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