by Jonathan Celaya |  Rice University

If you didn’t grow up in a desert, you may not be able to fully appreciate how beautiful
the color green is. For us “desert rats,” even seeing lush grass is a treat. So when I entered the
gates surrounding the Garden of Gethsemane, my breath was taken away. Yet it was not merely
the beauty of the Garden which made for the most memorable moments of my Israel trip; rather,
it was all of the history, the emotion, and the Holy Spirit which permeated it.

Before I can tell you precisely the impact of my time in the Garden, you must know that I
am undergoing a very difficult season in life. What with the pressures of post-college life closing
in, and non-Christian friends challenging my faith like never before, my thirst for God and desire
to understand and pursue His will are stretching me beyond my limits and, ironically, distancing
me from the very presence I so desperately seek. Over the past several months, these challenges came to weigh on me immensely and drove me to lose much of my ability to maintain a relationship with God. Luckily, I knew I had a chance to reconnect with Him in Israel, and with the little spiritual strength I had left, I begged Him to rekindle our relationship through my journey to the Holy Land.


I am blessed to say that my prayer was answered. However, the fifteen minutes of reflection in the Garden were by far the moments in which I felt that answer most powerfully. During those few precious minutes, I sat quietly under an olive tree, alone save for my thoughts
and the God whom I love. With His presence surrounding me, I came to more personally
understand our relationship.


As I sat down, my first thought was the contrast between the beauty of the Garden and
the suffering that had occurred there approximately two millennia ago. Second, I began to think
about how my own suffering and struggles compared to those of Jesus. My initial reaction was to recognize that all the uncertainty in the world could not compare with Jesus’s certainty that he
was about to be crucified. However, rather than thinking that I should just suck it up and trudge
on, being in the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Garden engendered a different realization –
instead of assuring us that our pain wasn’t all that bad, Jesus not only knows our pain, but he
empathizes with us. Indeed, I came to an intensely personal understanding of one of the less-
talked-about reasons God sent His Son into our imperfect world – so that we can relate to Him
on a human level. Before this moment, I had understood academically that Jesus related to us,
but His divinity had always prevented me from feeling that He understood me on a human level.
From this realization, a new seed of hope was planted in my mind. Immediately, that seed began to grow and remind me that it is possible to have a true relationship with God and that no matter the circumstances and the pain, we can come through the toughest of times, knowing that God cares about us and heals us.

But, seeing as how I was in a garden, it was only fitting that God tended more than one
seed in my mind. This second seed was of a similar variety, but it grew more slowly, as the
message it carries is less easy to accept. I say this because the message consisted of an idea that He had planted months ago, but which I was too stubborn to let Him water until my time in the Garden. The message is this: as much as we may suffer, and regardless if there is a reason, God can use our suffering for good, and He will if we let Him. Much like Jesus’s suffering on the
cross allowed us to relate to Him better, my challenges allow several of my friends who have
similar struggles to relate to me better. As a result, I have been able to love them more like Jesus loves me than before I began to experience significant strife in my life.


The final seed which God grew in the garden of my mind as I sat in the Garden of Gethsemane stems from the second seed, but actually comes from the message our pastor had delivered to us immediately before our silent reflection time. From that message, and with the Holy Spirit enveloping me in the place where God’s plan for ultimate victory over sin began to come to fruition. I learned that like Jesus, I don’t have to be a victim. Instead, I can be victorious over my circumstances. Jesus willingly gave his life to become a victor, so I can willingly hand my life to Him to defeat all of my challenges. As the devil thought he had won upon Jesus’ death, he may think he wins whenever I momentarily succumb to despair, but the reality is this: God always wins. And God is in me. He is around me, and He is with me no matter what. So, I can have hope for the future, both my own and my friends’, and can have confidence that no matter the challenge, win or lose I will ultimately be victorious.


As I now reflect on this essay, I chuckle at the beautiful pattern God created by planting these particular seeds… The first seed let me know that God not only understands our pain, He empathizes with it. The second taught me that He not only empathizes with it, he transforms it for His good. And, finally, the third seed illustrated that not only will He use it for His good, He will use it to make us victorious in life and beyond. So I say, thank you, God, for answering my prayer and being with me in the Garden – I have a renewed hope and confidence in You.