My husband and I went to view a house for sale nearby and were shown around it by the old couple who had lived there for over 30 years. To our surprise they were extremely excited about one rather unremarkable feature.
The extension? Nope. The garden? Nope. The kitchen?
Nope. It was the landing outside the loo.
They couldn't contain their excitement as they ushered us upstairs exclaiming, 'You cannot leave the house without seeing this!'
We were intrigued.
On the landing wall hung a dull, faded painting of an unremarkable cottage. Seeing our bewilderment, the couple urged us to look more closely at the picture. It was peppered with small holes and pock marked with rough grey clumps of what looked like metal embedded in the frame.
'Want to know why it's in this state?' they asked excitedly.
It turned out that in 1940 the cottage had had a near miss from a bomb dropped by a Heinkel fighter-bomber. The doors, windows and part of the roof were blown in as the young daughter of the couple who lived there was lying in bed asleep. The shrapnel from the bomb smashed the picture that was on the wall just above her head.
Wow. Knowing the story made us look at the scars of this faded, jaded old painting in a whole new way.
Ugly holes became honourable war wounds.
Dull grey clumps were glistening badges of honour.
In the light of the sun's rays the shrapnel shimmered.
This house is now our home and the picture still hangs in exactly the same spot. Sometimes I stop and stare at the shrapnel scars and think about the all too many people who are experiencing unexpected, destructive shocks blasting with explosive force into their life right now. A devastating diagnosis, the loss of a loved one, a betrayal, a disappointment, a shattering of a lifelong dream. The blast can leave us reeling, disorientated and afraid. The impact can shatter faith and hope and the shrapnel can embed itself deep within, leaving ugly scars and a feeling of being irreparably damaged.
My own devastating blast came last Valentine's day in the form of a shocking cancer diagnosis for our active, fit, young at heart and much beloved Mum, who went to be with Jesus only four months later.
Before my experience of suffering last year, I used to find the emotional turmoil and agonising anguish of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane too uncomfortable to read. Impatient to get to the light, joy and hope of the empty garden tomb, I would 'skip to the best bit' and leave the dark discomfort and distress of Gethsemane behind.
But suddenly finding ourselves in our own Gethsemane changed that. Our own suffering as a family gave me fresh eyes to see the breathtaking beauty and power of having the courage to dwell with Jesus in his suffering. The Jesus we encountered as if for the first time wrestling with a range of emotions in Gethsemane somehow stepped off the pages and reached out his hands to hold ours in our own dark moments. We were comforted and consoled by Jesus' raw expression of anguish; we were inspired by how he leant deeper into his father in prayer; and we were strengthened by how he humbly surrendered to His father's will, to unleash new life for the world through his suffering.
As Mum's body weakened, we watched a miracle unfold. Not physical healing, but a soul soaring in the midst of suffering. The intimacy she experienced with Jesus on his journey to the cross gave her a fresh surge of hope and an almost incomprehensible joy that propelled her to reach out to others, despite all she was going through.
She wanted to pray for those who were caring for her, and who she knew God was putting in her path on her own journey to Jesus. She was so concerned about one of the nurses she was praying for and chatting to that she arranged a foodbank delivery for her family from her hospice room. She was wheeled out into the hospice garden and rolled her sleeves up to weed the garden beds and plant bulbs so that others could enjoy them this spring. Nothing about her circumstances had changed, but the deep assurance that not only had Jesus journeyed this painful road before her, but was still journeying with her every step of the way, changed everything. In the very darkest season of life this intimacy with Jesus made Mum shine brighter than she had ever shone before.
No matter how devastating the blast we are absorbing in this season, God's amazing 'immeasurably more' love and power can transform even the most shattering shrapnel scars into a shimmering reminder of how love overcomes fear, of how light overcomes the darkness, and how life overcomes death. Wounds can bring healing. Weakness can bring strength.
This Easter the picture hanging in my landing is a daily reminder of the suffering servant who absorbed the full impact of our wrong doing on himself, whose body was shattered and scarred to save those he loved and make them whole: 'The punishment that brought us peace was on him, by his wounds we are healed' (Isaiah 53:5).
This Good Friday, could it be that we, like the disciples in the garden, are being invited to awaken to our grief, pain and loss too, and to step into the discomfort of Gethsemane to 'watch and wait' there with Jesus? To not skip past it, negate it, gloss over it – but to step into it, to linger in that liminal unresolved space allowing the Holy Spirit's power to heal, to comfort and to restore? There is an incredible, transformative intimacy to be found there. That's where we can find healing and wholeness, not despite but because of our shrapnel, our scars, our wounds, our frayed fragments, and our brokenness.
Could it be that to experience 'life in all its fullness' (John 10:10) we must experience pain, loss and grief in all its fullness too as Jesus did?
Let's not be tempted to skip over the garden of Gethsemane to get to the empty garden Tomb.
It might just be where we are called to linger a while.
And the strength, peace and even joy we find there, might just surprise us.
Esther Stansfield is a freelance writer and blogger who has worked for Tearfund and Scripture Union.