "Abba, Father," he cried out, "everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. yet I want your will to be done, not mine." -Mark 14:32-36 NLT

Have you found yourself in a similar place, begging God to remove the cup of sorrow from you? When reading this desperate plea from the Son of God to the Father, does it strike a visceral memory of when your prayer was the same? “God, please not this!” I’m guessing most of us haven’t walked the grounds of the garden of Gethsemane, and I’m positive that no one else or anyone yet to come will experience what Jesus did in His time on earth. 

But my guess is that, if you’re in our community, you’re well-acquainted with the agony portrayed by Jesus in this passage. The intense feeling that what you’re facing is unbearable, impossible to withstand or survive, that it will break you. The deep dread and staggering weight of the loss or pain to come. The desperate prayer, “Lord, please, anything but this! God, please step in! Please, not this. Anything but this.” 

Perhaps your Gethsemane moment came as you waited for the ultrasound tech to say something, anything, as you felt silence that was more empty than anything you’d ever experienced. Perhaps yours was in the NICU, praying for a miracle as you watched your child cling to life, or slip away from your desperate grasp. Perhaps yours was the moment you realized you were bleeding, or grimly gripping your husband’s hand as he rushed you to the ER again. Perhaps yours has played out over years of medical conditions, infertility, recurrent miscarriages, or negative pregnancy tests all conspiring to leave your home childless and quiet, or destroying your dream plan for your family. Perhaps yours is facing the rest of your life without the child for whom you’ve dreamed an entire life. 

Your Gethsemane moment is guttural, visceral, body and soul-wrenching, and not anything that can be placated or easily comforted. It is restless, piercing, unbearable, and creates in us an existential terror. We would do anything in our power to outrun or avoid this level of loss, pain, heartbreak, and dread. 

It is the ultimate thing we fear or dread, and imagine it is what we can’t survive. We beg God, “Please, don’t take this child from me.” “Please God, end this waiting.” “Please Jesus, not another loss. Not another month alone.” It is a pain that is truly unspeakable. It feels as though we won’t survive what lies ahead of us. The darkness is deafening, and the loss of hope weakens our knees. 

Jesus’ Identification With Us: The Man of Suffering

Let us consider for a moment what happened leading up to Jesus’ prayer time in the Garden of “The Oil Press” which contributed to his being sorrowful to the point of death. Jesus had already said farewell to His hometown, and likely His mother Mary at this point as well. The next time He would see her, she would be weeping helplessly before His cross as she watched her child die by the most extreme cruelty and public humiliation.

He had just celebrated His last Passover with His twelve disciples, whom He had loved, mentored, taught, challenged, and spent almost all of His time with since the beginning of His ministry three years earlier. He had foretold of His betrayal by Judas, causing sorrow in the hearts of the disciples. He had also foretold of His bitter betrayal by Simon Peter, one of His closest disciples and arguably His right-hand man. Simon Peter quickly refuted the idea, but Jesus knew that Peter’s fear would win out in the moments of danger to come. 

Katie Highsmith quote on suffering

With all of this weighing on his heart, in addition to the arrest, torture, and crucifixion ahead, Jesus knows that it is too much for Him to bear alone. It is easy to imagine that the Son of God, the Word made flesh, would not struggle with fear, pain, heartache, or despair, knowing the end of the story! It is easy to imagine He never experienced the emotions we do or can identify with the heartache inherent in this world. But our Bible paints a very difficult picture of Jesus: one where His heart breaks in the face of pain, death, injustice, sorrow, and loss, even WITH the knowledge that He has come to make all things new again. 

No, the Jesus who loves us is the Jesus who weeps at the tomb of Lazarus, who mourns for the unrepentant, who celebrates with those celebrating (and makes great wine!), who rejoices with the healed, who feels deep compassion for the crowds, and who feels deep pain and anguish in the face of suffering, others or His own. Our Jesus does not demand we tough it out or bury our feelings but rather can identify with us in our grief, sorrow, and joy! 

When I have allowed myself to fully rest before the presence of God and lay my sorrows, my tears, and my grief before Him with a vulnerable and trusting heart, I have experienced a depth of comfort not available anywhere else, a tangible feeling of being held, and an understanding that He weeps alongside me, and with me. Dear friend reading this who could also fill the ocean with your tears over your child or your current situation, Psalms tells us that our God bottles up our tears, and holds us as we weep. We are not alone in our grief for a second, and He who loves us and our children mourns right alongside us. 

