If Jesus Wrote a book about the Garden of Gethsemane, would you read it?

[ 9 ] Comments

by Nick Galieti

(CC) Lloyd Morgan

Mark lived a dichotomous life. As an on again-off again drug addict, and as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mark’s story is becoming a more and more common scenario in these “latter-days.” Mark’s life story shows that being a returned missionary, a BYU student, and even being married in the temple, are not an agency safeguard when it comes to drug addiction. The first 30+ years of his life story reads like a handbook of what not to do if you want to be happy. Mark is now an active member, clean for over 9 years, and serving as an addiction recovery missionary. His story is a real message of triumph over the seemingly impossible: recovery. In some ways, his life resembles a modern-day Paul or Alma the Younger.

So, when given the chance to co-author/edit a book on the life of a man who for over 25 years struggled with drug addiction and an accompanying life of crime, I accepted the challenge, understanding that there were some necessary questions to consider. Questions ranged from, “Is this a first person story?” to “How much detail do we give, such as real names, how drugs are administered, and the other ins and outs of a life of crime?” These questions and others needed to be addressed in a spirit of honesty to give the story the most weight without taxing the reader or teaching people how to do some very destructive things: as Joseph F. Smith stated, “The knowledge of sin tempteth to its commission” (see Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 373.)”

The first draft of the book was written by Mark, and was submitted to a notable regional publisher. Feedback received from the publisher concluded that his story spent too much time reviewing the “uncomfortable” events of his life. In other words, the manuscript spent too much time talking about the events steeped in gut-wrenching addiction. Starting from age 12 with marijuana and slipping into heroin use by age 17, when he first went to jail, his story continues for another 20 years of addiction, crime, prison experiences, as well as small victories and the ever-present tender mercies seen by so many in hindsight. One could argue that to tell his story in an honest way would mean to spend a great deal of time in the tragedies of addiction as well as the success felt along the way.

Yet the message and feedback remained the same: “Keep the hard parts, the drug parts, to a minimum. We only want to hear the “successful” parts.”

I have struggled with this idea, not because I like reading about depressing things or people’s failures, but because the greatness of any story is found in the conflict. One of the challenges in reading the stories of Paul and Alma the Younger in the scriptures is a sense that we have the “Reader’s Digest” version of these stories, that we do not have the full story. The details about how bad these men were before they were converted is skimmed over to the point that we may not appreciate the power of change and repentance the atonement offers as a result. That is not to say that the scriptures are flawed or uninspired, but I would like to have more detail.

The rationale used by this publisher is that people do not want to read about difficult struggles; they would rather read about successes. While I agree that success is a nice read and might have ready commercial appeal, is not the triumph and success made even stronger when the level of difficulty is greater? Without knowing the degree of sin, we cannot not know the degree of triumph. If we shy away from the “hard” parts, we equally handicap our ability to understand the greatness of the atonement, or the “good” parts.  Life is not easy, and that is part of what makes life so great.

(CC) seetheholyland.net

The way I am trying to approach this challenge is to consider this idea: What if Jesus Christ wrote a book about some of what He went through during his time in the Garden of Gethsemane? Would you want to read it? It would be hard, troubling, and deeply soul-searching, but would it not give you a greater appreciation of what He went through for each of us? Would it not give you an idea of just how great and amazing the atonement is in each our lives? The atonement would not be considered the “greatest event in the history of mankind” if it had been easy. In one sense, it helps us to have appreciation for the atonement to know that he “bled at every pore.”

Mark’s story testifies of the power of the Atonement in a way that most are not accustomed to or do not understand. While we should not seek out the faults of others, if we are able to understand on a greater level the struggles and trials that others overcome, we can take strength in the degree of their triumph. Some formats are prohibitive to the telling of a story in great detail. But this is a book, as is true with the written word in general, and is only limited by our ability to imagine and vicariously experience the words we read.

  • To what degree should we be willing to experience another’s struggles, to mourn with those that mourn?
  • To consider this question another way, If Jesus Christ wrote a book about what He went through during his time in the Garden of Gethsemane,  would you want to read it?

