Weak: Reflections on the Spirit and the Flesh

Note: Refiner’s Fire truly will be back soon! In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy this deeply honest reflection from my book Still Praying in the Wilderness and Other Essays for the Spiritually Thirsty.


I’m so tired.

It’s two o’clock in the morning. I’m staring bleary-eyed at my computer, praying that this huge file will finish uploading without further trouble, when all I want to do is sleep. It’s not my fault I’m still awake. It’s the fault of people who didn’t get files to me on time, a laptop that’s too slow, deadlines that won’t wait.

I’m too tired to think, really, but when I do form coherent thoughts, they’re miserable and barbed. It’s been a day of small annoyances, and now they float up like Dickensian spectres, clanking their chains after them. Judgmental thoughts, pettiness, private fears, ingratitude—everything I thought I got the better of today, still here after all. This is me at two in the morning. Not exactly pretty.

Through the sleepy fog in my brain, I realize how ugly my thoughts are. If I don’t like the world at this hour, I don’t like myself either. I’d be quick to condemn my attitudes and the words that are running through my head if I saw them in others.

They don’t even belong in a Christian.

But after all, I tell myself, I deserve a little grace. This isn’t the real me. I’m not really like this! It’s late, is all. If I can just catch some sleep, I’ll get back to being the good Christian I really am.

Because I am, you know? I’m a really great person, even sometimes a holy one. I’ve been walking with God for a long time. I’m the heroine in my life story. One of the good guys.

Curled up in an armchair, wrestling with my emotions while I wait for files to upload, I experience a very strange moment of clarity. Words. A verse. The voice of Jesus in the wee small hours of the night. His voice drifts back from another late night, a long time ago. A night for good men to show what they were made of—a night for good people like me.

“The spirit is willing,” says the voice, and I can’t quite make out his tone. Is it sad? Angry? Sarcastic?—“but the flesh is weak.”

I’m familiar with the words. I’ve read them many times. Jesus spoke them in the garden of Gethsemane the night before he was crucified. It was a night of agony for him as he wrestled with his own desire to sidestep the will of God and avoid the pain and humiliation of crucifixion. He knew that soldiers were on their way to arrest him, led by the traitor Judas—his friend, who would greet him with a kiss.

Scripture says that Jesus prayed in such agony of spirit that night that he sweat blood. He wrestled with all the weaknesses of his own humanity. And in the end, he bowed to the Father’s will. He accepted crucifixion and all that would come with it.

Luke records that angels came to minister to him after that. It was well they did, because no one else was even paying attention to him! His friends, men who had lived with him for three years, were all there—but they were sleeping. Jesus woke them several times and asked them to watch and pray with him, but they didn’t. And he looked at them and said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Days before, these same men had promised to go to the death with Jesus. They had promised to be heroes. They loved him. They believed in him. They were committed. But in Gethsemane, they fell asleep. When the soldiers finally arrived? The would-be heroes ran away—every last one of them.

But God! I cry silently. They were tired! Exhausted. When the soldiers came, they were thrown right off balance. They were disoriented. Confused. Their emotions were raw. That’s why.

That’s why they ran away.

That’s why they denied you.

We use the word betrayal. It’s so harsh, that word. They were tired. Scared.

They just wanted to sleep.

I cry out now, against God’s indictment. Against the idea that they—like me—were really that bad. The flesh was weak … that’s all. Don’t we deserve a little grace?

And it hits me again, as it has so many times before. No. We don’t deserve it at all. Exhaustion is no excuse to turn into a monster, any more than all the rest of our excuses justify us. But somehow, we’ve been given grace anyway.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer with an overactive imagination, but I often place myself inside Bible stories. I try to feel the heat of Jerusalem, hear the crowds, see the mountains. I try to read Jesus’s words as though I’m hearing them for the first time, and I envision the way I would react.

Whenever my imagination takes me back to Gethsemane, I never run away. I’m always the hero. I’m the one who sticks it out and shows love and courage when Jesus needs me. In this imagined scene, I am who I am when I’m awake, strong, healthy and full of faith. I am who I am when life is bright and exciting. Me, ready to die for love and conviction.

I am never me at two in the morning, with spectres at work. But now, huddled in my armchair, recognizing not only my bad attitudes but also how attached I am to them—now I know that I would have run too.

In the story of salvation, I’m not a hero, no matter how badly I want to be. I’m the wretch who runs from the garden. I’m slowly seeing the truth that Jesus didn’t come because of my willing spirit. He came because of my weak flesh.

I fear failure so much. Don’t we all? It’s ironic that freedom from such fear comes when we look at Jesus—not just in the garden, but on the cross. Alone. That’s our great, collective failure, hanging in the flesh from a few spikes in the wood. Our failure to be heroes. To be good. To be anything like enough.

As I wrestle with the reality of my very weak flesh, I begin to realize that I’ve finally stepped outside of my self-centred realm and into God’s territory. I can spend my whole life trying to be good enough, or I can accept Gethsemane as my own. I can realize that I will never be good enough—but that Jesus is. He wrestled that night—for me. He gave up everything—for my sake. And he did it knowing exactly what I am, when I’m awake, when I’m sleeping, when I’m strong, and when I’m very, very weak.

I come face-to-face with myself in Gethsemane, and for the first time I understand how weak, how needy, how undeserving I am. But there, in the same garden, Jesus surrenders everything because he loves me.

This is the heart of the gospel. God doesn’t love you when you’re doing well, walking with him, and living a holy or reasonably impressive life. He doesn’t love you when you’re a success as a Christian and as a person. He loves you, period. He looks at your wreck of a sad, sad story and sends in a Hero to change everything.

Two-in-the-morning me isn’t awake enough to really grasp this, but grace is calling me again. Reminding me that Jesus was enough—enough to cover even my most shameful weakness.

Another voice whispers in my head. Singing this time; obscure words from a well-known hymn. A child’s voice. It might even be mine, echoing back from the day I first learned the song.

Jesus loves me! Loves me still,
Though I’m very weak and ill,
That I might from sin be free,
Bled and died upon a tree.

These late-night meditations haven’t driven my spectres away. But if I listen closely enough, I know that Gethsemane’s song will drown them out forever.


This post is an excerpt from my book Still Praying in the Wilderness and Other Essays for the Spiritually Thirstyavailable as an ebook from Amazon and other retailers for $4.99.


Photo by Toimetaja tõlkebüroo on Unsplash







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