And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground. (Luke 22:44)
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, la’ma sabach’-tha’ni?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
As a man, I have always been a high introvert. I spend long periods of time alone, often in the outdoors. Though it may sound strange, I find great comfort in my isolation. Being apart from others allows me to examine what it means to be a man in a world of uncertainty and hope, sorrow and joy. It helps me to discover who I am and who I am becoming day by day.
Because of the recent world crisis, I am sad to say I found it more difficult to follow my usual Lenten disciplines. I fasted less and worried more. My bible reading was tepid and my devotional reading almost non-existent. But what I did find was that my trips into the wilderness took on a new meaning as the loneliness of my isolation from others led me to places where I connected more deeply to the separation and sorrow that the Lord Jesus experienced in his life. It gave me a clearer vision of both the intense anguish and the immense joy that moved the Savior up Calvary’s hill to the cross to save us from our sins.
The Solitary Places
Jesus often spent time in “lonely places” (Mark 1:35), where he prayed to the Father. I imagine that he found these times of isolation comforting as he poured out his heart and sought the perfection of the Father’s will. There in the wilderness, our Lord could enter into that place where the chaos of life met the eternal peace of redemption, working itself out through the mystery of his incarnational ministry of love.
As I venture out into the woods, pushing my body over rocky terrain, up steep hills to beautiful overlooks, I know that I can lay all my troubles and terrible transgressions aside on the paths where God removes my sorrow and remembers not my sins. There in my own desolate place, I experience both a profound loneliness and a greater nearness to the heart of God. Christ takes my fears and offers forgiveness as he nails my sinful past to the cross. In the beauty of this surrender, I discover the transformative power of grace.
The Two Gardens
Good Friday showed us Christ in Gethsemane, submitting to the will of the Father. Whereas Adam rebelled against God in a Garden, choosing the kingdom of self over the Kingdom of God, the second Adam surrendered his life to the Father in that lonely Garden, taking on the sins of men and choosing to sacrifice himself for humanity. Jesus went forth to the cross to experience the separation and the utter rejection that came as the cup of God’s wrath was poured out upon him.
In those lonely places where I come face to face with who I am, my selfishness is met by the selflessness of Christ. As I step off the throne of the kingdom of self and allow my godly sorrow to lead me to where I become keenly aware of my need for God, I am filled with his presence and his peace. The mystery of the Man of Sorrows becomes my vision and I am overwhelmed with a love so pure it breaks my hardened heart. The Savior who sweat blood for my sins leads me to my own lonely garden where I cry out for mercy. In this place of utter isolation and unfathomable sorrow, the joyful beauty of redemption reveals itself to my own desolate heart.
The Agony of Abandonment and the Cry of the Suffering Savior
On Good Friday, as Jesus hung upon the cross, he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Though it may have sounded like a cry of despair, it was, in reality, a prayer of confident trust to the Father who would soon vindicate his Son and raise him up from the grave.
I cannot comprehend the full weight of the sin Christ took upon himself as he went to the cross, but I can immerse myself in the rest of Psalm 22 and see its fulfillment in him. Jesus was experiencing to the fullest the suffering of the righteous servant of God. He faced the utter humiliation of the cross and the rejection of men so that I might find comfort in my loneliness and end my separation from God. As he endured the agony of crucifixion and the darkness of the grave, I was set free from my prison of sin.
Embracing the Sorrow, Not the Despair
This uncertain and critical time in our history has caused me to look upon the suffering and sorrow of Christ with new eyes. It has led me to reconsider the purpose of my Lenten disciplines and the power that Easter has. It offers me new hope as a man and transforms my devotions from spiritual checklists to life-changing journeys of ever-renewing grace. In embracing the lonely places of Lent, I meet the One who went through darkness and death for me, and I find new meaning in what it means to be a man.
In those lonely places where I contemplate the prayers of the Man of Sorrows, I have opened my broken heart more fully to the transformative power of the resurrection, I find I need not fear my times of isolation and sadness, but can embrace them with joy and present them as a fragrant offering to the Savior who faced ultimate sorrow, rejection, and the cruel cross for me. In my sweet communion with my Lord I see that I too will one day be vindicated because of the sacrifice he endured on my behalf.
A Message for the Lonely Man
This Easter may be an especially lonely time for you. Maybe you have suffered loss or are facing hardship or rejection. It may seem like the world around you is falling apart. Your sorrow and your fear may be too much for you to bear. Perhaps like me, you too have failed in all your spiritual disciplines. You may be experiencing your own agony in the Garden like our Lord. But do not despair, for there is hope.
Our Lord knows your sorrow and your pain because he faced the darkest night of the soul, the cruelest cross, and the greatest evil of every hellish sin mankind could commit. But in his sorrow he put his trust in his heavenly Father, endured the cross, and rose from the grave on Easter morn. He did that for you!
As you celebrate Easter season this year, know that the joy, the freedom, and the peace of the resurrection are yours. Let the Savior’s great sorrow and sacrifice lead you to the place where you can face your own desolation and come out on the other side through his resurrection. Have a blessed Easter!