9 Responses to If Jesus Wrote a book about the Garden of Gethsemane, would you read it?

  1. Cheryl says:

    Okay, this one really hit home for me because I am one that has been accused (more than once) of sharing “too much.” People don’t like to read my blog because it’s “depressing” (I have depression, go figure). I share the harsh realities of mothering small children and the mental demons I have received, in part, because of it. But! There are things that are sacred –I don’t discuss my marriage (except the good parts and gloss over the hard parts), or other people (unless it’s positive or they are anonymous).

    Would I read about Gethsemane? I don’t know. I think I would hesitate, even though I adore honesty. The reason I think I would think twice is because I already know he “suffered all,” meaning He has literally suffered ALL. Think of the worst pain I can imagine –done. The worst feelings I can imagine –done. To read it?

    My mother once told me that she had been told that she HAD to watch “Schindler’s List,” that if she didn’t, she wouldn’t understand the Holocaust. My mother told me: “I do not have to watch the horror to know that it happened.”

    I think there are fine lines between understanding and seeking knowledge and witnessing brutality that can harm our minds and our hearts.

    So, it’s a good question. Would I want to read it? I’m leaning towards no. Would I read the book about your friend, though? Perhaps.

  2. I find a lot of strength in reading about the struggles of others. It helps me put my own struggles in perspective.

    Mark’s story interests me for several reasons. I am a former addiction recovery missionary, and my younger brother has been clean from heroin for about seven years. I have seen first-hand the horrors of drug addiction and have experienced myself the despair of more socially acceptable addictions. I believe we are all, as mortals, addicts to one thing or another.

    One book that goes into a lot of detail about addiction and recovery is IN THE REALM OF HUNGRY GHOSTS, by Dr. Gabor Mate. I loved it and recommend it to others frequently.

    All that to say–yes, I would read Jesus’ book, and I would read Mark’s story.

  3. jendoop says:

    Yes, I would want to read it. But I say that as a person who has never finished Elie Wiesel’s Night, because it was too intense. It is very likely that as I read the Savior’s book I would see the shadow of my sins pass over his perfect face and I would close the book unable to bear his burden.

    As for more clearly seeing the triumph when we know the depths of despair – I believe that those who repent are charged to illuminate the world with the light of Christ. Relating the darkness over and over again seems to glorify our enemy. But I continue to read books to enlarge my view, to understand others more, so maybe it would be helpful to know how deep the darkness was.

  4. Paul says:

    First, your question: yes, I hope I would want to read it.

    Second, the implications for Mark and his story: we read literature all the time that tells of hardship, turmoil, opposition and stuggle. Great novels and plays have those things in their pages all the time; in fact, without them, we dismiss the literature as lacking weight. What would King Lear be without the conflict? How could Hamlet move us without the death of his father and his own madness?

    Brigham Young taught the value of literary characters who are flawed, who make grave mistakes, and who suffer consequences so that we may learn from their mistakes, vicariously. It is one of the great hallmarks of literature.

    That is especially true when it is a story of triumph, as is Marks, as is the Savior’s. Knowing the end from the beginning makes it easier for us to hang on through the darker moments (though Shakespeare’s tragedies ARE tragedies, and we do not have a happy ending to cling to, yet we still read, see and produce them).

    The Savior Himself taught the Prophet Joseph in Liberty jail of the trials Joseph would face, and then proclaimed that He had descended below all of those things. It is precisely because of the Savior’s descent into our pain and suffering that we enjoy His blessings in our lives.

    So in answer to the question (which you did not ask), SHOULD we read such things? Yes.

    WILL we read such things? Fewer of us will, I suspect, just as fewer of us read Tolstoy and Dickens and Shakespeare. But it does not mean we shouldn’t.