Jesus Identification with us: Unanswered Prayer
Mark 14:36 scripture

“Abba, Father," he cried out, "everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” -Mark 14:36 NLT

As if it wasn't revolutionary enough for a God to humble himself into human form, to suffer and experience physical and emotional pain when He could have spared Himself all of it, and to die for the sins of the world, Jesus also identified Himself with us in yet another way: He experienced the gut-wrenching feeling of unanswered prayer at the direst moment in His life.

Imagine the pain and horror of any father hearing their child pleading them to save them from unimaginable pain and torture, and not being able to say no. Imagine the heart of a child, begging their Father who parts seas and raises the dead, to make another way, to step in and rescue them, but not knowing if He will. 

So what do we do in the face of unanswered prayer? How does it change our view of the experience, knowing Jesus, the Son of God, also experienced unanswered prayer? And what does His choice to submit to the will of God teach us about the goodness of God? How do we learn to let go of our plans for the greater will of God, even when we don’t understand?

How do we come to terms with a loss that feels more like an amputation? How do we learn to pray, “Not my will, but yours be done” when the stakes are so high, and the pain seems unbearable? When His will might not align with yours? When everything in you screams that you can’t endure this loss, or let go of this dream?

He is the Great Recycler: give Him pain, He will use it for blessing. Give Him broken dreams, He will create a future you could never fathom. Give Him tears, He will water the grounds of new life and abundance. Give Him weakness, He will use you to strengthen others. Give Him your sorrow, He will fill you with His unshakeable joy. Give Him your future, He will fill it with His goodness.  


During this Lenten season leading up to Resurrection Day, we remember that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus, the Son of Man and Son of God, gave His life for ours on the cross. Three days later, He rose again by the power of the Holy Spirit as the glorified Son of God, defeating death and the grave, and creating our path to follow Him in resurrection life, our source of eternal hope in the face of death!

This is all VERY good news: in fact, the best news in the history of the world! The term “gospel” we use to describe the story of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, giving us life to the full now, and eternal life to come, literally means “good news”. However, in all of our justified delight and joy due to Jesus’ victory on our behalf, it can be easy for us to jump to the glorious parts, and miss the gravity of the weight, the depths of His dread, the crushing darkness, and even the unanswered prayer Jesus endured leading up to His crucifixion.

Elisabeth Elliot quote suffering

Without the unspeakable sorrow of the Garden of Gethsemane, the pain of His betrayal, and the agony of the cross, there is no glorious defeat over death. There is no proclamation, “He has risen!” There is no exalted, glorified King of Kings with scars on His hands and side, declaring that the tomb couldn’t hold Him, and now death is not the end of our story! 

You see friend, without burial, a seed can’t grow and break forth new life. Without winter, spring wouldn’t bloom in such radiance. Without darkness, light wouldn’t create such a shimmering contrast. Without sorrow, joy isn’t as sweet. Without loss, life isn’t as cherished. Without sacrifice, nothing great can be accomplished. And without crushing and bruising, an olive won’t produce oil.

Your suffering is not wasted. In fact, just as it is an honor to be co-heirs with Christ, so too is it an honor to be co-sufferers with Him. In the famous words of Elisabeth Elliot, Whatever is in the cup that God is offering to me, whether it be pain and sorrow and suffering and grief along with the many more joys, I'm willing to take it because I trust him. Because I know that what God wants for me is the very best. I will receive this thing in his name. I need pain sometimes because God has something bigger in mind. It is never for nothing. And so I say Lord, in Jesus name, by your grace I accept it.”


Son of Suffering and Risen King, help us to follow Your example in all things. Help us to seek Your face and submit to Your will in all circumstances. Give us strength to face our current reality, give us faith to imagine what is possible through You, and give us the courage to pray, "Not my will, but Yours be done" no matter what comes. Amen.

Jessika Sanders writer, author of In His Hands: Prayers for Your Child or Baby in a Medical Crisis, founder and president of Praying Through ministries

Katie Highsmith is a Praying Through ministries volunteer. Katie lives in Ankeny, Iowa with her dream of a husband, AJ, and their spoiled cat Izzy. They dearly miss their three babies who never made it to their arms. A passionate apprentice of Jesus Christ, Katie is pursuing ministry school and credentials to become a hospital/hospice chaplain. Called to the grieving, ill, and broken. Worshiper, theologian & writer. In love with the Bible, books, and coffee! You can find more of her writing about God, suffering, life, and everything beautiful, difficult and truthful on her Substack,


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