In the Garden of Gethsemane on the night Jesus was arrested, the disciples fell asleep when Jesus had asked them to stay awake; they turned their heads away in weariness when he had asked them to pray and keep watch. They felt the heaviness of their eyes instead of the heaviness of the moment, though Jesus repeatedly tried to stir them to be alert. It was a day of failings. After Jesus’s arrest, everyone deserted him and fled. Peter, who had emphatically declared he would never deny Christ, heard the rooster crow and knew exactly what he had done. In the aftermath of three denials, Peter wept bitterly. One wonders how the other scattered disciples received the morning.
What do you do with despair? What do you do when you know that you have messed up, when you know that you have missed an opportunity, when it seems that all of your shortcomings are written in large print across your life and there is no going back with an eraser?
Most of us walk away from a ruined moment thoroughly defeated. But where do you go? And how long do you remain in your defeat? Do you throw up your hands and stop trying? Do you mentally beat yourself up? Do you carry your guilt as if paying penitence? Do you, in the words of George MacDonald, house a conscience that does its duty so well it makes the whole house uncomfortable?
Christian author Joni Eareckson Tada knows intimately what the face of despair looks like. Injured in a diving accident that left her paralyzed, she was once convinced she had missed the best version of her life. Her misstep loomed before her, and because of it, she believed that God was somehow forcing her to go with God’s divine Plan B.
Do we, in our assailings and failings, hold a similar perspective? In the regret of a missed opportunity, the guilt of a failed moment, the despair of an irreversible situation, it is understandable that we sometimes sink into the hopeless thought that it is all over. It is easy to beat ourselves up, to despairingly ponder what it means to have missed out, and to believe that somehow, with disappointment, God must now come in and adjust the plan for our lives.
How significant, then, are Christ’s words to his despairing disciples, and to those of us who have ever felt the sting of regret. To those who had fallen asleep, Jesus returned and said, “Rise, let us be going” (Matthew 26:46). To Peter who had denied him three times, Jesus took him aside and said, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:17). To his once scattered disciples, Jesus offered two commands, neither asking them to sit in a corner and think about what they’d done, nor asking them to carry their sense of guilt for a time before thoroughly moving on. He simply said, “Go” and asked for their obedience.
For the disciples in Gethsemane, it was a day of failings. For God, it was the fullness of time, the moment in history when the floodgates of heaven were opened, and failed days, missed moments, and broken lives were forever offered a hope that does not let us down. There are days that we can never get back, words we can’t erase, opportunities missed, and times when we have certainly failed. Yet in Christ, all is never lost. But somehow all is gained. In him alone we are accepted, transformed by his death, changed by his life. In him alone we are adopted, received as children of God, and loved as heirs of the promise. Do not despair. Go and follow.
Jill Carattini is managing editor at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.