  5. Hmmm… I think I would read it just because it was the Savior who wrote it and I’d read anything he wanted me too 🙂 I know that reading some hard and dark books has been good for me, I appreciate hearing the struggles and challenges that people go through so I can know how to succor them in their trials.It is also good to know what it is you are up against. But I also think that the spirit can teach you many of the same things (because Christ did go through the Atonement) without actually having to “feel”, “read” or “see” what they did.

    Sometimes I am in just plain awe of what Christ did. He faced such pure evil in the face and overcame it… I don’t know if I would have the strength to overcome.

  6. Tiffany W. says:

    I would definitely read both books. We need to read stories that contain tragedy and triumph. Sometimes stories end in tragedy while others end in triumph. That is real. How can you fully gauge or understand the level of triumph of a man who has been clean and sober for 9 years if you don’t understand how far he had fallen? Simply telling someone that you’ve been a drug addict doesn’t tell the full story of tragedy nor the magnificence of redemption.

  7. Tamara says:

    Thank you, Nick, for this thoughtful (maybe thought provoking) post. My brother had a life similar to Mark’s, only without as happy an ending. When I have contemplated writing his story I have had some of the same questions you raise. Here are some of my thoughts. Conflict is necessary but good stories use it with the right amount of depth, proportion and relevance. I agree that the depth of the experience should not be sugar-coated or glossed over, especially if it is an adult audience and they know it is a true story. It helps if the the conflict is in proportion to the other elements of the story- fiction or non-fiction. Most readers will tolerate a lot of conflict if it is balanced with resolution (that’s hard to do with real life stories as reality doesn’t like to conform with ‘reader satisfaction formulas’!) Also, readers will accept a lot of conflict, or difficult passages if they are relevant, if they feel like they are reading it for a purpose or for the purpose of getting to that resolution. Of all of Mark’s experiences, you may include them based on some criteria. One to reveal his character, one to demonstrate the impossibility of overcoming addiction, one to show desperateness, etc. If all the ‘difficult’ experiences are a variation on the same theme: addiction is hard, then readers will have a harder time getting through it (ironic, isn’t it?). Of course readers can separate themselves from what they are reading, but one of the reasons people read is for that vicarious experience. We put ourselves in the the story and want to feel what the character is feeling. It’s why our heart pounds when we see that big, rolling stone in Indiana Jones! As for what Jesus has told us, D&C 19:16-18 provide a great example of depth, proportion and relevance. He tells us how awful “bleed at every pore” and “would that I might . . . shrink”, but he also includes relevance for sharing the suffering – “they might not suffer if they would repent.” As for proportion, many verses teach the doctrine of the Atonement, while only a handful describe the experience with detail. I trust his choice of disclosure! Thanks again for the post. This is a beautiful blog, too. This might be my longest blog comment ever, but this was not a light topic!

  8. loraine says:

    I think the scriptures are probably adapted to the capacity of the weakest amongst us, and whilst I have been a broad and deep reader during the course of my life,personal suffering has now made me too easily harrowed up by the suffering of others for it to be useful. It would have been useful to me at other times though.
    Perhaps it might also be about our agency-I’m aware that I could prevail upon my children in a way that might perhaps limit their use of agency by being to persuasive in my arguments. I think our Father allows us to keep our heads so as to allow us to make our own decisions rather than overwhelming us with emotion. I think we sometimes forget that in a sentimental age.

  9. Nick Galieti says:

    Thank you all so much for your comments, they have been truly helpful to me. I am glad that the question added merit to your gospel discussion. I found it interesting in my own life, that when we speak of Gethsemane, the focus is on what Jesus suffered. After all, it seems as if that was a good part of what even He talked about when it comes to the atonement. But we also have sources that point to the idea that Jesus went through and experienced everything we experienced. Did he only experience the bad parts, or does he also experience the good parts as well. Would that mean, to some extent Jesus would have experienced, as part of Gethsemane at least, some degree of success, and pleasure in contrast to such eternal pain? The question for me has even brought on some new thought since writing the article.

    In any case, whatever the answer for you, I would absolutely read the book. Not just because it is Christ who wrote it, but it will teach me how to be like him in a way that has not been addressed. That paradigm would be invaluable.

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