Stay Alert and Walk with Your God

The still light of late autumn leaked through the trees, illuminating two large statues in the middle of the woods on the monastery property. We had hiked there together guided by veteran visitors. My husband and I aren’t Catholic, so some of the statues and iconography escaped us, but these two life-size statues seemed to hum with meaning.

There, in the middle of the recently fallen leaves, in a single statue slept the three apostles. Ten feet away knelt Jesus, begging the Father for this cup of suffering to be taken away.

For my husband and I, this was a first—a spiritual retreat weekend, and a silent one at that. Brandon, my husband, was leery. The most extroverted of extroverts, he’s not exactly the silent type. He literally talks for a living. I, on the other hand, am content to spend hours by myself typing away, speaking every so often, mostly to my dogs, before resuming my solitary work. I crave silence and solitude. Until recently, Brandon has spied solitude on the horizon and sprinted the opposite direction.

But the last few years have changed us both, and a weekend spiritual retreat seemed like just the thing we needed after a particularly long, challenging season.

The statues in the woods stopped me in my tracks. There in Jesus’s most gut-wrenching moment, his disciples—the men he just finished calling his friends—slept.

Finding the disciples asleep in Gethsemane, Jesus asked Peter, “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” Even after asking them again to wake up and keep watch, the disciples were still too sleepy to stay awake.

So, there they lay, in a pile in the woods, sleeping soundly while the Son of God prayed. I could have curled into the arch one of the apostle’s bodies made.

How out of touch do you need to be to fall asleep when your closest friend, your Teacher, is nearing despair, and even tells you, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38 NIV)?

All Jesus wanted from his friends there in the garden was for them to be with him, united with him and the Father, awake and alert to what was happening around them. It was Jesus’s last prayer before he entered the garden, the last prayer that Peter, James, and John quickly forgot.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23 NIV).

God knows I need sleep. He knows intimately the human nature of which I’m composed and how many hours it takes me to recharge each night. Even Father Carlos at the monastery encouraged visitors upon arrival, “If you oversleep, don’t worry! Your Father knows how hard you work. Maybe what you needed most from him this weekend was to rest.”

But this kind of sleep—sleep that saw the disciples inattentive and distanced from Jesus—is different. This is about negligence, falling asleep when you’re supposed to be doing something for someone else. I’ve embarrassingly awakened to the rolling credits of a movie, my friend sitting alone with an empty bowl of popcorn. How much more mortified would I be if I fell asleep during their distress?

The statues in the woods made me wonder how many times I’ve nodded off in the middle of something God was doing, oblivious to the love, grace, and mercy of my Father coursing like electricity through an everyday moment. How many times have I been so tired or preoccupied by my own wants and needs that I’ve completely overlooked and ignored the suffering and pain of my neighbors, the men and women and children God has given to my community?

Many of Jesus’s stories involve people who fall asleep on the job, people who are unprepared, caught off guard when the Master or the Bridegroom or the Lord returns. They are distracted, preoccupied, or just plain sleepy. Jesus tells his disciples, “Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come” (Mark 13:33 NIV).

You never know what God is doing unless you’re awake and alert to his presence, united with him and other believers, awake and alert to their needs, their hurt, their suffering. God wants us to keep watch with him, to be present with and care for the suffering world around us.

This is how we show God we love him. It’s an outpouring of gratitude and generosity, a return on his investment in us, the gift of his Son given so that we might live through him (1 John 4:9 NIV).

In many ways, the last few years have been apocalyptic. Not in the “world-ending” sense of the world but in the revelation sense, an unveiling. My husband and I have been given opportunities to see places of poverty, loss, pain, trauma, rejection, and suffering in our community, places we were ignorant of and blind to before.

Jesus told his disciples, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40 NIV). The ones the King rejects are those who didn’t, or couldn’t, or worse, wouldn’t see Jesus in “the least of these” who were in need. They have fallen asleep at the hour of need.

I don’t want to fall asleep in the pile of other apostles, playing the part of the good disciple while sleeping on the job.

I don’t want to sleepwalk through the precious life God has given me, lazy about the good work he has put in front of me. I dare not find myself inattentive to the suffering neighbors who are kneeling in gardens all around my city—widows of violence, orphans of drug overdoses, homeless from natural disaster, imprisoned by addiction, enslaved by poverty, hungry, tired, lost, sick, rejected. Jesus calls us to love God by loving others, waking up and staying alert for opportunities to be united with other believers in Christ’s mission and ministry.

This is how we respond to God’s love for us.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.

And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

and to walk humbly with your God.”

Micah 6:8 NIV

With your God. Walk with your God. Walk humbly with your God.

—Written by Sarah M. Wells. Used by permission from the author.